Updated: Jikjisa Temple – 직지사 (Gimcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

Inside the Biro-jeon Hall at Jikjisa Temple.

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Jikjisa Temple, which means “Direct Indicator Temple,” in English, sits at the base of Mt. Hwanaksan. Without a doubt, the temple is located in one of the most beautiful spots in all of Korea with quiet forests, rolling streams, and ancient ruins all around. As the legend goes, Jikjisa Temple was built in 418 C.E. The temple was built under the guidance of monk Ado; a monk who introduced Buddhism to the Silla Kingdom after visiting China long before it was accepted in the Silla Kingdom. After first seeing the location, he pointed to a spot on the mountain and said a large temple should be built at its base (hence “Direct Indicator Temple”). And during Taejo’s reign, the first king of the Goryeo Dynasty, the temple became the largest in all of East Asia. However, as part of the Imjin War from 1592 to 1598, numerous military monks from Jikjisa Temple rose up against the Japanese, and as reprisal, Jikjisa Temple was burnt to the ground. In 1610, Jikjisa Temple was rebuilt, and continued to be expanded upon until the 1980’s. Now, Jikjisa Temple is one of the eight largest temples in Korea and has five associated hermitages scattered throughout the mountainside.

You first approach the temple up a lush forest path. Along the way, you’ll see the elevated Iljumun Gate. Eventually, you’ll pass by the massive Mandeok-jeon conference hall to your left, but continue right towards the Geumgangmun Gate, which houses painted child-like incarnations of Bohyun-bosal and Munsu-bosal. Past the Geumgangmn Gate is the large Cheongwangmun Gate. Perhaps, this gate is one of the largest in Korea with its towering Four Heavenly Kings inside. Both the interior and exterior walls are beautifully painted with swirling dragons, floating Biseon, and pastoral paintings.

Just past this gate, and around the Mansye-ru Pavilion, you’ll climb a couple sets to be squarely situated in the main temple courtyard at Jikjisa Temple. Straight ahead is the Daeung-jeon main hall which dates back to 1649. Around its exterior walls are some chipped, but still vibrant, Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, is a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) and Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). These slender statues are backed by six metre tall murals that date back to 1744. Out in front of the main hall are a pair of three-tier stone pagodas that date back to the 9th century. They beautifully framed the main hall. Also, the Jong-gak, or bell pavilion, is housed just to the left of the western pagoda.

Just to the rear of the main hall is the Seongjwa-gak, which houses three shaman murals. All three, which are masterfully executed, are dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), Chilseong (The Seven Stars), and Dokseong (The Lonely Saint).

To the left of the main hall, and entering a forested area, you’ll next come to an all new collection of halls. The first to greet you is the Gwaneeum-jeon with a minimalized interior. The main altar, however, has an elegantly seated statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). To the left of this hall is the Eungjin-jeon, which houses the Historical Disciples of the Buddha in glass cases, as well as a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul. Out in front of this hall is the Samyeong-gak, which is dedicated to the warrior monk, Samyeong-daesa (1544-1610), who was the former abbot at the temple. Housed inside this hall is a beautiful painting dedicated to this amazing monk. And just slightly to the rear of this hall is the Myeongbu-jeon, which houses a green-haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). The statue of this Bodhisattva is matched by an equally stunning mural of Jijang-bosal. And the Bodhisattva of the Afterlife is joined on both sides by the Ten Kings of the Underworld. All four of these halls have amazing murals around each of their exteriors, so take the time and have a look.

There are two more halls to the west of these four halls. The rather understated Yaksa-jeon is situated just to the left of the temple’s museum (which is also worth a visit, if you have the time). Housed inside the Yaksa-jeon is a beautiful, golden statue dedicated to Yaksayore-bul. But it’s the Biro-jeon, or the Cheonbul-jeon, in the western courtyard, that truly stands out. This hall dates back to 1661. And housed inside this hall, alongside Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy) on the main altar, are a thousand white Buddha statues.

Admission to the temple is 2,500 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: When you arrive at the Gimcheon train station, you can catch local buses #11, #111, or #112 from the intercity bus terminal that is right next to the train station parking lot. The bus ride is 1,300 won and lasts about 10 to 20 minutes. You can also take a taxi from just out in front of the train station, as well. If you’re travelling in a group, this may be an easier way to go, as the ride costs about 7,000 to 10,000 won. The bus will drop you off at the bus stop which is a nice 15 minute walk to Jikjisa Temple.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10. There are very few drawbacks to visiting Jikjisa Temple. The only drawback is that it’s a bit difficult to get to. Other than this slight negative, Jikjisa Temple is enormous in size and artistic scope. The beautiful paintings are spell-binding, and the 1,000 white miniature Buddhas are amazing. With being the oldest (purported) temple in all of Korea, it is well worth a day trip out to see Jikjisa Temple.

The Iljumun Gate at Jikjisa Temple.
A look to the other gates that welcome you at the temple.
The Mansye-ru Pavilion.
The large Cheonwangmun Gate at the temple.
Two of the Four Heavenly Kings inside the Cheonwangmun Gate.
The main hall and ancient pagodas to the east and west of the Daeung-jeon.
The triad of statues inside the main hall.
Some of the artwork inside the main hall; this time, of Gwanseeum-bosal.
Another piece of artwork inside the main hall.
The Seongjwa-gak shaman shrine hall to the right rear of the main hall.
A look at Sanshin inside the shaman shrine hall.
The main temple courtyard.
The well-hidden Gwaneum-jeon at Jikjisa Temple.
A look inside the Eungjin-jeon.
A look towards the Samyeong-gak.
The beautiful mural of Samyeong inside the Samyeong-gak.
Both the Myeongbu-jeon and Biro-jeon together.
The main altar inside the Myeongbu-jeon with Jijang-bosal front and centre.
Some of the artwork that adorns the halls at Jikjisa Temple. This particular painting commemorates the founding of Jikjisa Temple and monk Ado.
Here is a winterscape of Jikjisa Temple.
A look inside the Biro-jeon Hall with a thousand white Buddha statues.
The western courtyard that houses several of the temple’s halls including the Yaksa-jeon.
A look inside the Yaksa-jeon at the Medicine Buddha.