Bodhidharma – 달마 (5th to 6th Cent.)


An Image of the Bodhidharma from a Temple Wall.

Hello Again Everyone!!

This is the ninth installment about prominent Korean monks. And while the Bodhidharma wasn’t Korean, he had a heavy and wide-sweeping influence on Korean Buddhism, especially Seon Buddhism.

The Bodhidharma, which is shortened to just Dharma in Korea, was the legendary founder of the Seon/Zen/Chan tradition of meditative Buddhism. He first traveled to China, from northern India, in the early 6th century. He came to China to help enlighten people through meditation and through a minimal amount of studying texts.

The Bodhidharma first arrived in China in the capital of the southern kingdom. While there, he had a famous dialogue with the king, King Liang Wudi. During this dialogue, the Bodhidharma told the king that all the king’s donations to temples and monks would gain him nothing. Instead, he had no idea of who he was. Out of frustration, the king sent the Bodhidharma north to a minor temple on the remote Mt. Song-shan.


A Painting of the Bodhidharma from Jogyeam Hermitage in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

The Bodhidharma had to cross the great Yangtze River by standing on a reed. After arriving at the temple, the monks simply couldn’t understand what it was that the Bodhidharma was attempting to teach them. From this inability to be understood, the Bodhidharma retreated to an isolated cave high up in the mountains where he continuously meditated for nine years in front of a rock wall.

At the end of the nine years, a military officer by the name of Dazu Huike visited the Bodhidharma because he was curious. Dazu Huike begged the Bodhidharma to allow him to become his student. After being refused, Dazu Huike cut off his left arm with his sword as a sign of his commitment. Finally, the Bodhidharma relented and Huike became his student. After this incident, the Bodhidharma returned to the temple from his cave to teach his new form of Buddhism. This little known temple would become famous as the Shaolin Temple, while the Bodhidharma’s new form of Buddhism would famously become known as Zen Buddhism (or Seon in Korea, or Chan in China).


Dazu Huike and Bodhidharma Mural from Bohyunsa Temple in Goseong, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Dazu Huike would become known as the second patriarch of Chan Buddhism. There would be four more patriarchs that followed culminating in the teachings of Huineng (638-713). Visiting Korean monks that learned under Huineng would transmit his teachings back to the Korean peninsula. This resulted in the Gusan Seonmun (The Korean Seon’s Nine Original Sects). Some of these temples include Silsangsa Temple in Jirisan National Park, Borimsa Temple on Mt. Gajisan, and Taeansa Temple in Jeollanam-do. This form of Buddhism would gain popularity among the lay-people and continue to grow. As a result, the Bodhidharma is regarded as the founder of Seon Buddhism in Korea. He’s even referred to as the Dalma-josa (the founding master Bodhidharma) in Korea.

The Bodhidharma can often be seen depicted in a variety of manners and in a variety of locations. The paintings of the Bodhidharma, for instance, are known as the Dalma-do. The Bodhidharma often sports a heavy beard, a big nose, and he often wears large earrings. He has a knitted brow, suspicious eyes, and he sometimes dons a hood. You can find the image of the Bodhidharma in paintings around temple halls or in a person’s house or even their jewelry. This famous monk knows no bounds and is as popular as ever among the Korean population.

Jeokcheonsa Temple – 적천사 (Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do)


 The view of the main hall and temple courtyard at Jeokcheonsa Temple in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

You first approach the very rural Jeokcheonsa Temple up a long winding road. In fact, you go for so long, you might think that there’s no end to the road. When you do finally emerge on the other end, a yapping dog from one of the neighbouring houses will greet you at Jeokcheonsa Temple. It’s only then that you’ll know that you’ve finally arrive at the temple.

As for temple structures, the first thing to greet you is a weather-worn Cheonwangmun Gate. Because the temple is rather smallish in size, it’s surprising that they have such a beautiful gate dedicated to the Four Heavenly Kings. As you step inside the Cheonwangmun Gate, you’ll be greeted by four smiling kings. And underneath their feet, if you look down, you’ll notice that they’re trampling demonic demons.

Having passed through this gate, and greeting you on the other side, is a beautifully large Boje-ru pavilion. You’ll need to slouch down a bit so that you don’t bump your head when passing through this pavilion. Climbing the set of stairs that leads up to Jeokcheonsa Temple’s main courtyard, you’ll be greeted by a collection of halls and buildings.

To your immediate left is the temple’s understated bell pavilion. It has a beautifully polished bronze bell that’s joined by an equally attractive fish gong and cloud gong. And to your immediate right are a row of monks’ quarters, the temple’s kitchen, and the visitors’ centre. Neighbouring the temple’s bell pavilion is the rather long Myeongbu-jeon. All but unadorned, the exterior walls only have the standard dancheong colours painted on their walls. Inside the Myeongbu-jeon are the typical statues of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and the Ten Kings of the Underworld.

Slightly to the right, and straight ahead, is the main hall at Jeokcheonsa Temple. The exterior walls are painted with some of the more original paintings you’ll see at a Korean temple. There are the atypically painted Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals on the right to rear side of the hall.

As for the left, you can find the Bodhidharma and an all-white Gwanseeum-bosal painting. Unfortunately, the doors to this hall were locked when I visited, and I think it’s pretty standard judging from the signs on the wall. However, if you’re lucky enough to get in, a triad of statues on the main altar will greet you. The golden statues are centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). And he’s joined on either side by Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha) and Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise).

To the left and right of the main hall are two smaller sized shrine halls. The one to the left is dedicated to the Nahan (The Disciples of the Historical Buddha). Inside this hall are all-white stone statues dedicated to the Nahan. And they are joined in the centre by Seokgamoni-bul. The exterior walls to this hall are painted with some beautiful pastoral paintings. As to the right, and joined by some more monks’ dorms, is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. As you first enter this hall, you’ll be greeted by a strange, but older-looking, mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). This strange painting is fronted by a statue of the shaman deity. Just to the right of Sanshin hangs an equally old painting of Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). And rather atypically, the oldest-looking painting of Chilseong (The Seven Stars) hangs on the far right wall. Usually, Chilseong hangs in the centre, and he’s joined on either side by Sanshin to the left and Dokseong to the right, but I guess the head-monk at Jeokcheonsa Temple had something else in mind.

HOW TO GET THERE: Unfortunately, there’s no public transportation that goes directly to Jeokcheonsa Temple; instead, you’ll need to take a taxi from the Cheongdo Intercity Bus Terminal. The ride should take you about 20 minutes, and it’ll set you back about 8,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10. If all the halls to this temple were open, perhaps it would slightly be rated a bit higher. But because the main hall and Myeongbu-jeon were off-limits when I visited, the rating goes down a bit. However, even with all that in mind, the beautiful Cheonwangmun Gate, the large Boje-ru pavilion, and the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall that houses the older-looking murals kind of counter-balances this deficiency.


A look up at the Cheonwangmun Gate at Jeokcheonsa Temple.


Just one of the smiling Heavenly Kings inside the Cheonwangmun Gate.


And one of the demons being trampled under foot.


A look towards the Boje-ru pavilion from the Cheonwangmun Gate.


A better look at the rather overstated Boje-ru pavilion.


The spacious bell pavilion at Jeokcheonsa Temple.


The polished bell at the temple.


The rather long Myeongbu-jeon at Jeokcheonsa Temple.


A look at the triad of shrine halls at the temple with the main hall front and centre.


An all-white Gwanseeum-bosal that’s painted on the main hall.


She’s joined by the Bodhidharma.


And the collection of atypical-looking Shimu-do murals.


The Nahan-jeon to the left of the main hall.


With some pretty amazing murals adorning its exterior walls.


A look inside the Nahan-jeon at the all-white stone sculptures of the Nahan.


And to the right of the main hall is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.


A look inside at the older-looking mural of Dokseong.


 Who is joined to the right by this equally older-looking Chilseong mural.

Cheongryangsa Temple – 청량사 (Gangseo-gu, Busan)


A look through a window at the Minang-gak shaman shrine hall at Cheongryangsa Temple in Gangseo-gu, Busan.

Hello Again Everyone!!!

Cheongryangsa Temple is located in an industrial part of western Busan, and it’s surrounded on all sides by neighbouring factories. You first enter the compact temple grounds off of one of the industrial roads, as you pass through the Cheonwangmun Gate. Painted inside this gate are four murals of the Four Heavenly Kings. And adorning the ceiling are a set of swirling Biseon. On top of the gate is the temple’s towering bell pavilion.

As soon as you enter the temple grounds, and pass through the diminutive dirt parking lot, you’ll be greeted by the newer looking main hall. The main hall is surrounded by some of the more beautiful Palsang-do murals that you’ll find at any temple throughout Korea. As for the interior, and sitting under a yet to be painted canopy, are a triad of smaller sized statues. Sitting in the centre is Amita-bul (The Bodhisattva of the Western Paradise). He’s joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Wisdom and Power or Amita-bul). On the far right wall is a memorial shrine for the dead and to the far left is a guardian mural. And just behind the main hall is a seated statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha).

In between the main hall and the temple bathroom is an ancient tree. Just behind this ancient tree are the monks’ dorms, kitchen, and visitors’ centre.

Perhaps the most unique aspect to the temple is the Minang-gak, which houses the usual shaman suspects, as well as another highly original painting. The Minang-gak shaman shrine hall is painted with various murals of the Shinseon (The Daoist Immortals). As for when you first step into the Minang-gak, you’ll be welcomed by a highly original mural of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). To the right of this mural is an older looking painting dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). The next painting, and in the same style as the Sanshin mural, is a mural dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King). The final mural in the set of four is the Dangsan painting. This highly original mural is dedicated to a female spirit that protects the temple grounds and the surrounding area. It was formerly housed in a shrine all to its own before Cheongryangsa Temple was first established. With the creation of the temple, Cheongryangsa Temple simply absorbed the shrine dedicated to Dangsan and housed the painting dedicated to this feminine spirit alongside other shaman deities inside the Minang-gak.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll need to take the subway to the Hadan subway stop, #102, line one. Take exit number 3 and find the bus stop where you can take town bus #3 or #15. The bus is smaller in size, and you’ll need to take it for 7 stops. Get off at the Sachuideung (사취등) stop. Look for the temple signs and walk towards the temple for about three minutes. Either that or you can simply take a taxi from Hadan subway station. The ride will take about 7 minutes, depending on traffic, and cost you about 5,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10. While small in size, Cheongryangsa Temple has the most uncommon of shaman spirits housed in one of the more unusual of shaman shrine halls, the Minang-gak, in all of Korea. This shrine hall alone is worth the attempt to find Cheongryangsa Temple. However, couple this with the newly constructed main hall and the murals it sports, and you’ll have more than enough reason to visit this unknown temple in western Busan.


 A look through the Cheonwangmun Gate at Cheongryangsa Temple.


Just one of the Four Heavenly Kings housed inside the Cheonwangmun Gate.


The swirling set of Biseon painted on the ceiling of the Cheonwangmun Gate.


A look up at the Cheonwangmun Gate and just some of the trees that line the temple grounds.


A look at the newly built main hall at Cheongryangsa Temple.


Just one of the masterful Palsang-do murals that adorns the exterior walls along the main hall.


A look inside the main hall at the main altar.


A statue of Mireuk-bul that sits in back of the main hall.


The monks’ residence at the temple.


Finally, a look at the Minang-gak shaman shrine hall at Cheongryangsa Temple.


Just one of the Shinseon murals that adorns the shaman shrine hall.


The earthy image of Sanshin inside the Minang-gak.


A look at the other three murals that make up the shaman set of paintings.


 A closer look at the Dangsan mural inside the Minang-gak.

Bulgoksa Temple – 불곡사 (Changwon, Gyeongsangnam-do)


The temple courtyard at Bulgoksa Temple in Changwon, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Located in the heart of Changwon, Gyeongsangnam-do, Bulgoksa Temple is a compact temple that is undergoing a bit of a renovation.

When you first approach the temple up a steep road that is located next to terrace upon terrace of parked cars, you’ll first encounter one of the most unique Iljumun Gates in all of Korea (and that’s not hyperbole, either). Looking up at the roof, you’ll notice the bodies of wooden snakes as they lay intertwined with the gate. On one end of the gate is a large turtle, and at the other is a grinning tiger that looks down on you.

Just a little further up the path, and you’ll see one of the smaller sized Boje-ru pavilions straight ahead. To get to the compact temple courtyard, you’ll have to pass under this pavilion; but before you do, have a look to your right at the ancient, and uniquely designed, pagoda.

Having passed through the pavilion, you’ll emerge on the other side to see a handful of halls. The one that lies straight ahead is the smaller sized main hall. The exterior walls are adorned with a beautiful set of Palsang-do murals. As for inside this hall, the statue inside is truly the highlight of the entire temple. Housed inside this hall is a statue of Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy) that dates back to the Unified Silla Dynasty, around 850 to 900 A.D. Birojana-bul is seated and he holds his hand in the Diamond Fist mudra. He has a serene looking smile, and he’s seated on a lotus pedestal. This statue is Treasure #436. The rest of the main hall is filled with a guardian murals and an all white-clad mural of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).

To the right of the main hall is the Myeongbu-jeon hall. The exterior walls are painted with Judgment murals and an intricate Dragon Ship of Wisdom mural. As for the contents of this hall, a golden statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) is backed by a fiery nimbus. On both sides, Jijang-bosal is joined on the altar by a painting of all ten Kings of the Underworld. And between the Myeongbu-jeon and the main hall is a bell pavilion with herbs and flowers growing in a make-shift garden.

The final two halls at Bulgoksa Temple lie to the left of the main hall. The longer of the two is the Gwaneeum-jeon with an extremely elaborate 1,000 armed statue of Gwanseeum-bosal inside. Joining this statue inside the hall are a pair of guardian murals; also, they were sprucing up the hall by painting the exterior walls. Tucked in between the main hall and the Gwaneeum-jeon is the Samseong-gak. One of the exterior walls is adorned with a realistic orange mural of a tiger just as you’re about to enter this shaman hall. Inside this hall are three rather traditional paintings of the three most popular deities in Korean shamanism: Chilseong (The Seven Stars), Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), and Dokseong (The Recluse).

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Changwon Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take bus #801. After five stops, you’ll need to get off at the 사파 동성 아파트 (가음정공원) Stop. Walk along the road towards the south and the Bulgoksa Temple intersection for about 5 minutes. At the intersection, turn right and walk for another 5 minutes. Eventually, you’ll see the temple’s parking lot to your right.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10. The two highlights of this temple that really stand out are the Iljumun Gate that’s adorned with elaborate wooden carvings and the historic stone statue of Birojana-bul. Besides these two highlights, the elaborate golden statues of Jijang-bosal and Gwanseeum-bosal stand out. And with its central location in Changwon, it can make for a pretty relaxing, and beautiful break from the daily grind.


The colourful, yet highly original, Iljumun Gate at Bulgoksa Temple.


The grinning tiger to the left on the Iljumun Gate.


And the blue dragon just to the tiger’s right.


A good look at the compact Boje-ru Pavilion.


To its right is this uniquely designed pagoda that looks like it might have once been a stupa.


The Myeongbu-jeon hall to the right of the main hall.


The Dragon Ship of Wisdom that’s painted on its exterior wall.


Inside is this fiery statue of Jijang-bosal.


Joining Jijang-bosal are wall-to-wall paintings of the Ten Kings of the Underworld.


Between the main hall and the Myeongbu-jeon is the diminutive bell pavilion.


The golden latticework of the main hall.


Just one of the Palsang-do murals that adorns the exterior walls of the main hall.


The ancient statue of Birojana-bul that sits inside the main hall.


To the left of the main hall is the Gwaneeum-jeon and the smaller sized Samseong-gak.


The painting of the life-like tiger on the exterior walls of the Samseong-gak  just as you are about to enter it.


 The extremely elaborate and ornate statue of Gwanseeum-bosal inside the Gwaneeum-jeon.


Seosan Hyujeong – 서산 휴정 (1520-1604)


The Warrior Monk, Seosan Hyujeong

Hello Again Everyone!!

This is the sixth installment about prominent monks in Korean Buddhism. This week, I thought I would talk about another warrior monk: Seosan Hyujeong. Like his student, Samyeong-daesa, Seosan would rise up against the invading Japanese to defend the Korean peninsula.

Seosan was a great Seon master during the early to mid-Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Seosan is remembered both as a national hero, as well as one of the most important figures in Korean Buddhist history.

Seosan’s Buddhist name was Cheongheo Hyujeong; however, he’s most commonly known by the respectful title of Seosan-daesa. During his lifetime, he taught hundreds of students that became prominent Seon masters in their own right. At the age of 32, Seosan scored the highest score in his class exam on monastic studies. Afterwards, he ascended to the highest position in Seon Buddhism, as well as the master arbitrator between Seon (meditative) and Gyo (doctrinal) schools of Buddhism. Eventually, he resigned his position after already assuming the position reluctantly in the first place. He didn’t strictly want to be an administrator. So he retreated to Mt. Geumgangsan, where he continued to practice and teach monks.

In 1592, and at the age of 72, the Japanese invaded the Korean peninsula. At this time, and two hundred years prior, Korean Buddhism had been dealt with contemptuously by Joseon Confucians. During this time in Korean history, monks had been driven out of cities and temples were closed. In fact, sacred Buddhist artwork was confiscated by Korean court officials. However, and in spite of all this, Seosan believed Korean Buddhism should come to the defence of the nation. In doing this, he cited the idea of doryang (the sacred practice of awakening), where people suffering needed to be saved through compassion; and for Seosan, there was no greater show of this than to come to the aid of the nation.

Even though he was 72 years old, he took the battlefield with parts of the Korean militias, as well as troops from Ming China (1368-1644). Through his efforts, he was successful in recapturing Pyeongyang. In greater support, Seosan asked all of his disciples to come to Korea’s aid. One of these monks was the famed Samyeong-daesa, who fought successfully in the southern portion of the Korean peninsula. As a result of their collective actions, the nation-protecting tradition of Korean Buddhism helped to partially re-legitimize the religion in officials’ minds.

In addition to his militaristic efforts to save his nation, Seosan was also a great meditation master. He helped to consolidate the forms of Gyo and Seon Buddhism, which are used in unison most commonly to the present day. Sadly, Seosan-daesa passed away at the age of 84 in 1604.


Another image of the elderly warrior monk, Seosan

Okryeonseonwon Temple – 옥련선원 (Suyeong-gu, Busan)


A man prays to the massive Mireuk-bul statue at Okryeonseonwon Temple in Busan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Okryeonseonwon Temple is located in the heart of Suyeong, in Busan, just outside Haeundae and Gwangalli beaches. It has a commanding view of the ocean and trendy neighbourhood apartments.

You first approach Okryongseonwon Temple up a steep road that seems to be popular with mountain hikers. You’ll know that you’re getting closer and closer to the temple because you’ll see an extended three metre high wall made completely of roof tiles. When you do eventually arrive at the temple grounds, the first structure to welcome you is the Iljumun Gate that is decorated with a pair of guardian murals: Heng and Ha.

Passing through this gate, you’ll see the nuns’ quarters straight ahead. The lovely grass path is bordered on all sides by tall, lush hedges. The bell pavilion hovers over the hedges on the far end of this lower temple courtyard.

At the end of the path, and just before the bell pavilion, are a pair of stone lanterns with an assortment of figurines stuffed in all crevices and cracks. Just up the stairs, and you’ll finally arrive in the upper temple courtyard. Straight ahead is the compact main hall. Inside the main hall, and resting on the main altar, are a triad of statues. In the centre sits a slender statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by two equally slim-looking statues of Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). To the right of the main altar is a mural of the multi-eyed Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).

Just to the left of the main hall, and up a set of stairs, is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. You’ll get some more amazing views of the neighbouring cityscape from here. As for inside this shaman shrine hall, and unusually resting in the centre of the three, is a life-sized statue of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). He’s joined to the left by an unassuming Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) and a pair of paintings to the right. The first is dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars), while the other is a rather atypical painting of Yongwang (The Dragon King) joined by Dongjin-bosal (The Bodhisattva that Protects the Buddha’s Teachings). Just to the right of the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall, and behind the main hall, is a solitary three-tier pagoda.

The real highlight to this temple, and to the far left of the temple halls, is the massive 20 metre tall statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). Mireuk-bul, from his commanding vantage point, looks out protectively over Busan. As you make your way back down to the lower courtyard, you’ll make your way past some beautiful landscaping. There are a combination of red roses, purple irises, and an assortment of flowers in bloom along the way. Make sure you visit either in summer or spring to this temple. You’ll be amazed by the landscaping if you do.

HOW TO GET THERE: There are two ways in which you can get to Okryeonseonwon Temple. Both require that you first take the subway to Millak subway stop, #207. From there, you exit out exit #1 and catch a taxi. The ride should only take about 5 minutes, over 1.4 kilometres, and it should cost you 2,800 won. The other way that you can do it is by simply walking. Again, you’ll need to go out exit #1. Head towards the ocean and towards the second bridge to the south. Once you get to the bridge, hang a right. Head in this direction for about 300 metres. Then, hang another right towards the Millak Elementary School. Head up this road, which has a bit of an incline, for another 300 metres until you arrive at Okryeonseonwon Temple.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10. This has to be one of the most beautifully kept temples that you’ll visit in all of Korea. It’s beautiful lawns and amazing landscaping with an assortment of flowers and hedges make Okryeonseonwon Temple an amazing escape from the daily grind, especially if you’re in the Suyeong area of Busan. Add into the mix the view and the massive statue of Mireuk-bul, and you have plenty of reason to visit this little known gem.


The road that leads up to the temple.


Just one of several guardians that greet you at the temple entrance.


The Iljumun Gate at Okryeonseonwon Temple.


The beautiful hedges that welcome you to the temple grounds.


 The view of the temple halls at Okryeonseonwon Temple.


The bell pavilion that hovers over top of the tall hedges.


 A look up towards the main hall.


A closer look at the compact hall with the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall just to the left.


A look inside the main hall at the main altar. Sitting in the middle is Seokgamoni-bul. He’s joined on either side by Munsu-bosal and Bohyun-bosal. To the far right, you can see the elaborate mural dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal.


 The amazing view from the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.


The life-sized statue of Sanshin.


He’s joined to the right by these two murals dedicated to Chilseong and Yongwang.


The solitary pagoda behind the main hall.


And through the forest, you’ll catch your first glimpse of Mireuk-bul.


A closer look at the masterful statue of the Buddha.


And a look over his shoulder at the view he gets to enjoy.


Just some of the amazing landscaping at the temple.


A beautiful stone lantern surrounded by nature on all sides.


 And lastly, some beautiful red roses that were still in full bloom at Okryeonseonwon Temple.

Samyeong-daesa – 사명 대사 (1544-1610)


A picture of Samyeong-daesa from Jikjisa Temple

Hello Again Everyone!!

This is the fifth installment on prominent Buddhist monks in Korean history. And this time, I thought I would talk about Master Samyeong-daesa, who I have long found very interesting for a number of reasons. So keep reading and find out why, as you learn a bit more about the Joseon Dynasty monk, Samyeong-daesa.

Samyeong was a Seon master with the Buddhist name, at least during his lifetime, of Yujeong; however, he became posthumously known as Samyeong-daesa. Samyeong-daesa was born at a time in the mid-Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) where there was a lot of upheaval. It was a period that included the Imjin War from 1592 to 1598. Samyeong-daesa would become one of the leading warrior monks during this hellish period in Korean history.

Samyeong-daesa was born in the city of Miryang in Gyeongsangnam-do Province. Tragically, his mom would die in 1558, which was followed by the death of his father in 1559. Shortly after their deaths, Samyeong became a monk at the famed Jikjisa Temple in Gimcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do. During his studies, he studied both Buddhist and Confucian texts. Later, in 1575, Samyeong was nominated to become the head of the Seon Order; however, he refused. Instead, he chose to travel to Mt. Myohyangsan instead. It was here that he became the disciple of Master Seosan.

Samyeong-daesa was one of the leading disciples of Master Seosan. And it was through Seosan’s influence and instruction that Samyeong-daesa took up arms against the invading Japanese during the Imjin War. In fact, and after joining forces with Seosan, Samyeong helped defend Haeinsa Temple, Gounsa Temple, and the Haenam region of Jeollanam-do from the Japanese.

After the war, Samyeong was appointed as the royal envoy. During his negotiation with the Japanese, to which he traveled to Japan, Samyeong successfully negotiated a peace agreement. After the war, Samyeong returned to Korea with Korean prisoners of war, as well as priceless religious artifacts.

Not long after the Imjin War, Samyeong retired. As a sign of appreciation, the king built Hongjeam Hermitage near Haeinsa Temple. With failing health, Samyeong-daesa passed away in 1610. His stupa and stele remain at this hermitage to this very day. After his death, special shrines were built at Pyochungsa Temple, Jikjisa Temple, and Daeheungsa Temple. To this very day, Samyeong-daesa continues to be remembered as one of Korea’s greatest heroes, and his writings are preserved in the Samyeong-daesa-jip.


 Samyeong-daesa: The warrior monk

Daeunam Hermitage – 대운암 (Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do)


The spectacular view of the city of Cheongdo from Daeunam Hermitage.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Whenever I’m short of inspiration, or the list of temple’s is getting a bit dry, I always check out a few Korean blogs to get some inspiration. With all that in mind, I found Daeunam Hermitage in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do on one of these blogs; and the hermitage didn’t disappoint, either.

You first approach Daeunam Hermitage up a long and winding mountainside road that runs about four kilometres in length. This drive allows for some pretty remarkable views of rural Cheongdo down below.

At the entrance of the temple, you’ll climb a steep road that’s lined with tall red pines. When you finally crest the mountain, you’ll be welcomed by the monks’ dorms that lay straight ahead. Slightly to the right, and placed precariously on the mountain’s face, is the Dokseong-gak. Inside this hall is a colour, solitary painting dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint).

Slightly to the left of these two buildings, and still in the same area, is another hall. This hall is the visitors’ centre, which has an amazing view of the valley down below. If you’re lucky enough, a monk will invite you in for a cup of tea.

Directly behind the visitors’ centre, and up a steep and uneven set of stairs, is the temple’s main hall. The exterior walls to this hall are adorned with green-tinged Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals. As for the interior, a solitary statue of Gwanseeum-bosal that dates back about three hundred years sits on the main altar. Under a beautiful canopy with a manja (swastika) symbol front and centre, Gwanseeum-bosal is backed by a beautiful black mural of herself. To the right of the main altar is a mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). And to the right is a collection of artwork. The first is a mural dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). Next to this is a golden guardian relief. The final mural is dedicated to the founding monk at Daeunam Hermitage.

To the left of the main hall, and still on the same upper courtyard, is a miniature main hall. Yep, you heard me right, a Barbie house for Buddhism. Inside are three diminutive Buddhist statues, as well. Not sure of its meaning, but it definitely surprised me. As you walk in this direction, you’ll notice another hall with an intense yellow tiger painted on it. Figuring this to be the Sanshin-gak, I was surprised when I wasn’t able to open it. It seems to be in the process of being converted into another type of temple hall. However, you can get some more great views of Cheongdo in the valley below.

So if the old Sanshin-gak is being converted, where is the new one, you might be asking. Squeezed between the main hall and a row of monks’ dorms is a stone staircase that leads up towards the peak of the mountain. Crowning the hermitage grounds is a plainly appearing Sanshin-gak that looks to have just been completed. Perhaps the most spectacular views can be seen from this shrine hall. In fact, the painting of Sanshin has a birds-eye-view of the beautiful landscape because the front of the hall simply has a window instead of a wall. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, is an amazing male and female painting of Sanshin. This pair is quite rare in a Sanshin Taenghwa mural. So enjoy both the painting and the view when visiting the Sanshin-gak.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Cheongdo Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take a taxi to the mountainside hermitage. It’s 16 km, and 30 minutes, so it’ll cost you 15,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10. I wasn’t sure what to expect when visiting Daeunam Hermitage, but I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The amazing views are second to only a handful of hermitages in Korea. Add into the mix the very rare Sanshin mural, as well as the historic statue of Gwanseeum-bosal, and you have more than enough reason to visit rural Cheongdo.


The final part of the road that leads up to Daeunam Hermitage.


A headstone just outside the hermitage entrance.


The hermitage as it first greets you.


The cliff-side Dokseong-gak.


The colourful painting of Dokseong inside the shaman shrine hall.


 A look up at the main hall at the hermitage.


The first in the set of Shimu-do murals.


 A look inside the main hall at the historic Gwanseeum-bosal statue on the main altar.


The Chilseong mural to the left of the main altar.


The golden guardian relief inside the main hall.


The amazing view just behind the main hall out onto the rural countryside.


The spectacular view that both Sanshin and visitors get to enjoy from the Sanshin-gak.


The Sanshin pairing that takes up residence inside the Sanshin-gak.


The cave just to the rear of the Sanshin-gak. Enter at your own risk!


As you make your way back to the entrance, and to the left of the main hall, is this smaller sized hall.


The former Sanshin-gak.


 Once again, another amazing view from Daeunam Hermitage. This time, from the former Sanshin-gak.

Singwangsa Temple – 신광사 (Geoje-do, Gyeongsangnam-do)


The amazing water shrine dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal at Singwangsa Temple on Geoje-do Island.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Having wanted to explore neighbouring Geoje-do Island for quite some time, I finally got the opportunity this past weekend. And it certainly didn’t disappoint, especially when it came to Singwangsa Temple.

You first approach the temple up a set of side-winding back roads, until you see the well-worn Iljumun Gate and a collection of stupas. In an elbow in the road, you’ll finally arrive at the temple parking lot. Just over a grassy bump in the landscape, and a collection of beautifully maintain cedar trees, you’ll be able to see the large main hall.

The exterior walls to the main hall are decorated with some quickly fading Palsang-do murals, which are dedicated to the eight scenes from the Buddha’s life. In addition to this artwork, there is some beautiful latticework of dragons swirling in their wooden frames and Nathwi at the base of the doors. There are three larger, dark wooden coloured, statues sitting on the main altar. They look to be centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s flanked by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) and Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). These three statues are then joined by four smaller, standing statues. They look to be, starting from the left, Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom), Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power), and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). The interior to this massive main hall is cavernous.

Just out in front of the main hall is the temple’s bell pavilion. Surrounding the pavilion on strings are folded letters of peoples’ hopes and dreams. One of the main highlights to this temple lies just to the right of the temple’s bell pavilion. Past a mature tree, and through an opening, you’ll come to an island with Gwanseeum-bosal standing on the second floor of a two tier concrete island. There are two walkways you can gain entrance to this shrine. Also, you can get some pretty amazing pictures of both the shrine, the green water that surrounds this island shrine, and the temple itself.

Just to the right of the main hall, and as you climb a set of stairs to arrive at the upper courtyard, you’ll see a glass shrine dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King). It’s just past this shrine, and up a hedge-row pathway, that you’ll come to the artificial cave at Singwangsa Temple. Inside this cave are eight bronze plaques that depict various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Passing by these, you’ll next enter the large cave chamber. Seated in the centre of the chamber is a statue of Seokgamoni-bul that dates back to the early Goryeo Period (918-1392). He’s surrounded on all sides by Buddhas that reside inside the wall.

Up past this cave, and up another set of stairs, you’ll come to a shaman shrine hall that houses both Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) and Chilseong (The Seven Stars). Besides being large in size, they are rather plain in design.

Just behind the artificial cave, and to the left of the shaman shrine hall, you’ll come to another clearing. This time, in the centre of it all, is a beautiful stone sculpture dedicated to Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). He’s joined in this area by the Nahan-jeon hall, which houses 500 beautiful, stone sculptures of the Nahan. Just to the rear of this hall is the Myeongbu-jeon, which is unadorned on its exterior like the Nahan-jeon; however, inside this hall is a beautiful painting of Jijang-bosal, as well as a granite sculpture of the Bodhisattva, as well. Rather strangely, pictures of the deceased are hanging all around the front altar, instead of to the side.

HOW TO GET THERE: Because Singwangsa Temple is actually located closer to the the Tongyeong Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to go to the city of Tongyeong first. And from the Tongyeong Intercity Bus, you’ll need to take a taxi because there’s no bus that goes directly to Singwangsa Temple. The taxi will take about 25 minutes and cost you about 13,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10. While it costs a fair bit to drive from Geoje-do Island from Busan, especially when you use the underwater Gadeok Tunnel, Singwangsa Temple certainly didn’t disappoint. The temple is littered with a handful of beautiful shrine halls. And when you add into the mix the artificial cave and the island shrine dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal, and you have more than enough reason to visit the rather special Singwangsa Temple.


 The ocean-side view from Geoje-do Island.


 The beautiful landscaping at Singwangsa Temple.


The large main hall that welcomes you to the temple.


 The bell pavilion out in front of the main hall.


 A look across the massive front facade at Singwangsa Temple.


A look at the main altar inside the main hall.


 The spectacular green water shrine dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal.


 The bridge that allows you access to the Bodhisattva.


 A shrine painting dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King).


 The entryway to the artificial cave.


 Your first look as you enter the artificial cave.


 The ancient statue dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul that sits front and centre inside the cave.


 The beautiful view and trail that lead you to the upper courtyard.


 The shaman shrine hall at Singwangsa Temple.


 The rather plain, but large, Sanshin mural inside the shaman shrine hall.


 Both the statue dedicated to Mireuk-bul and the Nahan-jeon hall together.


 A look inside the Nahan-jeon at the stone sculptures.


 The main altar inside the Myeongbu-jeon.


 And the peaceful view from the Myeongbu-jeon.

Tongdosa Temple – 통도사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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A view of the main hall at Tongdosa Temple.

Hello Everyone!!

I couldn’t have thought of a better temple to first visit than Tongdosa Temple (통도사). It’s situated in Yangsan, just north of Busan.  It was the very first place my wife and I had gone on for a date in 2003, and since only being back in Korea (after being away for nearly two years), it was the first temple we wanted to visit.  It had only been three days since we had landed, but my wife and I decided to go to Tongdosa Temple with the in-laws.  And like the first day I visited it, it still holds that same splendor and magic as the first time I ever saw it.

Tongdosa Temple (“Transmission of the Way Temple”) was first founded in 643 to house the holy relics of the historical Buddha (a bone from his skull, his robe, and his begging bowl). Master Jajang traveled to the temple Yunjisi, in China, where he obtained the relics of the historical Buddha.  Tongdosa Temple is one of the three Korean treasure temples: the others being Haeinsa Temple and Songgwangsa Temple. Tongdosa Temple is the bul (Buddha) temple, which focuses on the spirit of the Buddha. Presently, Tongdosa Temple houses some three dozen temples and there are 19 associated hermitages in the neighbouring grounds.

When you first approach Tongdosa Temple, you’ll first notice ancient graffiti on the rock faces.  As you continue to walk, you’ll first pass through a beautifully built four-post Iljumun gate.  To the right are numerous stupa headstones honouring monks that resided and died at the temple. With so many stupas, it’s clear just how ancient the temple is. Continuing along, strolling beside a lazy stream, you’ll next pass by two beautiful bridges to your left and the two temple museums to your right.  The one that contains all the temple’s ancient paintings is big and beautiful with numerous stone statues out in front.  The stone statues and priceless artifacts are housed in the neighbouring museum next to the newer and bigger art museum. Next, you’ll approach Sacheongwang-mun gate, which houses the four fierce Heavenly Kings. Passing through this gate, you’ll enter into the outer courtyard of the temple. In this courtyard, you’ll be able to visit the two storied bell pavilion, and numerous halls for various Buddha’s such as Geungnak-jeon, which is dedicated to Amita-bul (The Buddha of Compassion). On the backside of this hall is a beautiful, and fading, painting of the wisdom dragon ship that brings people to the Land of Ultimate Bliss. Also in this area is Yaksa-jeon, which is a hall dedicated to Yaksa-bul (The Buddha of Medicine).

Passing through Bulimun gate, which is a gate that represents the division between the worldly and the spiritual realms, you’ll enter the inner courtyard and the spiritual realm of the temple. In the upper courtyard there are beautiful halls dedicated to even more Buddhas and Bodhisattavas. The halls to your right are dedicated to the white Buddha Mireuk-bul (The Buddha of Future Salvation), and behind this hall is a hall dedicated to Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Infinite Cosmic Light).  Interestingly, the building that houses Biro Bul is believed to be the oldest wooden structure at the temple.  And in front of Mireuk-jeon is a unique stone structure.  A lot of people misinterpret what this stone structure is supposed to represent.  Some believe it to be a pagoda, while others believe it to be a lantern.  In actual fact, the stone structure is an alms bowl on a pedestal.  This may seem strange at first, but the close proximity of the alms bowl to the Mireuk-jeon hall is a give away to its identity. The offering inside the alms bowl is to make ready and express the wishes for the Future Buddha’s coming. And since Mireuk-bul is the Future Buddha, the stone alms offering are to be offered to him when he returns in 5.67 billion years. As you walk from Mireuk-jeon to Daejeonkgwang-jeon, look around at the exterior of the buildings to see some of the most beautiful paintings at any temple in Korea, like the tiger and Biseon paintings.

Walking through the inner courtyard that houses an ancient stone lantern and stone pagoda, you’ll notice the weather worn brown main hall, Geumgang Daeung-jeon. Uniquely, this crowning structure does not face the front of the temple; instead, it faces to the south. And just as unique, the main altar houses no statues of the Buddha. Instead, behind the hall is Geumgang Gyedan, which houses the remains of Seokgomani-bul (The Historical Buddha). Because the temple houses the relics of the Historical Buddha, and there is a window that looks out onto the remains of the Buddha, there are no statues of the Buddha. Geumgang Gyedan is a two level square of stone. In the middle sits a stone carved lotus bud which supports the bell shaped sari budo (stupa). This stupa is the focal point of the entire temple, and it’s also probably the busiest place at the temple.

In front of this beautiful squared stoned altar that houses the remains of the Buddha is a shrine hall dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). To the immediate left of the Buddha’s remains is a shrine hall dedicated to Sanshin.  Interestingly, there is a pond with a fascinating history. The story goes that in the pond, Guryong Shinji (“Nine Dragons Sacred Pool”), monk Jajang found nine dragons inhabiting a pond on the Tongdosa Temple grounds. In order to create the temple, he had to drive the dragons off the grounds. One dragon begged to stay in order to protect the temple from evil spirits. To house the dragon, the pool was dug for him to inhabit and protect the temple. Beside this pool is the hall dedicated to the Nahan (The Disciples of the Historical Buddha). As you can tell, there is a lot to see and experience at Tongdosa Temple!

For more on Tongdosa Temple.

HOW TO GET THERE:  To get to Tongdosa, you can take an intercity bus from Busan, Eonyang or Ulsan. Specifically from Busan, you can take a bus or subway to Nopo-dong Intercity Bus Terminal. There, you can get a ticket for Tongdosa Temple. It leaves every 20 minutes.  And if you leave from Yangsan Intercity Bus Terminal, the city where Tongdosa Temple is situated, you’ll have to make your way across the street from the terminal towards the Emart. From Emart, you can catch city bus #63 or 67. Once you arrive near Tongdosa Temple, and facing the very small bus terminal, you should walk left and then turn right at the first corner.  The temple entrance is past the numerous restaurants and shops.  Walk up a 1.5 km path, sprinkled with ancient graffiti, and you will eventually arrive at the outskirts of the temple grounds.  Admission for adults is 3,000 won.

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OVERALL RATING:  10/10.  It is what you imagine when you think of the beauty of Korean temples. It has numerous buildings to view, dedicated to an equal amount of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. It also has beautiful artwork on the buildings, as well as the partial remains of the Historical Buddha. For all these reasons it’s a must see for Korean temples!

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This is the first entrance gate that welcomes you to Tongdosa Temple.
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The creek that leads into Tongdosa Temple, with the first entrance gate to the right.
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The numerous monk headstones at Tongdosa Temple.
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The Chinese inscription on the first gate. It reads: Buddha taught two different books in this temple where it has three different schools in these crowded woods.
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The first, of many, gorgeous bridges spanning the creek that leads into Tongdosa Temple.
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The Heavenly Kings gate: the second gate leading into Tongdosa Temple.
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Inside the grounds of Tongdosa Temple.  On the left is the bell tower.
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A closer look at the beautiful bronze bell.
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A view of the lower courtyard at Tongdosa Temple.
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On the backside of Geungnak-jeon, which is dedicated to Amita-bul (The Buddha of Infinite Light) is a beautiful, but fading, painting of the wisdom dragon ship that brings people to the Land of Ultimate Bliss.
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An ancient pagoda.
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The third, and final, entrance gate.  Through this gate one sheds all earthly desires and enters into the spiritual.  It is ornately decorated.
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A very Korean sign adorning the final gate.
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A decorative tiger on the inside of the final gate.
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And next to Mireuk-jeon hall is this uniquely painted tiger.
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The main temple hall at Tongdosa Temple: Geumggang Daeung-jeon (Diamond Great Excellence Hall).
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Another view of the main hall.
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Another beautiful view of the unique main hall at Tongdosa Temple.
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To the side of the main hall is this pool:  Guryong Shinji (“Nine Dragons Sacred Pool”) that houses the protective dragon.
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A view across the main hall with the pink paper lanterns adorning it.
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 A view into the Geumgang Gyedan Sari Budo, where the Buddha’s remains are housed inside stone lotus bud.
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A better look at Geumgang Gyedon with the Sari Budo that houses the historical Buddha’s earthly remains.
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A closer look at the stone lotus bud in black and white.
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A look at the surrounding mountainside and the dorms for monks at Tongdosa Temple.
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A winding walk-way that leads back to the neighbouring hermitages that are associated with Tongdosa Temple (more to come in future blogs).
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Another gorgeous bridge that spans the Tongdosa Temple creek.