Samboksa Temple – 삼복사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The hundreds of Gwanseeum-bosal seated statues at Samboksa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

With having the first couple temples fizzle out with them being nothing more than a couple of tin huts, I finally found Samboksa Temple (삼복사) at the base of Gunjisan Mountain on the southeastern side of Yangsan.

Past a collection of rice fields, and up a one-lane country road, I found Samboksa Temple. The road forked in three directions, and I was just lucky to have picked the right one (which is the left one). Driving up the base of the mountain, and past a forest of over-hanging trees, Samboksa Temple finally came into view.

Parking at the temple parking lot, I made my way up the long, and beautiful, temple stairway. As you approach, not only does the main hall come into view, but several other treasures come into view, as well. As though solemnly welcoming all visitors to the temple, a three foot high bronze statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) stands at the top of the set of stone stairs. To the far right, and at the start of one of the trails that leads up to the peak of Gunjisan Mountain, is a tiny man-made stone grotto. The grotto couldn’t be any bigger than a foot in height, but it houses an equally small statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined by a few baby monk statues.  And book ending the statue of Gwanseeum-bosal are two ornately designed and beautifully crafted bronze incense burners. They are adorned with Biseon, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Nathwi. Take a second and have a look at the pair of incense burners, because they are amongst some of the finest in all of Korea.

Samboksa Temple is one of the more uniquely situated temples I have yet to visit in Korea. It’s perfectly placed inside a naturally occurring plateau that’s formed inside of a indentation on the mountain. I’m sure Nature had a little help, but I’m just as sure that a lot of what is seen at the temple is natural. The main hall is placed at the back rock wall of this mountain indentation. It’s a two storied building with the kitchen, meeting halls, and monks’ dorms on the first floor. Unfortunately, this main hall is largely made of concrete, unlike the more traditional wooden structures; however, and for some strange reason, it doesn’t seem to take all that much away from the overall aesthetics of the temple. Usually, I’m put off by this medium, but for some strange reason I wasn’t put off this time.

On the second floor of this hall is the main worship hall. Surrounding the exterior are some nicely painted Shimu-do, Ox-herding, murals. There are also some beautiful floral murals, and an intricate dragon mural near the name plate of the main hall. As you first enter the main hall, on the left side of the hall, you’ll be greeted by a beautiful guardian painting. While the painting looks newer in origin, it seems to be painted in an older style. Next to this painting is the main altar. Seated in the centre of the triad is Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s joined by Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) to the left and a regal looking Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the right. This triad is backed by a beautiful mural similar in design to that of the guardian painting. Strangely, to the right of the main altar is a wall shrine that is missing a statue or a painting. It almost looks like it had been recently removed from this wall in a hurry. It was a bit of a strange sight to be honest. But the best thing about this hall were the hundreds of ceramic Gwanseeum-bosal seated statues. They were perfectly placed and beautifully situated so that the morning sun was squarely reflecting off of row upon row of them. As equally interesting, was the collection of designs at the base of the stone altar. Most were either floral in design, but the occasional one had a phoenix in its midst. But the biggest surprise was the intricately designed, and finely crafted, diminutive statue of San shin (The Mountain Spirit) to the far left on this stone base. He’s joined by a Taoist figure on the far right of the altar’s base.

To the right rear of this main hall, and up a naturally occurring (and moss covered) set of stairs, is the San shin-gak shrine hall. This hall, which houses San shin, is literally carved into the side of the mountain’s face. Inside this man-made grotto is a beautifully painted, and older looking, San shin painting. Have a look at the fierce looking tiger that joins San shin. And like most paintings of San shin, he’s joined by a similar looking statue of himself out in front of the painting. To the right of the San shin-gak is a small water well that looks to be a shrine dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King).

HOW TO GET THERE: By far, this is one of the most remote temples I’ve visited in Korea. So unfortunately, you’ll either need a car or to take a long taxi ride from Yangsan Intercity Bus Terminal.

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OVERALL RATING: 6/10.  There are several highlights to this well hidden temple at the base of Gunjisan Mountain, which includes the highly original location of Samboksa Temple. The first, as you approach, are the twin incense burners that are finely crafted pieces of Buddhist art. Another highlight are the hundreds of ceramic Gwanseeum-bosal statues and the decorative San shin sculpture that adorns the base of the Gwanseeum-bosal altar. Finally, the San shin-gak, both for its location and artwork, is yet another highlight to this unassuming temple.

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The long and beautiful walk up to the temple.
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The tiniest cave grotto, perhaps, in all of Korea.
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Just one of the stunning bronze incense burners that welcomes you at the entrance at Samboksa Temple.
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And centred between the two bronze incense burners is this graceful looking statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).
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And a look at exactly what Gwanseeum-bosal sees.
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As mentioned, the temple is perfectly situated inside a large rock indentation on the mountain.
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A look up at the colourful eaves on the main hall.
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One of the more unique Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals, that I’ve seen at a temple. Both the ox and the ox-herder are exerting quite the effort.
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A look inside the beautiful main hall.
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To the left of the main altar is the newly painted guardian mural.
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Sitting on the altar, and in the centre, is what looks to be Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He is flanked by Gwanseeum-bosal to the right and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) to the left.
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To the far right, and on an altar of their own, are these hundreds of ceramic Gwanseeum-bosal statues.
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Amazingly, if you look at the base of the Gwanseeum-bosal altar, you’ll see this uniquely rendered San shin (The Mountain Spirit) sculpture.
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A better look at San shin.
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To the right of the main hall are these shrines dedicated to San shin and Yongwang (The Dragon King).
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A look inside the San shin-gak at the large San shin mural inside of the shrine hall.

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