Colonial Korea: Ssanggyesa Temple – 쌍계사 (Hadong, Gyeongsangnam-do)

Ssanggyesa - 1916 - Jingapseon Sabi

National Treasure #47, The Stele for Master Jingam at Ssanggyesa Temple in Hadong, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Ssanggyesa Temple, which means “Twin Streams Temple,” in English, was first founded in 722 A.D. The temple was first established by the monks Daebi and Sambeop, who were the disciples of the famed Uisang-daesa. After being instructed by the Jirisan Sanshin, in the form of a tiger, to create a temple in a valley where the arrowroot blossomed even during winter, the two set out to establish Ssanggyesa Temple just north of modern day Hadong, Gyeongsangnam-do in the heart of Jirisan National Park.

So after returning from China, where they furthered their Buddhist training, they returned with the skull and portrait of Huineng (the Sixth Patriarch of Seon [Zen] Buddhism). They enshrined both under the main hall at Ssanggyesa Temple. It was only later that the skull was retrieved and enshrined in a stone pagoda behind the Daeung-jeon Hall at Ssanggyesa Temple.

Originally called Okcheonsa Temple, the monk Jingam-seonsa (774-850 A.D.) renamed the temple in 840 A.D. to Ssanggyesa Temple. A stele, which is dedicated to Jingam-seonsa, and written by Choi Chi-won (857- ?), stands in the temple courtyard. It’s designated National Treasure #47.

During the Imjin War, all the temple buildings were completely destroyed by fire. Now, most of the temple buildings date back to the 17th century.

Ssanggyesa - Jaengsang Mokpio

A wooden totem outside Ssanggyesa Temple.

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The Iljumun Gate at the temple in 1933.

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Which is joined by the Cheonwangmun Gate in 1933.

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As well as the Geumgangmun Gate in 1933.

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The Cheonghak-ru Pavilion at Ssanggyesa Temple in 1933.

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The special Palsang-jeon Hall at Ssanggyesa Temple in 1933.

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A closer look at the Palsang-jeon Hall.

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

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Another look at the Stele for Master Jingam. This picture was taken in 1916.

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And a closer look at the dragon swirling capstone to the stele.

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A closer look at the Daeung-jeon main hall.

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A look inside the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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The expansive main altar inside the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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The Guksa-jeon Hall at Ssanggyesa Temple in 1933.

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The Chilseong-gak at the temple.


And one of the stupas at Ssanggyesa Temple.

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The Iljumun Gate in 2012.

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The Cheonwangmun Gate in 2012.

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The Palsang-jeon Hall in 2005.

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The main hall at Ssanggyesa Temple in 2012.

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National Treasure #47, The Stele for Master Jingam at Ssanggyesa Temple in 2005.

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The main altar inside the Daeung-jeon Hall at Ssanggyesa Temple in 2012.

Chilbulsa Temple – 칠불사 (Hadong, Gyeongsangnam-do)


The courtyard at Chilbulsa Temple in Hadong, Gyeongsangnam-do in Jirisan National Park.

Hello Again Everyone!!

I had long wanted to visit Chilbulsa Temple, near Hadong, Gyeongsangnam-do, for quite some time now. But for one reason or another, I was unable to visit the temple. However, I was finally able to visit this beautiful temple during this year’s summer vacation.

Chilbulsa Temple (칠불사), better known as The Temple of Seven Buddhas in English, was the place that the seven sons of King Suro, the founding king of the Gaya Kingdom, reached enlightenment and became Buddhas. According to this legend, the seven sons meditated under the guidance of their uncle, Zen Master Changyubook-seonsa, for two years until they each reached enlightenment. The temple is situated 800 metres in elevation, and according to geomancy, it has one of the most auspicious locations in all of Korea. Unfortunately, most of the temple was burned to the ground during the Korean War. More recently, in 1984, Chilbulsa Temple was both renovated and restored to its present-day appearance.

When you first approach the temple grounds, you’ll first pass by a large budo to your right as well as a stately Iljumun Gate. A little further along, you’ll come to the temple’s parking lot, and the base of a long set of stairs. The front facade of Chilbulsa Temple is rather stately with the conference hall and the bell pavilion looking out on the world.

Passing under the conference hall, you’ll catch your first glimpse of the golden altar inside the main hall, as you enter the temple courtyard. To your far right are the monks’ living quarters, kitchen, and office. And to your left is the historic Ajabang Hall. This hall dates back to King Hyogong (887-912). It was named this because of the shape of its floor plan. A cross-shaped central walking floor is raised above U-shaped platforms at each end of the hall for meditation. Each of the platforms are half a metre above the floor and heated by the Korean ondol system. And behind you, from where you came, you can see the compact bell pavilion and the conference hall that is illustrated with some stunning murals.

Straight ahead is the main hall at Chilbulsa Temple. Surrounding the exterior of this main hall are both the Palsang-do murals which depict the eight stages in the Historical Buddha’s life, as well as the Shimu-do (Ox-Herding) murals. Both sets are beautifully executed, while uniquely, the Palsang-do murals possesses two additional murals to make it a set of ten instead of the standard eight. Additionally, there are two beautiful murals of both Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) near the side entrances to the main hall. As for the interior of the main hall, and sitting on the main altar, is an amazingly ornate golden altar piece fronted by a triad of statues. In the centre sits Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). And he’s flanked by Munsu-bosal and Bohyun-bosal on either side of him. This main altar sits under a large red canopy and intricate illustrations throughout the depths of the main hall. Another amazing feature to the main hall is the golden altar to the right of the main one. Posed all in gold are the seven Buddhas that the temple is named after: the seven sons of King Suro. Finally, and to the left of the main altar, is another golden mural; this time, a guardian sculpture.

The final hall of any interest at Chilbulsa Temple is the Gwaneeum-jeon Hall to the right of the main hall. Sitting on the main altar inside of this hall is a beautiful statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). She’s backed by an equally beautiful red mural with various Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Nahan, and guardians populating the mural. And to the left of the main altar is another red mural, this time, a guardian mural.

HOW TO GET THERE: Like a lot of remote temples, Chilbulsa Temple is a bit tricky to get to. From Busan, you’ll have to get to the Seobu Intercity Bus Terminal at the Sasang #227 subway stop. From Seobu, there are two ways to get closer to the temple. First, you can catch the bus to Hwagye at 11:20A.M. The trip will take you three hours and cost 11,200 won. This bus only leaves once a day from Busan. From Hwagye Bus Terminal, you’ll then have to take a bus to Beomwang. There are only two buses during the day that go in this direction at 10:20 and 19:15. After the bus drops you off, you’ll have to walk thirty minutes to get to Chilbulsa Temple.

The second way you can get to the temple from Busan is to get to the Seobu Intercity Bus Terminal, again. From the terminal, you can catch a bus to Hadong. Unlike the Hwagye bus, the bus heading to Hadong leaves four times a day starting at 7:00 A.M. From the Hadong Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll have to catch either bus #35-1 or 35-2 to get to the Hwagye Bus Terminal. Once you get to the Hwagye Bus Terminal, you’ll have to do all the things you would have to do in the first option to get to Chilbulsa Temple.

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OVERALL RATING: 7/10. One of the highlights at this temple is the Ajabang Hall. Unfortunately, it’s off-limits to the public, or at least it was when I arrived, but you get a pretty good idea of what this hall offers if you look through the windows. The other highlight to this temple is the main hall and all the intricate artwork and golden statues that sit or hang on the altars inside of this hall. With its long history and aesthetic beauty, Chilbulsa Temple is well worth the effort to see, especially if you’re in the Mt.Jirisan area of Gyeongsangnam-do.

The foggy set of mountains that greeted me at Chilbulsa Temple.
The stately Iljumun Gate that welcomes you to the temple grounds.
The front edifice to Chilbulsa Temple.
The bell pavilion to the right of the conference hall.
And the conference hall you pass under to gain admittance to the temple grounds with a view of the golden main hall off in the distance.
The beautiful main hall at the temple.
The amazingly golden main altar inside of the main hall with Seokgamoni-bul (the Historical Buddha) in the centre.
A look up at the extremely ornate red canopy that stands above the golden altar.
To the left of the main altar is an equally golden guardian sculpture.
And the amazingly golden sculpture of the seven sons of King Suro that gained enlightenment at Chilbulsa Temple.
One of the Shimu-do murals that adorns the exterior walls of the main hall.
As well as one of the atypical Palsang-do murals.
To the left of the main hall is the slightly smaller Gwaneeum-jeon Hall.
The statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) that sits on the altar inside the Gwaneeum-jeon Hall.
To the left of the altar is this red guardian mural.
A look around the temple grounds from the Gwaneeum-jeon Hall.
A closer look at the extremely unique meditative Ajabang Hall.
One of the murals that adorns the conference hall.
And yet another of a tiger aiding what looks to be a monk.

Updated: Ssanggyesa Temple – 쌍계사 (Hadong, Gyeongsangnam-do)


The pink flowers that were in bloom behind the main hall at Ssanggyesa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

North of Hadong is Ssanggyesa Temple, which means “Twin Streams Temple,” in English. The temple’s origins date back to 722 A.D., when it was first called Okcheonsa Temple. Instructed in a dream by the Jirisan Sanshin, monks Daebi and Sambeop, were told to find a valley where arrowroot blossomed even during the wintertime. This is how they came to find the valley location for their new temple. In this location, after having returned from China, they buried the skull of the Sixth Zen Patriarch, Huineng. In 840 A.D., the temple was enlarged, and its name was changed to its present name of Ssanggyesa Temple by Jingam-seonsa.

You first approach Ssanggyesa Temple up a beautifully wooded forest. The first structure to greet you is the top-heavy Iljumun Gate. The next building, with the twelve zodiac generals painted on it, is the Geumgangmun Gate that houses both two child-like images of Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). Amazingly, this gate dates back to 1641. The final gate of the three is the squarish Cheonwangmun Gate. This gate houses four intimidating statues of the Four Heavenly Kings, and the gate dates back to 1704.

Up a flight of stairs, you’ll next come to the Palryeong-ru Pavilion. This pavilion blocks most of the lower courtyard; however, the Beopjong-ru, bell pavilion, lies just to the left of it. And to the right stands the Nine-Story Stone Pagoda. While the pagoda only dates back to 1990, purportedly, it enshrines three sari (crystallized remains) from the Buddha. If you follow a pathway and a steep set of stairs just past the bell pavilion, you’ll come to an elevated courtyard that houses a unique collection of shrine halls including the Palsang-jeon and the Geum-dang. Inside the Palsang-jeon are eight extremely intricate murals dedicated to the Buddha, as well as solitary statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) on the main altar. Up another flight of stairs, you’ll see the Geum-dang, which houses an ancient pagoda inside its walls.

Back at the Palryeong-ru Pavilion and looking north-east, you’ll encounter National Treasure #47. This treasure is the historic Jingam’s stele. The body of the stele was written by the famed Confucian-Daoist scholar, Goun (Choi Chi-won). The stele dates back to 886-887, and the body of the biseok describes the history of the temple. Nine dragons dance around its capstone, while a dragon-like turtle bears the burden of the ancient stone’s weight. Take the time to have a look at this remarkable artifact.

Just past this beautiful biseok lies the Daeung-jeon, main hall, at Ssanggyesa Temple. Sitting inside this large main hall are seven statues on the main altar. Sitting in the centre of the seven is a statue of Seokgamoni-bul. He’s joined to the right by a triad of statues centred by Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). The other two figures that make up this triad are Ilgwang (The Sun Bodhiasttva) and Wolgwang (The Moon Bodhisattva). The triad to the left of the Buddha is centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s joined by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power and Wisdom for Amita-bul). Also inside these walls are a beautiful guardian mural and a Gamno-do painting.

Directly to the left of the main hall is the Nahan-jeon, which houses some of the most intricate murals dedicated to the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha) in all of Korea. They are joined by a simplistic wooden collection of the 16 Nahan. And directly to the right of the main hall is the Myeongbu-jeon.

To the rear of the main hall, and newly built, is an outdoor altar similar to the one at Tongdosa Temple. Purportedly, the altar at Ssanggyesa Temple, just like Tongdosa Temple, also houses a sari from the Buddha. This shrine is joined to the left by the Hwaeom-jeon, which houses some holy texts, as well as a golden statue of Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy) sitting in the centre chamber.

Just to the rear of the Hwaeom-jeon is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Housed inside this hall are some of the most unique incarnations of the three most popular shaman deities in the Korean pantheon. In the centre hangs the well-populated 49 star Chilseong (The Seven Stars). This mural is joined by the Seongmo Halmae Sanshin (The Holy-Mother Grandmother Mountain Spirit). She appears quite regal even without a crown. And the final of the three is Dokseong (The Lonely Saint).

Admission to the temple is 2,500 won.

HOW TO GET THERE:  From the Hadong Intercity Bus Terminal, you can take bus bound for Ssanggyesa Temple. The bus ride should take about 20 to 25 minutes.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10.  Ssanggyesa Temple is filled with temple shrine halls to visit. It also includes an altar and a pagoda that purportedly house the Buddha’s remains, as well as a National Treasure that dates back to the 9th century. And with the temple being situated in Jirisan National Park, well, Ssanggyesa Temple quickly becomes a must for any temple adventurer.

The first gate to greet you at Ssanggyesa Temple.
The large second gate that houses the four heavenly kings that are the guardians at Ssanggyesa Temple.
A view of the lower courtyard at the temple.
A better view of the beautiful nine-tiered pagoda at Ssanggyesa Temple.
 A view of a stream, and the bridge that spans it, on the west side of the temple.
One of the temple buildings from the lower courtyard.
The colourful bell pavilion at Ssanggyesa Temple.
A memorial tablet dedicated to the national priest Jin’gam.
The view from the main hall (that was under construction at the time).
The seven altar pieces inside the main hall.
Geum-dang hall in the upper courtyard behind main hall.
Palsang-jeon hall, also in the upper courtyard, behind the main hall.
A look from the upper courtyard at the overcast sky and the rolling Jirisan Mountains.
The pink flowers that were in bloom behind Palsang-jeon and Geum-dang in the elevated courtyard behind the main hall.
Just one of the beautiful creeks that surrounds the temple grounds.