Eungseoksa Temple – 응석사 (Jinju, Gyeongsangnam-do)


The unique pagoda and ancient main hall at Eungseoksa Temple in Jinju, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Another temple I wanted to explore in the Jinju area, and not directly in the city, was Eungseoksa Temple. So making my way out to the country area, and down a long, and sometimes gravel road, I found myself at the temple run by Buddhist nuns.

Eungseoksa Temple (응석사) was first established in 554 A.D. by High Priest Yeongi. And its lecture hall was first created by the famous monk, Monk Uisang, in 662. And at one point, and through its popularity and growth, the temple grew to be some 163 buildings in size. But during the Imjin War of 1592 to 1598, after discovering a cache of weapons under the Buddha statues, they burnt the entire temple down to the ground. Finally, the temple was rebuilt in 1736, and it was later expanded on some more in 1899. A final renovation of the temple occurred in 1983.

When you first arrive at the temple, you’ll be greeted by a beautiful Iljumun Gate. It is adorned with various paintings like triads of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, as well dragon and Biseon murals. Passing through this gate, you’ll next come to the much larger Cheonwangmun (Heavenly Kings Gate). To the right of this gate are a couple of handmade pagodas and a wooden guardian spirit pole. To the left of the gate are a couple budos. Just out in front of the Cheonwangmun are two fierce tiger statues, as well as two more paintings of tigers on the face of the gate. As for inside the first floor, of the two storied Cheonwangmun (which also houses the bell pavilion on the second floor), you’ll encounter four simplistic paintings of the Four Heavenly Kings.

Having passed under the bell pavilion, and if you look back as you enter into the temple courtyard, you’ll notice the Eungseoksa Temple’s beautiful bronze bell with elaborate Biseon adorning it. Also, there’s a large sized Poroe dragon crowning the top of the bell, which also helps fasten the bell to the bell pavilion.

Looking around the temple grounds, you’ll notice that most of the administrative and day-to-day nun’s buildings are to your left like the kitchen, dorms, and main office. Directly ahead of you is the large sized main hall. Sitting out in front of the main hall is a highly unique, yet beautiful, seven tier pagoda. As for the paintings that adorn the exterior walls of the main hall, they are the Shimu-do (Ox-herding) murals. They are some of the finest that you’ll find in Korea in both their expression and execution. As for the interior of the main hall, there is a triad of statues that date back to 1643. Sitting in the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He is flanked by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) to the left and Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha) to the right. This triad was highly popular at the time that they were created because they symbolize the doctrine of samsara, which expresses the idea of birth, death, and re-birth. And these statues are quite large in size, with the tallest, Seokgamoni-bul, standing 144.5 cm tall.

To the immediate left of the main hall is the uniquely oriented hall dedicated to San shin (The Mountain Spirit) and Chilseong (Seven Stars). The reason that I say it’s uniquely oriented is that the hall faces towards the main hall with both its entrance door and paintings facing towards the Daeung-jeon, instead of facing outwards towards the temple courtyard. The first painting of the two to greet you to this shaman shrine hall is a wonderfully elaborate Chilseong painting with numerous celestial beings populating the painting. To the right of the Chilseong painting is the San shin painting. Have a look at the fierce golden eyes of the accompanying tiger to San shin’s side.

And even further west of the main hall is the extremely simplistic Nahan-jeon, which is dedicated to the 16 Disciples of the Historical Buddha. The exterior of this hall is largely unadorned all but for the basic colour-scheme. And the interior of the hall only houses a long main altar with all sixteen of the Nahan in a white line of stone statues. In the centre is an equally white statue of Seokgamoni-bul.

Perhaps the most unique hall at the temple is up another set of stairs on the second terrace at Eungseoksa Temple. Usually, Dokseong (The Recluse) is housed with the other shaman deities like San shin or Chilseong in the Samseong-gak. Either that, or San shin can be housed alone in a San shin-gak. However, it is very rare, even at larger temples, that Dokseong is housed all by himself. And yet, Dokseong is housed inside of his own hall. Sitting on the main altar is a large sized mural of this shaman deity, which dwarfs the statue of Dokseong that sits out in front of this huge mural.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll have to get to the Jinju Intercity Bus terminal in Jinju. From there, you’ll have to walk towards the big intersection in the area. From there, head north to get to a bus stop that will take you to the temple. This bus stop is beside the NH bank, and the walk, in total, will take you about 15 minutes from the bus terminal to the bus stop. From the bus stop, you’ll have to board bus #378 and get off at the Eungseoksa Temple bus stop. In total, the bus ride should take you about an hour.

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OVERALL RATING: 7/10. I have to admit, this temple came as a bit of a surprise; and yes, in a good way. So often I go to these temples, and they can disappoint; however, Eungseoksa Temple definitely exceeded my expectations from the large sized triad of historical statues that sit in the main hall, to the unique orientation and paintings inside of the shaman shrine hall that houses Chilseong and San shin murals. All the way up to the Dokseong-gak shrine hall with its large sized mural. And finally, the uniquely rendered pagoda and Iljumun Gate at the temple. If you’re only to see one temple in Jinju, have a look at Eungseoksa Temple first.

The colourfully painted, yet ever stately, Iljumun Gate at Eungseoksa Temple.
A better look at the intricate illustrations that adorn the stately Iljumun Gate.
The walk up to the Cheonwangmun Gate, as well as the temple bell pavilion that rests on top of the second floor of the entrance gate.
The stoutly shaped bell on the second floor of the entrance gate.
A look back at the Iljumun Gate.
The temple courtyard with the main hall set in the centre with the unique temple pagoda to the right.
A closer look at the finial on top of the temple pagoda.
One of the Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals that adorns the exterior walls of the main hall.
The historic triad of statues that date back to 1643. In the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), and he’s flanked on either side by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) to the left and Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha) to the right.
With a stunning blue sky up ahead, the dancheong colours seemed that much more beautiful.
A look at the shaman shrine hall to the left of the main hall.
Inside, and to the right once you step into the shaman shrine hall, is this beautiful mural of San shin (The Mountain Spirit).
And straight ahead inside the shaman shrine hall is this amazing Chilseong (The Seven Stars) murals. It’s definitely one of the more impressive that I’ve seen in my travels.
Next to the shaman shrine hall on the right is the Nahan-jeon to the left.
Inside the Nahan-jeon are these white statues of the Nahan with Seokgamoni-bul sitting in the centre of the altar.
The plainly painted Dokseong-gak that crowns the temple heights.
And inside the darkly lit hall is this large sized mural of Dokseong (The Recluse).