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


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.


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


The scenic pavilion at Baekyangsa Temple in 2014.


The beautifully framed Daeung-jeon main hall in 2014.


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

Baekyangsa Temple – 백양사 (Jangseong, Jeollanam-do)


 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.


 The trail that leads up to the temple.


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


 The pavilion that overlooks the frozen pond.


 The Cheonwangmun Gate at Baekyangsa Temple.


 The mural of the temple on the Cheonwangmun Gate.


 Inside the gate is a blue faced Heavenly King.


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


 The Daeung-jeon main hall.


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


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


 The Nahan shrine to the left of the main altar.


 The nine-tier pagoda behind the main hall.


 The Chilseong-gak/Josa-jeon shrine hall.


 Inside the very unique Chilseong-gak.


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


 A look at the Geukrak-jeon.


 With beautiful butterfly door hinges.


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


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


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