The Story Of…Haedong Yonggungsa Temple


The beautiful view at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone and Merry Christmas!!

Like so many people, I mark the passage of time through the milestones of certain achievements or memorable moments in my life. But unlike the vast majority of people, I tend to mark these memorable moments in the way that Korean temples change. I know that that sounds like a bit of an oxymoron, these religious beacons that stand the test of time, but Korean temples do in fact change aesthetically. Perhaps this is indicative of the ten years I’ve been here, and perhaps it points to a greater affluence in the Buddhist community in Korea. Either way, change is in fact all around us.

Perhaps there’s no greater example in the way that temples change than Haedong Yonggungsa Temple in Busan. This once out of the way temple, at least according to 2003, has grown to be arguably the most popular temple in Busan (and for good reason).

The first time I ever attempted to get to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple was in the winter of 2003. And the first taxi driver I attempted to get a ride from in Haeundae hadn’t even heard of Haedong Yonggungsa Temple; and that was with the aid of a Korean written note to assist both him and I. It took a second taxi driver to finally know where I wanted to go. And when I finally did arrive, the temple parking lot was nothing more than a dirt road that they dropped you off at before you hiked your way towards the temple by the sea. Back then, Haedong Yonggungsa Temple didn’t even have a main hall.

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The view of the temple from 2005 with the newly built main hall.

But like so many things, time has a way of changing things, whether it’s a gradual change or quite dramatic in style. Now, when you arrive at the temple, there’s a large paid parking lot with a loud corridor of vendors that are pushing their wares. Also, if you’d rather a bus ride to take you out to the temple, there’s now a direct bus that takes you to the temple with a convenient bus stop just outside the well manicured grounds. Included in all this change are the number of shrines that have popped up all around the temple like the tire shrine to help those Koreans that don’t want to get into a car accident. Additionally, there’s now a golden statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) that is situated on a rock outcropping. Before this, it had been all black; and back in 2003, it simply didn’t exist.


A look at the black Jijang-bosal, which is now gold.

Even the ocean-side view that formally had no fencing protecting you from the waves that crash upon the shore, has a knee-high fence warning you of any potential dangers from the mighty sea that gives Haedong Yonggungsa Temple so much of it’s amazing beauty. Yet another dramatic change from the winter of 2003 is that Haedong Yonggungsa Temple now has a beautiful, large main hall that is elaborately decorated both inside and out. But perhaps the greatest change comes in the form of just how many visitors frequent the temple each and every day. It used to be that you would be one, among a handful, of visitors. Now, especially if you visit on the weekend, you can be crushed (or at least pushed) by the throngs of people that come to the beautiful Haedong Yonggungsa Temple.

So much about Haedong Yonggungsa Temple has changed in the ten years I’ve been here; but then again, the temple is really just symbolic of the many changes that have occurred in my life. Not everyone has something tangible to point to to highlight the rapidity of change, but I have Haedong Yonggungsa Temple.

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The coastal view where Haedong Yonggungsa Temple is located.

Updated: Haedong Yonggungsa Temple – 해동 용궁사 (Gijang-gun, Busan)


Haedong Yonggungsa Temple in Busan

Hello Again Everyone!

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, which means “Korean Dragon Palace Temple,” in English, was first founded in 1376 by the Venerable monk Naong who was an advisor to King Gongmin. One day in a dream, the Divine Sea god of the East Sea revealed itself to Naong. He was told to construct a temple at the top of Mount Bongrae and the nation would become larger and more stable. So after checking around the nation for a place to build a temple, he found the land where the temple now rests. In the process, he named the temple Bomunsa Temple. However, in 1592, during the Imjin War with Japan, the temple was burned to the ground. It wasn’t until the 1930’s, over 300 years after its destruction, that the Venerable monk Ungang, from Tongdosa Temple, rebuilt the temple. He renamed it Haedong Yonggungsa Temple.

You first approach the temple grounds, which are located along the coastal waters of the shoreline, down a narrow corridor filled with vendors selling their wares. It’s only after emerging on the other side that you’re confronted by twelve three metre tall statues of the zodiac generals. Have a look for yours, as you make your way towards the tire pagoda, because it’ll most certainly be there. Next, you’ll see the towering seven-story stone pagoda that is intricately detailed in its design. At its base is a tire shrine for people to pray to to avoid car accidents (seriously!).

It’s through the gate, which sports two golden dragons on either pillar, and down the flight of stairs that you’ll draw closer to the main temple grounds. Waiting for you along the way with a tarnished nosed and a scuffed belly is a Podae-hwasang statue that grants woman that rub its belly or nose a future son.

After finally passing through an artificial cave passageway, the East Sea will finally come into view. Dozens of stone lanterns lead the way as you make your descent down the 108 stairs that are symbolic of the 108 delusions of the mind in Buddhism. But before you reach the base of the stairs, about halfway down the flight of stairs, is an outcropping to your left. It’s along this pathway that you’ll see Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). If you go a little bit further, you’ll notice a golden statue dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). It’s also from this shoreline outcropping that you get an amazing view of the temple grounds.

Crossing over the bridge that separates one shoreline from the next, you’ll finally enter the main temple courtyard. Along the way, you can toss a couple coins to a dongja or a turtle for good luck. Just past the temple entry gate, and just to your left, is the three-tier stone pagoda with four lions at its base. These lions represent the four basic human emotions of love, sorrow, anger, and joy.

With the main hall to your right and around a bend that sports a ferocious metal dragon, you’ll finally have an commanding view of the neighbouring sea and the large sized Daeung-jeon main hall behind you. The main hall is filled with beautiful paintings including the Palsang-do murals and a painting to the Divine Sea god of the East Sea revealing itself to the monk Naong. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, are a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha) and Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). To the right of this triad is a mural dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars), while to the left hangs a Yeongsan Hoesang-do mural.

To the left of the main hall is a large, jovial, golden statue of the Podae-hwasang. Also in the main courtyard are two large, round, golden pigs that grant good fortune. There are a flight of stairs that lead underground which houses a statue of Yaksayore-bul, as well as water that purportedly cures ill health. The only other shrine hall in this area is the Yongwang-gak. Looking outwards on the ocean is a wooden statue of the Dragon King.

It’s next to this shrine hall, and up an uneven set of stairs, that you’ll climb towards a serenely smiling figure of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). The towering statue is known as the Haesu Gwaneeum Daebo, which means “Sea Water Bodhisattva of Compassion Statue.” She is surrounded on all sides by shrubbery and thin monk statues. From these heights, you get a breath-taking view of the East Sea and Haedong Yonggungsa Temple down below.

Admission to the temple is free.

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HOW TO GET THERE:  From the Haeundae subway stop (line 2, stop #203), and out exit #7, you can catch Bus #181 that will bring you all the way to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple. Just make sure you get off at the temple’s stop. You can take a bus or you can simply take a taxi from the Jangsan subway stop (line 2, stop #201). The price should be about 10,000 won.

OVERALL RATING:  9/10.  What isn’t to love about this seaside temple? The temple is a bit of a rarity in Korea in that it’s located next to the sea and not up in the mountains. This only adds to the temple’s natural beauty. This, in combination with its elegant statue of Gwanseeum-bosal, the view from the Jijang-bosal statue, and the main hall itself, make for a beautiful combination of Buddhist artistry. I’ve been visiting Haedong Yonggungsa Temple since 2003, and it’s only gotten busier and busier each time I go, which really speaks to its popularity; and ultimately, its beauty.


The row of 12 zodiac generals that greet you at the temple.


An up close of the rat with coin in eye.


The seven-tier stone pagoda.


The entry gate that leads down to the sea and the temple courtyard.


The baby-making Podae-hwasang.


The first view of the sea from the stone lanterns that guide the way.


A look towards the buildings at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple.


The beautiful neighbouring seaside.


The golden Jijang-bosal statue.


A couple enjoying a moment.


The view as you cross the bridge towards the temple.


The three-tier pagoda with a lion base.


The expressive metal dragon with the main hall in the background.


The Naong dream painting.


Inside the main hall with a look toward the main altar.


The large golden Podae-hwasang statue.


The statue and painting dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King).


The crowning Gwanseeum-bosal statue.


The view that Gwanseeum-bosal gets to enjoy.