Sinheungsa Temple – 신흥사 (Sokcho, Gangwon-do)

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The Beautiful Bronze Statue of the Buddha at Sinheungsa Temple in Seoraksan National Park.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Sinheungsa Temple, which means “Spirit Arising Temple,” in English, was thought to have been established by Master Jajang-yulsa. There is some dispute as to when it was first constructed, but it was first called Hyangseongsa Temple. There is dispute to the temple’s origins because some believe that Jajang first built Sinheungsa Temple in 637 around the time he left to study in Tang China or upon his return in 642. Either way, Sinheungsa Temple has been destroyed numerous times by fire throughout the centuries; first in 699, then in 710, and then again in 1645. The temple was rebuilt in 1648 in its present location and in its present form. It’s believed by some that Sinheungsa Temple is the oldest Zen (Seon) temple in the world.

You first approach Sinheungsa Temple through the scenic, and very busy, Seokraksan grounds. The first structure to greet you is the top heavy Iljumun Gate. Having passed through this gate and enjoyed the sharp, jagged peaks of Mt. Seoraksan, you’ll finally see the 14.6 metre tall, bronze statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). The bronze Buddha sits on top of a 4.3 metre tall lotus pedestal, which makes the overall height of the statue nearly 19 metres in height. The masterful bronze statue, which is composed of some 108 tons of gilt-bronze, sits serenely looking out onto the amazing landscape. To the rear of the statue are a set of stairs that lead inside the massive statue. The hollowed out interior has three incarnations of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) sitting on the main altar. In addition, there are three sari (crystallized) remains from the Buddha inside this chamber. Fronting the bronze statue of the Buddha are beautiful bronze incense burners and lanterns.

Finally having your fill of this masterful piece of Buddhist artwork, which might take some time, you’ll make your way up a path for 200 to 300 more metres. Having crossed the Hyeonsu-gyo bridge, Sinheungsa Temple will finally come into view.

The rather boxy Cheonwangmun Gate houses some of the better examples of the Four Heavenly Kings. With intimidating expressions, they greet any and all visitors to the temple. Exiting out on the other side of this gate, you’ll next be greeted by the Boje-ru Pavilion that acts as a type of screen to hide the temple courtyard at Sinheungsa Temple.

Watching your head so you don’t smack it against the ceiling of the Boje-ru Pavilion as you pass under it, you’ll finally enter the main temple courtyard. Straight ahead is the Geukrakbo-jeon, which acts as the temple’s main hall. The stairs leading up to the hall are decorated with some ancient Nathwi carvings, while the exterior walls are adorned with some colourful Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals. As for the elaborately decorated interior, and sitting on the main altar, sit a triad of statues centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He is joined on either side by two beautifully crowned Bodhisattvas: Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Power and Wisdom for Amita-bul).

To the left rear of the main hall are two more halls that visitors can enter. The first is the Myeongbu-jeon with a beautifully canopied Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) sitting on the main altar. To the rear of this hall is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. The most interesting of the three paintings that take up residence inside this hall – Chilseong (The Seven Stars), Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) – is the modern Sanshin mural.

Admission to Seoraksan National Park, where Sinheungsa Temple is located, is 2,500 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: From Sokcho, you can take a city bus to the entrance of Seoraksan National Park. The bus leaves every 10 minutes, and the bus ride should last anywhere from between 20 to 25 minutes. From where the bus drops you off at the entrance of the park, you’ll need to walk about 10 minutes to Sinheungsa Temple. You can take a bus or you can simply take a taxi from Sokcho. The taxi should take from 15 to 20 minutes to the entrance of Seoraksan National Park.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10. Sinheungsa Temple is one of the most beautifully situated temples in all of Korea. In addition to all the natural beauty is the masterful 18.9 metre tall bronze statue of the Buddha. Also, visitors can enjoy a bit of a fright with the intimidating faces from the Four Heavenly Kings. The masterful artwork in and around the Geukrakbo-jeon, the Myeongbu-jeon, and the Samseong-gak are also things not to be passed up in one of Korea’s National Park crown jewels.

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The amazing scenery at Seoraksan National Park.

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The Iljumun Gate that first welcomes you to Sinheungsa Temple.

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The massive, and masterfully executed, bronze statue of Seokgamoni-bul.

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A better look at serenity.

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A look at what Seokgamoni-bul gets to enjoy.

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Inside the bronze statue sit three different incarnations of Gwanseeum-bosal.

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The bronze incense burner out in front of Seokgamoni-bul.

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The view as you make your way towards the temple grounds.

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The Cheonwangmun Gate at Sinheungsa Temple.

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The rather frightening Cheonwang.

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A look across the front facade towards the towering mountains.

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The Boje-ru Pavilion.

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Both the Geukrakbo-jeon and the Myeongbu-jeon beside it.

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The Nathwi carving that adorns the stairs that lead up to the main hall.

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Just one of the colourful Shimu-do murals that adorns the main hall.

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And a look inside the Geukrakbo-jeon at the main altar.

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A look inside at the Myeongbu-jeon main altar.

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To the rear of the main hall is the Samseong-gak.

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The modern painting of Sanshin.

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