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.

Sinheungsa Temple – 신흥사 (Buk-gu, Ulsan)

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Inside the main hall at Sinheungsa Temple in Ulsan.

 Hello Again Everyone!!

Sinheungsa Temple was formally known as Geonheungsa Temple. It was founded in 635 A.D. by Monk Myeongrang. According to temple records, the temple helped train 100 warrior monks in 678 A.D. It was also central to the defence of Korea against the invading Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-1598). And when Ulsan fell to the Japanese, it sent 300 bags of rice and warrior monks, led by Monk Jiun, to help the Korean forces. Unfortunately, and like a lot of other famous temples and hermitages throughout Korea, it was reduced to ash. Fortunately for us, however, it was rebuilt by Yi Geup, a military commander, in 1646. It was also at this time that the temple changed its name to the name that it is now known as: Sinheungsa Temple.

You first approach Sinheungsa Temple down a very long and winding road. And if you visit during the summer months, you’ll see a lot of Korean campers taking up residence near the valley and river that flows through it.

Up a tall set of stairs, and past an ancient and towering tree, you’ll finally make your way to the front of the Cheongwangmun Gate, which also acts as an open-air pavilion on the second floor. As you pass through the entrance, you’ll be welcomed by four atypically painted murals of the Four Heavenly Kings. After being greeted by these four celestial beings, you’ll make your way out of the tunnel gate, and out into the temple courtyard. To the far right is the monks’ quarters. And next to this residence is a spring for which Sinheungsa is famous. And to the far left is an administrative office.

Straight ahead is the large sized main hall. This is a newer main hall that was constructed in 1998 to replace the old one. Around the exterior walls to this main hall are various murals dedicated to the Nahan (The Disciples to the Historical Buddha). As for the interior walls, they are adorned with various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. And on the far right wall is an amazing guardian wood-relief carving. It’s populated with numerous shaman deities and Dongjin-bosal (The Guardian of the Buddha’s Teachings) in the centre. As for the main altar itself, it’s occupied with a triad of atypically rendered statues with Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) in the centre. The main altar is backed by an equally amazing wood-relief of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Additionally, there is a massive red canopy that frames the entire altar.

To the left of the main hall is the compact Nahan-jeon Hall. This hall is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it use to be the main hall at the temple until the new one was built. This hall dates back to the late-Joseon Period. Out in front of this hall is a three-tier pagoda with large sized pebbles placed on it by travellers  As for the interior of this hall, and another interesting aspect to this hall, are the white rock statues of the various Nahan (The Disciples of the Historical Buddha) that sit on the long main altar. Eerily striking a pose, they surround a triad of statues that sit at the centre of the main altar. In the centre is a white-clad Seokgamoni-bul. The final interesting aspect to this hall are the fading murals that adorn the entire interior to this hall from the floral patterns, to Nahan, to dragon heads. This interior has it all.

Finally, the last shrine hall at this temple is the Samseong-gak shrine hall dedicated to shaman deities. It’s up a long, overgrown, set of stairs. Strangely, there was a can of mosquito spray inside one of the stone lanterns just outside the shrine hall. As you enter the shrine hall, you’ll be greeted by some more beautiful etched wood-reliefs of the three most popular Korean shaman deities: San shin (The Mountain Spirit), Chilseong (The Seven Stars), and Dokseong (The Recluse). All three are masterfully designed and colourfully painted.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Sinheungsa Temple in Ulsan, you’ll first have to get to the Hogye train station in northern Ulsan. From this train station, you’ll then have to take a taxi for twenty minutes until you arrive at the temple. The taxi ride covers 8.7 kilometres, and it’ll cost you 7500 won.

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OVERALL RATING: 6/10. While not the most impressive temple in Ulsan, there are some definite highlights to this ancient temple like the altar and the guardian etching inside the main hall. In addition, the Nahan-jeon Hall is a must see. Finally, the wood-etchings inside the Samseong-gak are inspiring.

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The long and steep set of stairs that lead up to the temple courtyard.
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The two-storied Cheonwangmun entrance gate.
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Inside of the gate are these murals that depict the Heavenly Kings (Cheonwang).
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On the second floor of the Cheonwangmun is this mural of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
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The main hall as you exit the Cheonwangmun Gate.
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The elaborate altar inside the main hall.
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The stunning guardian wood-etching.
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And one more look back at the main altar.
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To the left of the new main hall is the former main hall. Now, it stands as the Nahan-jeon Hall.
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The altar inside of the Nahan-jeon Hall with a white Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) at the centre.
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To the left and right of the main altar are these highly unique white stone sculptures of the various Nahan (The Disciples of the Historical Buddha).
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The over-grown path that leads up to the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.
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The view of the neighbouring valley and the temple buildings.
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The altar inside of the Samseong-gak with Chilseong (The Seven Stars) in the centre and San shin (The Mountain Spirit) to the left and Dokseong (The Recluse) to the right.
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A better look at the wood carving of Dokseong.
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And finally, after a long hot day, it was time to head home.

Sinheungsa Temple – 신흥사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)


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Just one of the mid 17th century painting from inside Daegwangjeon Hall at Sinheungsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

My wife and I have been to most of the major temples in and around Yangsan; however there was one temple we had yet to visit. So yesterday, we headed off to Sinheungsa Temple (not to be confused with the one near Sokcho in Gangwon-do).

Sinheungsa Temple (신흥사) means “New Enjoyment” Temple. And like all Korean temples, Sinheungsa Temple has a great story about why and how it was first built. According to legend, King Suro, the first king of the Gaya Confederation, was praying at the temple when he was advised that there was a poisonous dragon in a neighbouring jade pond.  He was instructed to drive out this poisonous dragon from the countryside. So praying in earnest, the temple building stones turned to fish and drove the dragon out of the countryside and into the East Sea. That’s why now, if you knock on a stone in Sinheungsa Temple, it sounds like metal.  I told you it was great!

Sinheungsa Temple can be approached up an unevenly paved country road. About a 500 metre walk off the main road will bring you to the first gate at the temple. The gate is elaborately painted and is a good indication of what awaits you just up the road. Continuing up the road, and beside the neighbouring stream, you’ll cross over a bridge decorated with a head and body of a dragon. Tying into the creation of the temple, the dragon motif is strong at this temple. Across this bridge, you’ll first notice the visitor’s centre and walled-off compound.  Behind these walls are the temple grounds. The entrance gate with the four heavenly kings is to your right. But don’t rush getting inside, because outside the walls there is plenty to see, like the beautiful stream and bridges. Interestingly, just outside the beautifully adorned second gate, is a pagoda with stones piled on top of it. Through the gateway, and past the four elaborately seated kings, is a beautiful view of the historic treasure: Daegwang-jeon Hall (“Great Light Hall”). Daegwang-jeon Hall is the main hall at the temple. The construction of the temple dates back to 1657. Outside, the temple building is a well-worn brown with the beautiful exterior paintings having been washed away. However, inside the hall, there are uniquely painted pictures of the Buddha, Guardian Spirits, and floral patterns. These paintings date back to the mid-17th century.

This is the centerpiece to the temple, but there are numerous other buildings that are equally beautiful in their design. When you initially walk into the temple grounds, you’ll notice the bell pavilion to your immediate left. This bell pavilion, like the bridge you first crossed over when entering the temple, is ornately decorated with dragons both inside and outside the building’s structure. Beside the bell pavilion is the temple’s Buddhist University. Plainly painted, there is an interesting painting of two scholars playing Baduk (Korean checkers). And up the hill, to the left of the main hall, is the shrine dedicated to the mountain god, San Shin. There are some beautiful views of the neighbouring valley, and a great view of the temple complex. Strangely, to the immediate right of the main hall, is a mini-compound. At first, it almost looked like another dorm for the monks, but looks can be deceiving. With a newly built, yet to be painted, temple building with its back to you, head through the corridor to the left. As you enter though this corridor, you’ll first encounter a hall dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).Like the entire temple, this hall has beautiful paintings decorating it both on the inside and outside of it. To the right of this hall, is the Judgment Hall. This building has four paintings that scarily depict what awaits the life of a sinner. Next to Songnimsa Temple in Daegu, Sinheungsa Temple has the scariest paintings detailing the afterlife for those that have sinned. Inside the Judgment Hall are some of the most unique paintings I have seen at any temple in Korea. These paintings are so unique that I’ve never seen ones coming close to them.

HOW TO GET THERE: Outside of owning a car, or paying a huge amount to a taxi driver, Sinheungsa Temple is nearly impossible to get to. But if there’s a will there’s a way.  To get to Sinheungsa Temple follow Local Road Number 1022 for 24 kilometres outside of Yangsan. And then from there, follow the Wondong/Yongpo-ri for another 5 kilometres. Good luck, and happy hunting! For more information check out Yangsan city website.

View 신흥사 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10. I was expecting something small, like Garamsa Temple, but Sinheungsa Temple was a very pleasant surprise. Housing some 10 temple buildings that are all beautifully and elaborately decorated, Sinheungsa Temple rates as one of the best temples I have visited for their temple painting, such as the Judgment Hall, the San Shin shrine hall, the bell pavilion, and the second gate. Added to this is the historically and architecturally important Daegwang-jeon Hall, and you have a temple that is well worth the effort to find.

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The valley where Sinheungsa Temple is housed.
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The first gate that welcomes you to Sinheungsa Temple.
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Just a couple of the unique paintings from inside the first gate.
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The dragon bridge that spans the slowly moving stream. Knowing the myth behind the creation of the temple really helps you understand why there are just so many around the temple.
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Another beautiful stone bridge that spans the stream through the trees.
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A view of the visitors centre and the stone rail that leads up to it.  The stone rail is decorated with dragons, toads, and signs of enlightenment.
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The elaborately decorated second gate with a view of the 17th century Daegwangjeon Hall inside.
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An extremely unique door handle adorning the second gate.
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A painting of one of the guardians adorning the second gate. All of the temple buildings were adorned with beautiful and unique paintings.
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A view of the bell pavilion.
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A look up in the rafters in the bell pavilion reveals even more dragons.
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A view of the temple’s university, the dorms, and the shrine hall dedicated to San Shin (the Mountain God).
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Two scholars playing a game of Baduk (Korean checkers). It’s situated on the southern wall of the university.
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A better look at the shrine hall dedicated to Sanshin.
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On one of the exterior shrine hall walls is this realistic painting of a tiger.  It appears through the trees.
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And this rather odd painting also appears on the exterior walls of the shrine hall.
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This unique painting appears on the inside of the shrine hall.
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The amazing view of the temple compound from the shrine hall.  On the left is Daegwangjeon, and in the middle is the Judgment Hall, and to the right is the second gate.
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The altar pieces inside the historic Daegwangjeon Hall. The Hall dates back to 1657.
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Some more of the paintings that date back to the mid-17th century. They’ve seen better days, but they’re still quite amazing! This specific image is of a guardian.
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This painting depicts different incarnations of the Buddha. It is situated on the left side of the main hall wall.
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This painting of guardians is extremely unique. I’m not too sure if I’ve ever seen a guardian look anything close to this one.
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And blended with the old, is this dynamic painting in the main hall of the various guardians.
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Through this corridor is the hall for Gwanseheum Bosal (the Goddess of Mercy) to the left, the Judgment Hall in the middle, and a yet to be finished hall to the right.
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A statue of Gwanseheum Bosal is the main altar piece inside the hall that bears the gods name.
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Just one of the many unique paintings on the exterior of the Gwanseheum Bosal shrine hall.
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Just one of the scary pictures that adorns the exterior of the Judgment Hall at the temple. Next to Songnimsa Temple in Daegu, Sinheungsa Temple has the second scariest paintings depicting the afterlife of a sinner.
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Be careful of what you say, as the individual in this painting finds out.
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Inside the the Judgment Hall is an ornate altar and Jijang Bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) at its centre.
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One of the more unique paintings inside the Judgment Hall. I won’t even try to explain what it means.  Any suggestions would greatly be appreciated.
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Another of the paintings from inside the Judgment Hall.  It seems more appropriate for Harry Potter.  Again, not even going to hazard a guess.