The amazing, but under renovation, Mireuk-jeon and Bangdeung-gyedan shrine at Geumsansa Temple in Gimje, Jeollabuk-do.
Hello Again Everyone!!
Geumsansa Temple, which means Golden Mountain Temple, in English, lies in a flat river valley on the western slope of Moaksan Provincial Park. It was first established in 599 A.D. or 600 A.D. (depending on the historic document that is being used). At that time, it was not a prominent temple like it is today. Then from 722 to 766, the temple was rebuilt and expanded under the watchful eye of master monk, Jinpyo. According to legend, Jinpyo had a vision of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). In this dream he received a book on divination and 189 divination sticks from Mireuk-bul. As a result, a statue was made of Mireuk-bul and enshrined in the main hall. With this in mind, Geumsansa Temple became the headquarters for practicing Mireuk-bul worship during the Unified Silla Period. During the Imjin War in 1592, the temple acted as a training ground for monks in the defence of the Korean peninsula. Unfortunately, the entire temple and neighbouring hermitages were completely destroyed by the Japanese. Not long after, in 1635, the temple was rebuilt. Through these efforts, and subsequent ones, Geumsansa Temple is not only one of the largest in Korea; it’s also one of the most popular.
You first make your way towards the temple up a path that neighbours a frozen stream. You’ll then cross over a newly built bridge that has a dragon underneath. The first structure to greet you at the temple is the Haetalmun Gate, which houses statues of a youthful Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) and Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom). They are joined by two guardians behind a screened-off area for their protection; however, this screen doesn’t allow for the best of pictures. This is also the problem with the large sized Cheonwangmun Gate. Even though the statues are tall and fierce in design, they also are blocked from a clear view because of the protective meshing that lies in front of them.
After passing through both gates, and under the Bojae-ru pavilion, you’ll enter into the expansive temple courtyard. To your immediate left is the temple’s rather large bell pavilion. And to your immediate right is the newer looking Gwaneeum-jeon. Housed inside this hall is a seated multi-armed statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). She wears a unique crown where two of her hands hold up an image of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) over her head. Have a close look, it’s pretty special.
Straight ahead lays the large and long main hall. Originally, it was National Treasure #476, until it burnt down in 1986. It was quickly rebuilt, and it currently houses 11 statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas along the main altar. The central image is Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). He’s joined to the right and left by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). To the right of this triad stand four more statues. They are, in order, Nosana-bul (The Reward Body Buddha), Ilgwang-bosal (The Sun Bodhisattva), Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha), and Wolgwang-bosal (The Moon Bodhisattva). To the left of the central triad, in order, are Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion), Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise), and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul). As you can tell, this main hall is absolutely packed. Unfortunately, you can’t take pictures inside, and there’s a woman making sure you don’t.
To the left of the main hall are two smaller sized shrine halls. The first is Daejang-jeon, which is dedicated to Mireuk-bul. The outside walls are littered with monk paintings, while the interior is lined with Palsang-do murals, which record the life of Seokgamoni-bul. As for the main altar inside this hall, you’ll get to see one of the most beautiful renderings of Mireuk-bul. This Buddha statue is surrounded by an amazing fiery nimbus. To the right of this hall is the Myeongbu-jeon. Sitting on the main altar inside this hall is an older looking statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). He’s surrounded on both sides by seated wooden statues of the Ten Kings of the Underworld. Just in front of this hall is the extremely unique stone carving called Noju. Its original purpose is no longer known.
Just behind the main hall are three more temple halls. The first one to the far left is the large, but rather plain, Josa-jeon, which houses a row of paintings dedicated to former prominent monks at the temple. To its right is the highly elaborate, and well populated, Nahan-jeon. The triad sitting on the main altar is centred by Seokgamoni-bul, and he’s joined on either side by Mireuk-bul and Jihwakara-bul (The Past Buddha). These statues are joined by 16 Nahan on the main altar, who are in turn joined by 500 Nahan in the background. If you look close enough, you might even see a Nahan that looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Unfortunately, and like the main hall, the Nahan-jeon burned to the ground in 1986. Between these two halls lays the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Out in front is an ugly gnarled tree with three older looking murals of Chilseong (The Seven Stars), Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), and Dokseong (The Recluse) inside.
Up a stone set of stairs that is situated next to the Nahan-jeon, you’ll come to the Bangdeung-gyedan. Housed in the centre of this stone shrine is a crowned stone lotus bud that formally housed five sari from Seokgamoni-bul. These sari are now housed in the Geumsansa Temple museum. In front of this stone lotus bud is a Goryeo Period five-story stone pagoda. The entire stone structure is surrounded by various, and descriptive, stone guardians. Just to the right is the Jeokmyeol-bogung. Like Tongdosa Temple’s main hall, this hall has no statues of the Buddha. Instead, the window inside this hall looks out onto the Bangdeung-gyedan and the Buddha’s remains.
The final hall at Geumsansa Temple, and the most impressive, is the three-story wooden structure called the Mireuk-jeon. This hall is National Treasure #62, and it dates back to 1635. Housed inside this hall are three massive statues. The tallest, which stands nearly 12 meters in height, is dedicated to Mireuk-bul, who is the namesake of the hall. He’s joined on either side by two Bodhisattvas, Beophwarim-bosal and Daemyosang-bosal. Unfortunately, when I visited, this hall was under renovation.
Admission to the temple is 3,000 won.
HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Geumsansa Temple, you’ll first need to get to the Jeonju Express Bus Terminal. From there, take Bus #79 to Geumsansa Temple. The buses start leaving from the terminal at 6:24 in the morning, and they stop running at 22:45 at night. The buses leave every 25 minutes. Also, you can catch a bus from the Gimje Intercity Bus Terminal or Gimje Station. You’ll need to board Bus #5, which is a direct bus to Geumsansa Temple.
OVERALL RATING: 10/10. What isn’t to love about Geumsansa Temple? The amazing Mireuk-jeon is something special, as is the massive main hall with the eleven statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Also, you can visit nearly a dozen halls at Geumsansa Temple. It’s no wonder this temple is so popular. In addition, the Bangdeung-gyedan, similar to the stone structure at Tongdosa Temple, which formally housed five sari from the Buddha, is something else that adds to Geumsansa Temple’s status as something special amongst temples throughout the Korean peninsula. As you can tell, I love this temple!
The first view of Geumsansa Temple as you approach it from the pathway.
The frozen stream that neighbours the pathway.
The beautiful bridge that lets you into the temple grounds.
The Haetalmun Gate that’s the first structure to greet you at the temple.
The next is the Cheonwangmun Gate.
One of the tall, but meshed off, Heavenly Kings.
The Bojae-ru pavilion that blocks the view of the main temple courtyard.
The bell pavilion to the left, as you first enter the temple grounds.
The main hall, the Myeongbu-jeon, and the Daejang-jeon.
A look inside the Daejang-jeon at the fiery Mireuk-bul statue.
A look inside the Myeongbu-jeon at the green-haired Jijang-bosal.
A closer look at the massive main hall with a well-populated interior.
This hexagonal black stoned pagoda is National Treasure #27.
A look at the Nahan-jeon on the right and the Josa-jeon on the left.
A look at the main altar inside the Nahan-jeon…
With a Nahan statue of Arnie.
The Samseong-gak that lies between both the Nahan-jeon and the Josa-jeon.
The Sanshin painting inside the Samseong-gak.
A look at the elevated Bangdeung-gyedan shrine that formally housed the Buddha’s remains.
The Jeokmyeol-bogung Hall that looks out onto the stone shrine.
The view from the hall.
The historic Mireuk-jeon hall that is unfortunately under renovation (unfortunate for me).
A look up at the massive altar statues inside the Mireuk-jeon.
The Gwaneeum-jeon under a winter sun.
The unique multi-armed statue of Gwanseeum-bosal.