The wintry view of Mireuksa Temple in Busan up on Geumjeongsan Mountain.
Hello Again Everyone!!
I had been to Mireuksa Temple two times in the past, but it had been four years since I last went during Buddha’s Birthday. And even though the temperature was -9 degrees Celsius up in the mountains, nothing would stop me during my vacation.
Mireuksa Temple (미륵사) is named after Mireuk-bul, the Future Buddha indirectly. The reason that I say indirectly is that the mountain peak that Mireuksa Temple is situated under is called Mireuk-bong, which has an elevation of 712 metres. The peak of Mireuk-bong is said to resemble Mireuk-bosal wearing a laureate. As a result, it’s been long believed that Mireuk-bong has given people spiritual energy. Mireuksa Temple, formally known as Mireukam, was founded by the famous monk, Wonhyo-daesa, in 678. Interestingly, a local legend states that a dragon once lived inside a neighbouring cave around Mireuk-bong.
As you first approach Mireuksa Temple up a long, steep, stone staircase, you’ll see the visitors’ centre, as well as the temple kitchen, with a view of Mireuk-bong above this building. Passing by this building, as well as the adjacent monks’ dorm, you’ll arrive in the main courtyard at Mireuksa Temple. And the view up at the main hall, which is to the right, as well as the rock formation that is Mireuk-bong, is amazing.
Surrounding the exterior walls of the main hall, uniquely called Yeomhwajeon main hall, are fading Shim-u-do Ox-Herding murals, as well as a cracked painting of a white-clad Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Inside the main hall, and sitting on the main altar, is a common triad with Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) in the centre. And he’s flanked by Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power), as well as Moonsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom). On the far left side of the wall is the temple’s red guardian painting that is surrounded by hundreds of tiny white Buddha figures (as is most of the interior of the main hall). On the far right side of the wall is a beautiful red mural that depicts Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). The most unique feature of this main hall, by far, are the three murals in the right rear corner. The mural on the immediate right is a set of three soldiers that protect the 10 Kings of the Underworld. Straight ahead, are two additional murals that look similar in their composition. They depict two of the 10 Kings of the Underworld. They are older in design, and one wonders where the other eight murals might be.
Outside of the main hall, and straight ahead, is the Nahan-jeon shrine hall dedicated to the disciples of Seokgamoni-bul, The Historical Buddha. Surrounding the exterior of this hall are various Nahan, Wonhyo-daesa, The Bodhidharma and Dazu Huike, as well as a beautiful mural with a golden fish and a rainbow above its back. As for inside the main hall, there are two life-sized guardians protecting the two entrance ways to the hall, which surprised me (to put it mildly). Sitting on the main altar, again, much like the main hall, are Seokgamoni-bul, Bohyun-bosal, and Moonsu-bosal. This familiar triad is surrounded by five hundred gray Nahan with various facial and physical features. And to the left of the Nahan-jeon shrine hall is the temple’s bell pavilion. Rather ordinary in design, this bell pavilion protrudes out from the banks of the courtyard, and it’s one of the first things you’ll see when you first approach the temple.
Now, to the right rear of the main hall, and slightly up the banks of Mireuk-bong, is the shrine hall dedicated to both San shin (The Mountain Spirit), as well as Chilseong (The Seven Stars). This is a rather unique feature, as San shin and Chilseong are usually housed alongside a third shaman deity: Dokseong (more on him later). But for this temple, it’s just the two of them together. There are various murals in and around this shrine hall that are rather unique in their rendering. As for the two murals that depict San shin and Chilseong, they are simple, and yet older in age. Interestingly, there’s a sign to the left of San shin’s name that tells shamans not to hold rituals at the temple. I guess there must have been problems in the past.
To the immediate left of the main hall, as you face it, is a smaller sized shrine hall. This hall is decorated on the outside by various paintings that depict beautiful scenes from nature. Inside this hall sits a solitary, and rather stout, golden Buddha; this Buddha is Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). This statue is backed by a beautiful red mural of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. If you look up at the ceiling, you’ll see one of the more beautiful murals inside any shrine hall in Korea. On the ceiling is a large sized cherry blossom tree with a bird perched on one of the tree’s limbs.
Continuing up the set of narrow stone stairs to the left of the shrine hall dedicated to Mireuk-bul is another shrine hall that crowns both the temple as well as Mireuk-bong. From the heights of this shrine hall dedicated to Dokseong (The Recluse), to which the temple is famous, you can see the valley and Busan down below. And on really good days you can see the Gwangan Bridge that’s located all the way in Gwanali. So take your time up here, and enjoy the view, before entering the hall dedicated to Dokseong. The exterior of this hall is rather plain and ordinary; however, the exterior doesn’t prepare you for the beauty inside of this hall. Inside this hall, and sitting on the main altar, is a stone carved picture of Dokseong that’s carved out of the mountain’s face. It’s a beautiful altar that personifies and represents the beauty that is housed at this truly hidden gem of a temple.
View 미륵사 in a larger map
HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Mireuksa Temple, you’ll first have to travel to Hwamyeong subway station on the second line (#235). From here, you’ll have to catch a Busan city bus from the Deokcheon Rotary. Take the Busan city bus identified as “Sanseong – 산성”. Ride this bus until you get to the centre of the mountain community of Sanseong, which will probably take 15 to 20 minutes. Nearing the outskirts of this community, get off near a large bathroom complex (yes, you heard me correctly). Facing this community bathroom, head in the direction that your back faces. You’ll see a small brown marker sign that directs you towards the northern gate (북문) of the Busan Moutain Fortress (Geumjeongsanseong). Follow this road for 1.5 kilometres. Then, on a sign to your immediate right, and up a steep entry road, you’ll follow this gravel road for an additional 2 kilometres. Finally, past the barrier gate that blocks traffic, you’ll head up this unused road for 300 metres, until you see a silver sign marker that reads the temple’s name – 미륵사 – in Korean. Follow this forested path, up the moutain, for an additional 700 metres. The trail is rather easy to follow as there are several colourful paper lanterns that guide the way for you. In total, the walking part of the hike is about 4.5 kilometres.
OVERALL RATING: 8/10. Mireuksa Temple is truly a hidden gem amongst temples in Busan. While difficult to get to, this temple is well worth the effort to first find and then explore. The temple is literally placed on the side of Mireuk-bong with several of its shrine halls placed precariously on face of the peak. The highlights, besides the view, are the crowning Dokseong-shrine hall, the rare murals inside the main hall, as well as the older looking murals dedicated to the shaman San shin and Chilseong.