Seonunsa Temple – 선운사 (Gochang, Jeollabuk-do)


The beautiful early morning view of the temple courtyard at Seonunsa Temple. 

Hello Again Everyone!!

Seonunsa Temple was first constructed in 577 A.D. by seon master, Geumdan. The temple fell in to disrepair and was restored by the monk Hyojeong in 1354. It continued to expand until the Imjin War, when the entire temple was burnt to the ground. In 1613, with the efforts of Ilgwan and Wonjun, Seonunsa Temple was restored to its past glory.

The hike up to Seonunsa Temple is a long one, but it’s also one of the more beautiful ones in Korea. You first pass the Iljumun Gate and make your way up to the temple following a path that neighbours a wandering stream. The temple is also well known for its camellia trees and the flowers that bloom on them. The entire temple path that leads up to Seonunsa Temple is lined with these beautiful trees. Halfway up the trail, you’ll notice a large stupa field to your right. The numerous stupas are situated in a lush grove surrounded by mature trees on all sides.

Further up the trail, and you’ll finally come to the outskirts of the temple grounds. You’ll know you’ll have arrived when you see a beautiful bridge that spans a serene section of the neighbouring stream. Straight ahead is the large sized Cheonwangmun Gate with some snickering Heavenly Kings inside.

After exiting this gate, you’ll emerge into the very spacious temple grounds. To your immediate left you’ll see the temple’s bell pavilion, and straight ahead is the Mansye-ru pavilion that blocks the view of the rest of the temple grounds including the main hall that is situated somewhere behind it.

After circumnavigating the Mansye-ru pavilion, you’ll see the large and long main hall that dates back to the early Joseon Dynasty. In front of this hall is a six-story stone pagoda that dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty. Originally, this pagoda stood nine-stories in height; but through damage and age, it stands its current seven-tiers. Inside the main hall, and sitting on the main altar, are three large sized statues of the Buddha. If you look upwards, you’ll see some beautiful paintings of the Nahan, as well as an older looking mural of Dokseong (The Recluse) on the right wall.

To the right of the main hall is a newer looking Gwaneeum-jeon. Inside this hall is a statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) that dates back to the early Joseon Dynasty. Have a close look at the multi-headed crown of this Bodhisattva, as it’s pretty impressive. Also, the mural that backs this Bodhisattva is highly original in design.

To the left of the main hall is where the bulk of the temple halls are located. The first, and by far the largest, in this area is the Yeongsan-jeon. The name of the hall comes from the assembly held on Vulture Peak by the Buddha, where he gave a sermon on the Lotus Sutra. The hall dates back to 1821, and it houses three large statues. The one in the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) and Dipankara (The Past Buddha). These large statues are surrounded on all sides by the 16 Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha).

Directly behind this hall is the Sanshin-gak. This hall houses two paintings of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). The one to the left is a traditionally designed painting of this shaman deity. The other that hangs on the main altar shows two monks (twins) that became Sanshin. This is perhaps one of the most original paintings of Sanshin in all of Korea.

To the left of the Sanshin-gak is the Palsang-do-jeon, which houses eight amazing paintings from the life of the Historical Buddha, Seokgamoni-bul. And a bronze coloured statue of Seokgamoni-bul sits all alone on the altar. Just beside this hall is the Josa-jeon, which is dedicated to prominent monks that formally took up residence at Seonunsa Temple. The final hall that you can visit at Seonunsa Temple is the Myeongbu-jeon. A large green-haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) sits on the main altar inside this hall. He’s joined by the Ten Kings of the Underworld, some of whom are snickering. They are backed by some older murals of themselves.

Admission to the temple is 3,000 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Gochang Intercity Bus Terminal, you can take a direct bus to Seonunsa Temple. The bus leaves eight times a day. Also, you can catch a bus to Seonunsa Temple from Gwangju. All you need to do is board a direct bus from the U-Square Bus Temrinal. This bus leaves four times a day.

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OVERALL RATING: 8/10. The beautiful walk towards the temple, as well as the beautiful scenery, are two definite highlights to this temple. The long main hall with large Buddha statues, the uniquely designed Gwanseeum-bosal statue from the early Joseon Dynasty, as well as the rather atypical twin monk painting of Sanshin are three more highlights to this temple. While it was once much larger in size, there is more than enough to keep a temple visitor busy.


The Iljumun Gate at Seonunsa Temple.


The stupa field you encounter along the way up to the temple.


The reflection from neighbouring trees along the calm stream.


The beautiful new bridge at Seonunsa Temple.


The Cheonwangmun Gate at Seonunsa Temple.


One of the snickering Heavenly Kings.


The Mansye-ru Pavilion.


The newer looking bell pavilion at Seonunsa Temple.


The rather long early Joseon Dynasty Daeung-jeon main hall.


The Goryeo era seven-tier pagoda.


A look inside the main hall at the altar.


The Gwaneeum-jeon hall to the right of the main hall.


The atypically crowned Gwanseeum-bosal.


To the left of the main hall is this rather large Yeongsan-jeon hall.


Inside are these statues of Buddhas, as well as a set of Nahan.


The two halls directly behind the Yeongsan-jeon. To the right is the Sanshin-gak and to the left is the Palsangdo-jeon.


Inside the Sanshin-gak is one of the most original Sanshin paintings.


The interior to the Palsang-jeon with elaborate Palsang-do murals.


A look at the Myeongbu-jeon, which is the last hall in the set left of the main hall.


The amazing interior that is well populated with statues from the afterlife.


And a snickering statue of one of the Ten Kings of the Underworld.

2 thoughts on “Seonunsa Temple – 선운사 (Gochang, Jeollabuk-do)

  1. Beautiful photos. Maybe you have a new camera or maybe it is the clarity that comes with Winter which enables you to see the pungsu of the site with its surrounding hills and beautiful stream so clearly at this temple.
    Having said that I would love to see some photos of the walk when the camellias are in bloom.

    Which side of the temple complex does the stream flow past? I find it interesting that so often it is to the right of the temple as you face it on the way in. Does anyone know of a temple where it flows on the left side?

    • Same old camera I’ve had for a couple of years. I think it’s because it was so cold when I went the air was clearer. One of these days I’ll get up there when it’s not winter. And this temple’s stream actually flows to the left of the temple grounds as you walk up to it. So I guess here is your first example 🙂

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