Colonial Korea: Baekyangsa Temple – 백양사 (Jangseong, Jeollanam-do)

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A mountainside view of Baekyangsa Temple in Jangseong, Jeollanam-do in 1933.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Baekyangsa Temple, which is located in Naejangsan National Park, lies to the far north of the Jangseong, Jeollanam-do city limits. In fact, the temple grounds border the neighbouring province of Jeollabuk-do. Baekyangsa Temple is scenically situated on the southern slopes of Mt. Baekamsan.

Baekyangsa Temple, which means “White Sheep Temple,” in English (more on that later), was first founded in 632 A.D. during the Baekje Dynasty (18 B.C.E. – 660 A.D.) by Zen Master Yeohwan. At first, the temple was called Jeongtosa Temple. It was only later that it changed its name to Baekmasa Temple. Finally, the temple was named Baekyangsa Temple during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). The name of the temple, Baekyangsa Temple, refers to a legend that dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty. In this legend, sheep came down from the neighbouring mountains to listen to sermons preached at the temple. After listening to the temple sermons, the sheep would gain enlightenment and ascend to heaven.

During the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula, which lasted from 1910 to 1945, Baekyangsa Temple was recognized as a key temple in Korea. Currently, Baekyangsa Temple is the 18th headquarters for the Jogye-jong Order. Additionally, it plays an important role in educating monks in the Jeollanam-do and Jeollabuk-do provinces in Korea.

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The Daeung-jeon main hall at Baekyangsa Temple in 1933.

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The scenic pavilion at Baekyangsa Temple in 2014.

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The beautifully framed Daeung-jeon main hall in 2014.

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The main hall and Baekhak-bong Peak off in the distance.

Baekyangsa Temple – 백양사 (Jangseong, Jeollanam-do)

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 The beautiful scenery at Baekyangsa Temple in Jangseong, Jeollanam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Baekyangsa Temple is located in Naejangsan National Park in the northern most part of Jeollanam-do. It was first founded in 632 A.D. during the Baekje Dynasty. When it was first established, it was called Jeongtosa Temple. It was then changed to Baengmasa Temple. Finally, during the Goryeo Dynasty, the name of the temple changed to its present name: Baekyangsa Temple. The name of the temple, in English, means White Sheep Temple. This name refers to a legend from the Goryeo Dynasty where white sheep would come down from the mountains to listen to sermons. After listening, they gained enlightenment and were able to ascend to heaven. During Japanese occupation, the temple played a key role on the Korean peninsula. And currently, it’s the 18th regional headquarters for the Jogye Order. It has an important role in educating monks in the Jeolla area.

The walk up to the temple is one of the prettiest you’ll see at a temple. In fact, the temple is situated in one of the most scenic and beautiful locations in all of Korea: Naejangsan National Park. As you make your way towards the temple grounds, large red maples lead the way. You’ll pass by a dammed off area of a stream that flows down from the Naejangsan mountain peaks. During the winter, it freezes over with both the Ssanggyeru pavilion and the mountain range as a framing backdrop.

Around a bend in the path, and over a bridge, you’ll come to the Cheonwangmun Gate. Unusually, this gate doesn’t lead straight into the temple courtyard. Instead, you’ll enter from the side. The outside of the gate is adorned with a beautiful mural of the temple layout. As for the interior, there are some surreal looking Heavenly Kings. Finally, you pass by the two-story bell pavilion and the Uhwaru pavilion to gain entry to the temple courtyard. Immediately to your right is the temple’s main hall, the Daeung-jeon. The main hall was rebuilt in 1917 and the exterior walls have Nahan and Buddhist motif murals adorning it. Behind the main hall is a uniquely designed nine-tier stone pagoda. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar inside the Daeung-jeon is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by two slender standing statues of Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). To the right of the main altar hangs a descriptive painting of Dokseong (The Recluse). And rather uniquely, to the left, is a Nahan shrine dedicated to the Historical Disciples of the Buddha. Besides the seated statues of the Nahan, and just behind them, hang eight beautiful Palsang-do murals that describe the life of the Buddha.

In front of the main hall, and to the left, is a sectioned hall that is divided in two. The first shrine area is dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). Interestingly, and a first for me, the image of the Buddha is joined to seven images of the Chilseong statues with a golden string. The next shrine area to the left, but still in the same building, is the Josa-jeon, which houses numerous murals of former monks that once lived at Baekyangsa Temple.

Next to this unique hall is the historic Geukrak-jeon. The hall dates back to 1574, when it was built by the monk Hwaneung. While the hall is compact, it is rich with detail like the butterfly door hinges. As for the interior, and immediately when you enter the hall, you’ll be greeted by the large sized statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). Hanging on the right wall is the guardian mural, while in the back corner is a white-tigered mural of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). The only other hall on the temple grounds that you can visit is the rather long Myeongbu-jeon, which houses Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Underworld).

Admission is 2,500 won for adults.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Baekyangsa Temple, you can get there from the Gwangju Intercity Bus Terminal. Buses run from 6:35 in the morning until 19:50 at night. The buses leave at an interval of 60 to 80 minutes between buses, and the bus ride will last about an hour and twenty minutes.


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OVERALL RATING: 7/10. Without a doubt, the highlight to this temple is the Naejangsan National Park backdrop, where Baekyangsa Temple is located. The towering craggy peaks frame the temple with flowing streams to the east of the temple grounds. Also, the combination of halls that act as more than one shrine, as well as the historic Geukrak-jeon hall make for a beautiful outing in any season.

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 The trail that leads up to the temple.

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 The damned off stream with the beautiful mountains in the background.

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 The pavilion that overlooks the frozen pond.

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 The Cheonwangmun Gate at Baekyangsa Temple.

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 The mural of the temple on the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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 Inside the gate is a blue faced Heavenly King.

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 The bell pavilion and the Uhwaru pavilion you’ll have to pass by to get to the temple courtyard.

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 The Daeung-jeon main hall.

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 One of the more unique paintings that adorns the exterior walls to the main hall.

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 The triad of statues that rest on the main altar inside the Daeung-jeon.

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 The Nahan shrine to the left of the main altar.

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 The nine-tier pagoda behind the main hall.

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 The Chilseong-gak/Josa-jeon shrine hall.

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 Inside the very unique Chilseong-gak.

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 And a look at one of the walls with a dozen paintings of former monks inside the Josa-jeon.

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 A look at the Geukrak-jeon.

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 With beautiful butterfly door hinges.

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 The large sized statue of Amita-bul inside the Geukrak-jeon.

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 The Sanshin mural that takes up residence inside the Geukrak-jeon.

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 With the Myeongbu-jeon to the left of the Geukrak-jeon.

The Story Of…Baekyangsa Temple

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The icy Baekyangsa Temple in Jeollanam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

The beautiful Baekyangsa Temple is located in scenic Naejangsan National Park. With the jagged mountains looming overhead and the rolling streams running down its ridges, Baekyangsa Temple is situated in the centre of this beauty. With a handful of temple halls and stone monuments, I took my time and soaked it all in. After seeing the fifth temple of the day in Jeollanam-do, I decided to call it a day and retire to a neighbouring hotel.

I had prearranged to spend the night at Baekyang Tourist Hotel, but what happened was anything but planned. I had spent the previous night in a rundown dump in Haenam, Jeollanam-do. My room had three different types of wallpaper on the same wall (I don’t even want to guess), and a dog ran up and down the hallway at all hours of the night yapping the entire time. So I figured I would splurge and find better accommodations, which took me to Baekyang Tourist Hotel.

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The view over-top the main hall at the surrounding Naejangsan National Park.

The hotel parking lot was pretty full, and with it being one of the recommended hotels for the neighbouring Yeosu Expo from the previous year, I thought it might be difficult to get a room. I was pleasantly surprised when the desk clerk told me he had a handful of rooms still left. So taking out my debit card, or what I thought was my debit card, I went to pay the 80,000 won fee. But instead of pulling out my debit card from where I usually keep it in my wallet, I pulled out my Jogye-jong card. The Jogye-jong card is a card where you initially make a larger donation to a temple, which is followed by an annual donation of 10,000 won. I might be the only foreigner with this card, because wherever I go, the temple ticketing office always looks surprised that I am a card-carrying member of the Jogye Buddhist Order.

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An example of the Jogye-jong card.

The desk clerk suddenly became animated, and he kept repeating my Buddhist name: Bulwang. He was telling me things in Korean, in rapid succession, that I was pretty sure I understood. Because I had a Buddhist name, the head-monk at Baekyangsa Temple pays for any visiting monk. I was a bit taken aback, because I have all my head hair and I don’t look like a pious monk. But he was quite adamant that I pay nothing and enjoy my stay.

The only drawback to saving 80,000 won is what awaited me inside my beautiful room. Because the desk clerk thought I was a monk, he must have figured that I didn’t need a bed. So when I opened the door to my room, there wasn’t a bed in sight. Instead, I would have a free, yet uncomfortable, sleep on the floor with mats as my sole means of luxury.

Surprises, both good and bad, come in many forms.

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The surprise “bed” fit for a monk.

Baekyangsa Temple – 백양사 (Jung-gu, Ulsan)

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The amazing main hall at Baekyangsa Temple in Ulsan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

While finalizing my itinerary for my trip to temples in Ulsan, I came across Baekyangsa Temple by chance. While scouting out another temple in the downtown area of Ulsan, I came across this little known gem. And boy, was I really happy that I did discover it, because it quickly became the highlight to my little adventure to Ulsan.

Baekyangsa Temple (백양사) is situated near the city centre of Ulsan. And it’s a rather large temple compound with numerous buildings. As you first approach the temple grounds off of the neighbouring city street, and make your way past the compact bell pavilion that sits near the temple parking lot, you’ll be greeted by the face of a beautifully adorned shrine hall. It isn’t until you pass through one of the two entrance gates that you realize that this building is the Gwaneeum-jeon hall dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). The exterior is one of the most beautifully adorned halls in all of Korea with elaborate paintings of animals, the Four Heavenly Kings, and paintings of Gwanseeum-bosal. It’s should also be noted, that all of the temple buildings at Baekyangsa Temple are adorned with my favourite Buddhist painter’s murals. As you step inside of the sparsely decorated Gwaneeum-jeon, you’ll notice the main altar to your right. It took me a bit to realize that the flame standing statue was that of Gwanseeum-bosal. The reason it took me a bit to realize which Buddha or Bodhisattva it was, was that this statue of the Bodhisattva of Compassion is one of the most feminine statues of this Bodhisattva that I have yet to see in all of Korea. And she is backed by an equally eloquent painting of herself joined by Yongwang (The Dragon King).

As you step out of this hall, and back into the temple courtyard, you’ll notice the main monks’ residence to your immediate right. This hall is adorned with beautiful Shimu-do (Ox-Herding) murals. And to your immediate left are numerous buildings like the monks’ quarters for the rest of the temple’s monks as well as the kitchen and administration office at the temple.

But by far the highlight of this temple is the amazing main hall, which doesn’t even do the hall justice in words. Out in front of the main hall are a variety of stone statues like twin elephants, the eightfold path wheel, and the 12 zodiac generals, as well as Biseon, and massive stone lanterns. As you approach the main hall, you’ll realize just how intricate the dancheong paintings are. In addition to the colours, you’ll be greeted by some of the finest renderings of the Shimu-do paintings in all of Korea. In addition, there are equally amazing paintings of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas on the exterior walls of the main hall. As you step into the main hall, you’ll be greeted by five large statues on the main altar. In the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s flanked by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). And book ending these three central statues are Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) to the left and Gwanseeum-bosal to the right. To the far right is the guardian painting which is fronted with a fierce looking bronze guardian statue.

To the left of the main hall is the Nahan-jeon dedicated to the 16 Nahan (The Disciples of the Historical Buddha). Wrapped around the exterior walls to this hall, once again, are some of the finest Palsang-do murals in all of Korea. As for the interior, and rather conveniently, are the 16 Nahan statues with each of their names written in Korean. These sixteen statues surround a triad of statues that sit on the main altar. In the centre of these smaller sized statues is Seokgamoni-bul.

And to the right of the main hall is the Myeongbu-jeon hall. Around the exterior of the hall are various murals that depict an individual from younger age to older age with his aging mother. Also, and probably one of the most spectacular paintings in all of Korea, is the Dragon Ship of Wisdom that adorns the right exterior wall to this hall. As for the interior, there are large sized statues of the 10 Kings of the Underworld that join a statue of Jijang-bosal that sits all by himself on the main altar to this hall. Much like the Nahan, the 10 Kings of the Underworld conveniently have each of their names beside the corresponding King.

And next to this hall is a shaman hall that houses both the Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural in the centre and a Dokseong (The Recluse) mural to the right. Atypically, this hall also houses a mural, to the left, of the founding monk at Baekyangsa Temple.

Finally, and up a side-winding set of stairs, fronted by a tacky and fading picture of a tiger, is the San shin-gak. It’s from this vantage point, from the San shin-gak, that you get a great view of Ulsan. As for mural inside of the San shin-gak of its namesake, San shin (The Mountain Spirit), is a ghost-like mural of the usually healthy deity.

HOW TO GET THERE: The directions to Baekyangsa Temple, like some temples in Korea, are pretty difficult. First, from the Ulsan Train Station, you’ll have to get to the Ulsan City Police Station Headquarters (Ulsan Jibang Gyeongchalcheong), where you’ll have to take City Bus #5003. From this bus, you’ll have to get off at the Samhogyo Bus Stop. You’ll then have to transfer buses and take City Bus #408 for 6 more stops, where you’ll have to get off at the Gungdojang Bus Stop. From this bus stop, you can walk to get to the Ulsan City Police Station Headquarters, which should take you about five minutes. And from the police headquarters, you can continue to walk another 5 to 10 minutes (or 600 metres) to get to BaekyangsaTemple. Difficult, but not impossible.

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OVERALL RATING8/10. There is just so much to see at this temple that is beautiful from the stunning murals that adorn all the halls, both inside and out, to the ghost-like mural of San shin, to the statues of Gwanseeum-bosal, the 10 Kings of the Underworld, and all the other statues at the temple to make Baekyangsa Temple well worth the effort to visit. In addition to all this beauty, there are also all the statues that sit out front of the main hall, as well as the mind-blowingly beautiful lattice work that adorns the doors to the main hall. There’s a lot to take in artistically at this temple, so have fun!

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Just one of the entry gates that allows you into the temple grounds at Baekyangsa Temple.
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But before you enter, you can have a look at the compact temple bell pavilion with a beautiful bell that’s adorned with the likes of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
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The first hall that greets you at the temple is the Gwaneeum-jeon hall.
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The Gwaneeum-jeon at the temple is adorned with some of the most unique and beautiful murals in all of Korea.  This is a mural of just one of the Heavenly Kings that adorns the hall.
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And this mural of a monkey.
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Inside the Gwaneeum-jeon is this very feminine statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). She is perhaps the most feminine statue of this Bodhisattva that I have yet to see in Korea.
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And in front of the Gwaneeum-jeon is the massive main hall that is intricately and gorgeously decorated with various murals and dancheong colour schemes.
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Before you enter the hall, you’re first greeted by various stone statues like this attendant.
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As well as the 12 Zodiac Generals.
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Some of the finest lattice artistry in Korea.
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Inside the main hall resides these five statues on the main altar. In the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha).
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To the right of the altar inside the main hall is this bronze guardian in front of the temple’s guardian mural.
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This painting in the Palsang-do set of murals adorns the Nahan-jeon hall.
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A look at the main altar inside of the Nahan-jeon.
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 To the right of the main hall is this hall, the Myeongbu-jeon.
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On the right exterior wall of the Myeongbu-jeon is one of the finest examples of the Dragon Ship of Wisdom.
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Inside, and seated on the main altar, is a statue of Jijang-bosal.
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Next to the Myeongbu-jeon hall is a shaman shrine hall that houses the likes of this painting and statue of Dokseong (The Recluse).
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Up this winding path is the San shin-gak dedicated to San shin (The Mountain Spirit).
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The view from the San shin-gak down at the main hall and at Ulsan off in the distance.
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And a look inside the San shin-gak and the ghostly San shin.