Colonial Korea: Magoksa Temple – 마곡사 (Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do)


The mountainside view of Magoksa Temple in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do in 1932.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Magoksa Temple is beautifully located in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do. The temple was first believed to be established either in 640 or 642 A.D. The temple was established by the famed monk Jajang-yulsa (590-658 A.D.).

There are two stories about the origins of the temple’s name. The first relates to Jajang and when he first established Magoksa Temple. When he established the temple, he called it “magok,” which means “Flax Valley,” in English. Jajang-yulsa believed that if numerous monks came to the eastern slopes of Mt. Taehwasan, which is where Magoksa Temple is located, it would result in the rapid growth of Buddhism throughout the Korean peninsula.

Another story about the creation o the temple relates to how a believer looked at the temple and said that Magoksa Temple looked like a flax stack in the middle of a flax field. This was said during the Silla Dynasty as the monk Bocheol was preaching. So however the temple got its name, Magoksa Temple means “Flax Valley Temple,” in English.

Later, in 1172, the temple was reconstructed by the monk Bojo-guksa. The temple was used as a place of refuge during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Amazingly, Magoksa Temple was spared any damage during both the destructive Imjin War (1592-98) and the Korean War (1950-53). In fact, it didn’t suffer any damage during the entire Joseon Dynasty. And in the 20th century, it was used as a hiding place for the independence leader Kim Gu.

In total, Magoksa Temple is home to five Treasures which includes the five-story Tibetan-inspired stone pagoda that’s listed as Treasure #799.


The five-tier Tibetan-inspired pagoda and Daegwangbo-jeon Hall behind it in 1932.


The amazing two storied Daeungbo-jeon main hall at Magoksa Temple in 1932.

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The entry to Magoksa Temple in 2011.

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The Daegwangbo-jeon Hall with the Tibetan inspired five tier pagoda in front of it in 2011.

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And the Daeungbo-jeon main hall in 2011.

Now and Then: Magoksa Temple

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Magoksa Temple in the early part of the last century.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Magoksa Temple, in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do, is thought to have first been established either in 640 or 642 by the famed monk, Jajang-yulsa. The name of the temple relates to Jajang-yulsa, as well. Legend has it that when Jajang first established the temple on the eastern slopes of Mt. Taehwasan he called it “magok,” which means “Flax Valley,” in English. Jajang believed that if several good monks came from the neighbouring area, they could “cause the rapid growth of Buddhism” just like the rapid growth of flax that grew in the area. Another story about the creation of the temple relates that the name of the temple was created when a believer looked at the temple and said that it looked like a flax stack in a flax field. This was said as the famous monk Bocheol, from the Silla Dynasty, was preaching. Either way, Magoksa Temple, in English, means “Flax Valley Temple.”

The temple was later reconstructed by the monk Bojo-guksa (or Jinul) in 1172. In fact, manuscripts found at Magoksa Temple were made with liquid gold and silver that date back to the late Goryeo period (918-1392).

Throughout the years, the temple was used as a place for refuge starting as far back as the early Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). And remarkably, the temple was spared any damage that other temples suffered at the hands of the Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-98). In fact, the temple didn’t suffer any damage in wartime from 1392 to 1910. Even in the 20th century, Magoksa Temple was used as a hiding place for the Korean independence leader, Kim Gu.

In more recent years, Magoksa Temple participates in the highly popular Temple Stay program that provides their program entirely in English. In addition to its natural beauty and the Taeguk-shaped Taegeuk-cheon stream that meanderings around and through the temple grounds, Magoksa Temple also houses five Treasures. Of these five treasures, one that you should definitely keep an eye out for is Treasure #799. The five-story Stone Pagoda is topped by a beautiful bronze finial, and it’s Tibetan inspired. The Goryeo Dynasty pagoda is only one of three in the entire world.


The Goryeo Dynasty pagoda with both the Daegwangbo-jeon Hall in the foreground and the Daeungbo-jeon Hall in the background.


A more recent picture of part of the Taeguk-shaped stream that flows through Magoksa Temple.


As well as a more recent picture of the temple grounds.

Temple Stay: Magoksa Temple (Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do)


The sun shining on the main hall at Magoksa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Introduction to the Temple:

Magoksa Temple is situated on the beautiful Mt. Taehwasan in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do. Magoksa Temple was first established in 640 A.D. by the famed monk, Jajang-yulsa. Having fallen into a bit of disrepair, the temple was reconstructed in 1172 by Bojo-guksa. The name of the temple has a bit of an interesting story behind it. After a believer looked at the temple and said it looked like a flax stack in a flax field while Bocheol, from the Silla Dynasty, was preaching. So Magoksa Temple, in English, means “Flax Valley Temple.” Uniquely, and unlike almost all other temples on the Korean peninsula, Magoksa Temple was spared any damage during the destructive Imjin War (1592-98). In fact, during the entire Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), the temple suffered no wartime damage.

There are two Temple Stay programs that Magoksa Temple offers a visitor. The first is called the Magoksa Experiential Templestay. This program focuses on experiencing various activities that a monk would participate in like prayer and meditation. The other program, the Recharging Templestay, focuses on a more restive stay with less activities and more free time for participants. The schedule is a little more open than the latter program.

For more information on Magoksa Temple.


The beautiful stream that flows next to Magoksa Temple.


From the Gongju Intercity Bus Terminal, you can get local Bus #770 that will take you directly to Magoksa Temple. The ride lasts about 40 minutes. The first bus leaves at 6:10 in the morning, and the last bus departs at 20:30. In total, the bus leaves 15 times a day.

General Schedule:

Magoksa Temple runs two different programs for their Temple Stay program.

A: Magoksa Experiential Templestay: This program is a scheduled program that runs one night and two days.

Day 1:

4:00-14:30: Arrival and registration in the Yeonhwa-dang

14:30-15:00: Orientation in the Yeonhwa-dang

15:00-16:00: A temple tour

16:00-17:00: Making 108 beads in the Yeonhwa-dang

17:30-18:30: Supper

18:30-19:00: Ringing the Dharma bell at the bell pavilion; and in the evening Yebul (Chanting) in the Dharma Hall

18:30-20:00: Tea with a monk in the tea room

22:00: Bed-time


Day 2

03:00-03:30: Wake up

03:30-04:00: Dawn Yebul (Chanting) in th Dharma Hall

04:00-05:00: Individual practice or rest

05:00-06:00: Seon meditation in the Yeonhwa-dang

06:00-08:00: Breakfast (a traditional temple meal) in the Yeonhwa-dang

08:00-09:00: Team work

09:00-10:30: A guided walking meditation

10:30-11:00: Feedback and group photo in the Yeonhwa-dang

11:00-11:30: Cleaning-up and packing

11:30: Closing



(Courtesy of the Korean Temple Stay website).

B: Recharging Templestay: This program is a scheduled program that runs one night and two days.

Day 1:

15:00-17:00: Registration and a temple tour

18:00-18:30: Dinner

19:00-19:30: Evening Buddhist chanting ceremony

19:30: Free time and sleeping.


Day 2:

03:00: Morning Buddhist chanting ceremony

06:00-07:00: Breakfast

07:00-12:00: A free schedule

12:00~12:30: Lunch and check out



(Courtesy of the Korean Temple Stay website).

Magoksa Temple Information:

Address : 567, Unam-ri, Sagok-myeon Gongju-si Chungcheongnam-do

Tel : +82-41-841-6221 / Fax :

homepage :

E-mail :



Adults: 70,000 won; Teens: 60,000 won; Under 13: 40,000 won (Magoksa Experiential Templestay)

Adults: 50,000 won; Teens: 40,000 won (Recharging Templestay)


Reservations for the Magoksa Experiential Templestay at Magoksa Temple.

Reservations for the Recharging Templestay at Magoksa Temple.


The Sanshin-gak on Mt. Taehwasan.

Magoksa Temple – 마곡사 (Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do)

Picture 056The bridge that spans the stream that encompasses Magoksa Temple in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Perhaps one of the most beautifully situated, and one of my favourite temple’s in all of Korea, is Magoksa Temple in Chungcheongnam-do. It was another one of those temples in Gongju that I had long wanted to visit for several years. Fortunately, over this summer vacation I was able to revisit one of Korea’s hidden temple gems.

Magoksa Temple (마곡사) was first built in 640 by the famous monk, Jajang-yulsa. He is the same monk that built the famous Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do. It was later reconstructed by monk Bojoguksa during the Goryeo Dynasty in 1172. Like all temple creation stories, Magoksa Temple also has a great one. The name of the temple, Magoksa Temple, was created when a believer looked at the temple and said that it looked like a flax stack in a flax field. This was said as the famous monk Bocheol, from the Silla Dynasty, was preaching. Uniquely, this temple was spared any damage during the Imjin War. This is unique since almost all major temples in Korea, outside of Buseoksa Temple in northern Gyeongsangbuk-do, were completely destroyed.  In fact, this temple didn’t suffer any damage in wartime during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).

Magoksa Temple is beautifully situated on Mt. Taehwasan. It’s located just 24 kilometres outside of the city of Gongju on the northwest side. The walk in, like the location of Magoksa Temple, is perhaps the most beautiful in all of Korea. As you walk down the road for a kilometre, you’ll notice a wandering stream to your right. This stream is shaped like the Yin and Yang symbol, and it flows from the mountains above, through the Magoksa Temple, and into the picturesque valley below. There are numerous places that you can capture some amazing pictures.

You’ll first catch a glimpse of the temple over the stream and through the trees. As you first approach the temple, you’ll notice that the temple is divided up into three beautiful parts. The first part of the temple houses three gates, monk’s dorms, the Myeongbu-jeon Hall, and the Sanshin-gak. The first gate you’ll pass through, the Iljumun Gate, you’ll see in the first 500 metres of your hike towards the temple. It’s a beautifully decorated gate. Now, on the outskirts of the temple courtyard, you’ll see two more gates with the monk’s dorms to your immediate left. The first gate you’ll pass through is a highly unique gate. Back in 2004, when I first visited the temple, it was the first time I had ever seen such a gate like it. This gate is known as the Liberation Gate, and there’s only one other gate like it that I know of in all of Korea at Beopjusa Temple. This gate was first built in 1864, and it’s meant to inspire those visiting the temple to seek liberation from earthly problems. Inside this gate are housed two Bodhisattvas and two Vajra devas that help guard the temple. The two Bodhisattvas are Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom), who rides a blue tiger; and Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power), who rides on a white elephant all alone. The next gate you’ll pass through is the Cheonwangmun Gate, which is more commonly known as the Four Heavenly Kings’ Gate, in English. Inside this gate are the Four Heavenly Kings. If you look close enough at one of them, Damun Cheonwang, you’ll notice that he isn’t holding a pagoda like he usually does. Instead, he is holding a bowl of fruit in his left hand. These variations were once very common throughout these gates and these Kings; however, these differences are far less common nowadays, so it’s nice to see them when you can. The other beautiful thing on this side of the stream is the Myeongbu-jeon hall dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). The seated Jijang-bosal is surrounded by the 10 Kings of the Underworld. Behind each of these Kings and their corresponding assistants, are murals of the worlds that they reside over in the Underworld. It’s one of the better renderings and constructions of a Myeongbu-jeon in Korea, so have a look. Lastly, up the hill, above the Myeongbu-jeon hall, is a bit of a non-descript Sanshin-gak with a larger sized rendering of Sanshin that is beautifully painted.

Across the picturesque, and ancient bridge, is the stream that you walked beside the entire way up to the temple. Across the bridge you’ll first be greeted by the large bell pavilion at the lower courtyard of the temple. Also in this courtyard stands a slender five-tier pagoda that dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty. Uniquely, the top of the pagoda is adorned with a Tibetanesque finial. Straight ahead is the Daegwangbo-jeon hall that dates back to 1813, which was rebuilt after a fire destroyed the original structure. This hall houses the solitary Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). Uniquely, Birojana-bul is situated in the left of the hall, much like Birojana-bul at Buseoksa Temple’s main hall, Muryangsu-jeon.  He is seated to the left, in the west, so that he can face the east. This beautiful Buddha statue is surrounded by equally beautiful, but fading, paintings inside this hall. Everywhere you look you’ll find paintings of saints, dragons and Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). In the rear of the hall are the guardian paintings and the Yeongsan Assembly painting that are older looking in style. Outside, this hall is all but unadorned except for the guardian paintings on the left side of the hall as well as some uniquely sculpted dragon’s with pearls and fish in their mouth near the main entrance of the hall. To the right of the Daegwangbo-jeon hall are the monk’s dorms and the temple stay building. To the left of the Daegwangbo-jeon hall is the Eungjin-jeon hall that houses the 15 disciples of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). These golden sculptures flank a golden Seokgamoni-bul that sits on the altar on a red silk pillow. In front of this hall is the former residence of the patriot Kim Gu. And in front of this hall is a hall dedicated to famous monks that resided at the temple including Jajang-daesa, the founding monk of Magoksa Temple.

Around the corner of these buildings, you’ll notice the same winding stream that you first walked in beside, snaked around the outer edges of the west side of the lower quarter yard. This is another beautiful place to take pictures out by the cascading water. Up the bank, you’ll arrive at the upper courtyard, where the main hall, Daeungbo-jeon, is housed. This hall was rebuilt in 1651 and is one of the few double storied main halls with any historical importance throughout Korea. Inside this hall are housed a big and beautiful triad of Buddhas. In the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). To his right is Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha), and to the left is Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). The age of the hall is evident with the leaning of the structure. The pillars of the hall are decorated with the signatures of prominent people that have visited it through the centuries. There are two beautiful paintings of Sanshin and a guardian painting on either side of the hall’s walls.

Admission to the temple is a very reasonable 2,000 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: From Gongju, you can catch Bus number 7 at the Gongju Bus Terminal (NewBuilding), and get off at the last stop of the bus ride. It’s a 30 to 40 minute bus ride and buses leave from 6 in the morning until 8:30 at night. You can also take a taxi from the Gongju Bus Terminal if you’re really willing and wanting to get there as soon as possible. The taxi ride should only take you 20 minutes.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10. Without a doubt, Magoksa Temple is one of my favourite temples throughout Korea. With its serenely situated location and the beautifully built temple halls, it’s no wonder I love this temple so much. It’s a bit out of the way, but it’s a pretty easy trip if you’re located anywhere near the city of Daejeon; and if not, the city of Gongju makes for a nice little weekend away with all the other temple’s so closely located to Magoksa Temple.

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The decoratively painted Iljumun Gate at Magoksa Temple.
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The beautiful stream that leads you into the temple.
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The Yin and Yang stream that flows under the ancient bridge at Magoksa Temple.
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The highly unique Liberation Gate is in the foreground and the Cheonwangmun Gate is behind it.
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Inside the Liberation Gate is Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) riding his blue tiger.
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And Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) on top of his white elephant.
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And inside the Cheonwangmun Gate, The Four Heavenly Kings’ Gate, is this rarely accessorized Damun Cheonwang.
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Off in the distance, in the first area of the temple, sits Myeongbu-jeon hall which is dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
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Inside the Myeongbu-jeon hall is Jijang-bosal sitting on the main altar with his 10 accompanying Kings of the Underworld.
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Up the hill, and behind the Myeongbu-jeon hall, is the Sanshin Hall dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).
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Inside the San shin hall is this big and beautiful painting depicting the Mountain Spirit.
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The lower courtyard at Magoksa Temple.
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A better look at the bell pavilion at the temple.
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A rare dragon with a fish in its mouth that adorns the outside of Daegwangbo-jeon Hall.
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Inside Daegwangbo-jeon hall is housed this beautiful Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy).
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Also inside Daegwangbo-jeon are these older murals decorating the surface of the hall as well as another decorative dragon head.
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At the back of the hall is this older looking Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). This is definitely one of the older paintings of this Shaman deity that I’ve seen.
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The two shrine halls left of Daegwangbo-jeon hall. The one on the left is dedicated to the Nahan, while the one on the right is dedicated to the patriot Kim Gu.
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Inside the Nahan-jeon hall were Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) seated to the left on the red velvet pillow with the flanking 16 Nahan disciples.
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A picture inside the shrine hall dedicated to famous monks that resided at the temple.
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Another view of the Yin and Yang shaped stream that surrounds the temple at every bend.
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Finally, a look up at the two-storied main hall, Daeungbo-jeon, through the darkness and up to the light.
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The main altar inside Daeungbo-jeon. On the altar sits Yaksayore-bul (The Buddha of Medicine) to the right, Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) in the centre, and Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) to the left.
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One last look at the courtyard at Magoksa Temple.