Munsusa Temple – 문수사 (Gurye, Jeollanam-do)


 The stunning three story pagoda that stands at Munsusa Temple in Jirisan National Park.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Munsusa Temple, which is named after the Bodhisattva of Wisdom – Munsu-bosal, is situated up the long Munsu Valley. It was first constructed on Mt. Jirisan in 547 A.D. by a Buddhist monk named Yeongi. Such famous monks as Wonhyo, Uisang, Seosan, and Samyeong have practiced at this temple. Part of the temple was destroyed during the Imjin War (1592 to 1598), and the rest of the temple was burnt down during the Korean War (1950-1953). It wasn’t until 1984, when the monks’ quarters were built, that the temple started to be re-constructed.

Like any temple’s creation myth, Munsusa Temple has a rather fantasical one of their own. A young monk named Cheongheodang was meditating when an old monk approached Cheongheodang and asked if he could meditate with him. At first, Cheongheodang said no because there wasn’t enough food for two people, but eventually he came around after the old monk earnestly asked him to stay. The two meditated day and night, until one day the old monk threw his staff against the face of the mountain. The staff turned into a yellow dragon, and the old monk rode the dragon into the fog. With this story in mind, Munsusa Temple became known as a place where an individual can attain enlightenment through meditation.

You first arrive at the temple up the long and twisting road that runs its way through Munsu Valley. Finally arriving at the temple parking lot, you’ll gain an amazing view of the rolling peaks of Jirisan National Park. You’ll also pass by probably the most unique temple bathroom in all of Korea. You nearly have to crawl to go to the bathroom because the height of the bathroom’s ceiling is so low. Passing under the arched entrance and by the monks’ living quarters both to your right and left, you’ll finally enter into the temple courtyard.

Right away, you’ll notice the amazingly beautiful three story wooden pagoda straight ahead of you. Inside this beautiful structure sits Seokgamoni-bul on the main altar. To the right of the main altar is a painting of Chilseong (The Seven Stars), and to the left hangs a guardian painting. Out in front of this ornately painted wooden pagoda is a solemn looking stone statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).

Before seeing the three story wooden pagoda, you’ll first have to pass by a shrine hall that is divided into three sections. Of these three sections, only the middle section is open to the public. This plain wooden building has a handful of statues resting on the main altar including a statue of Seokgamoni-bul.

To the left of the pagoda, and the real highlight to this temple, are the four Asiatic black bears. Inside a red cage, all four black bears are housed. Initially, they had been kept in a cage, then, in 2001, they were given to the temple to be released. It’s unclear as to why they haven’t been released after 12 years, whether it be because they are too used to being fed by humans, or whatever else it might be. But whatever the reason, the bears are still housed at the temple, and they allow for one of the most unique trips you’ll ever take to a Korean temple.

Just up the hill, on an uneven set of stairs, lie three more temple structures. The first, and to the far right, is a meditative hall for monks to look out onto the Jirisan horizon. Straight ahead is the wooden Munsu-jeon hall, which is solely dedicated to Munsu-bosal. Inside sits a beautiful golden statue of the Bodhisattva, as well as a red painting.

Finally, and up the mountain to the left, is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Inside this hall, rather uniquely, hang only two shaman paintings. Straight ahead is the rather plain looking Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) mural, while to the right is an equally plain Dokseong (The Recluse) painting. However, the view of the Munsu Valley from this height is unsurpassed at the temple.

HOW TO GET THERE: More likely than not, you’ll first arrive at the Gurye Bus Terminal. From here, you’ll need to take a taxi to get to Munsusa Temple, because there’s no direct bus that goes to the temple. From the bus terminal, and to get to Munsusa Temple, it’ll cost about 14,000 won, and the ride will last about 40 minutes. There’s also a trail that leads from Munsusa Temple to Hwaeomsa Temple, so you can pack both into a nice day trip around Jirisan National Park.

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OVERALL RATING: 7/10. This is a tough one to rate. If you love bears, perhaps this temple easily becomes a ten out of ten; however, if your thing is temple buildings, then perhaps your rating is a little lower because outside of the wooden pagoda, there really isn’t all that much to enjoy. So splitting it up the relative middle, I thought I would give the temple a seven out of ten. But the things, by far, to be enjoyed at this temple are the four Asiatic black bears and the three story wooden pagoda.


 The entrance to Munsusa Temple.


 The rather quaint bathroom near the entrance of the temple.


 Part of the monk dorms at Munsusa Temple.


 The temple courtyard with the three story pagoda to the left and the main hall to the right.


 Inside the three sectioned main hall, and in the centre, is this bronze statue of Seokgamoni-bul.


 This statue of Seokgamoni-bul sits on the main altar, on the first floor, of the three story pagoda.


 A better look at the amazing pagoda.


 Out in front of the pagoda is this solemn looking statue of Jijang-bosal.


 To the left of the pagoda stands the rather plain looking bell pavilion. Annoyingly, a mother was wrongly telling her son to strike it, while she took pictures of him.


 The cage that houses the four bears.


 A better look at the largest one.


 And another picture of another adult Asiatic black bear.


 Up a set of stairs stands the Munsu-jeon hall.


 Inside sits this very ornate statue of Munsu-bosal.


 A look as you ascend the stairs to get to the Munsu-jeon. A pretty amazing view!


 And the view from the Munsu-jeon hall.


A little further up the hill, and to the left, is the plain looking Samseong-gak.


 In the centre is a painting of Sanshin.


 And to the right is a painting of Dokseong.


 One more amazing view of Jirisan. This time, it’s taken from the Samseong-gak.

Video: Munsusa Temple

Hello Again Everyone,

Munsusa Temple, located on the outskirts of Ulsan, came highly recommended from a friend. However, it was months before I got around to seeing this temple. But I was really happy that I did finally go out and see it because it was gorgeous with its scenic views, ornate halls, and expert paintings. So follow me as I explore Munsusa Temple.

Munsusa Temple – 문수사 (Ulju-gun, Ulsan)


The heavenly view from Munsusa Temple in Ulsan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Munsusa Temple in Ulsan was recommended to me by a friend. Unfortunately, there were several other temples on my to-see list before it. But during my summer vacation, I was finally able to get out to Ulsan and see this mountain-side temple.

Munsusa Temple (문수사) is situated up in the clouds on Mt. Munsusan. You travel up a 6 kilometre long road until you arrive at the outskirts of the temple that is placed preciously on the face of the mountain. It’s as you approach that you’re able to see some spectacular views of the city of Ulsan down in the valley below as well as the cloud and fog covered peaks of Mt. Munsusan.

Before you pass under the bell pavilion, you’ll pass by the kitchen area to the temple. Just past the kitchen area is a trail that leads up to the peak of the mountain. Also, and between the kitchen and the banks of the mountain, is a path that leads up to the monk-only meditative hall. You’ll get a better look at this crowning hall from the vantage point of the main hall.

Finally having passed under the bell pavilion, you’ll be greeted by the large sized main hall and the adjoining visitors centre. Unfortunately, the front of the main hall is adorned with an ugly green Plexiglas enclosure for the numerous visitors that can’t quite squeeze into the main hall. Sitting and standing on the main altar are five statues of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. In the very centre is a large sized seated statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). The two accompanying Bodhisattvas to the immediate right and left of Seokgamoni-bul are Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) [Ed. Thank you Brian Barry for this information]. And the final two, in the set of five, are a standing Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) to the far left and a standing statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the far right. And on the far left wall is a large sized guardian painting.

Next to the main hall is the Myeongbu-jeon hall dedicated to Jijang-bosal. But before you enter this hall, you’ll notice an aged pagoda between the two halls. Surrounding the exterior of the Myeongbu-jeon hall are some nicely rendered Ox-Herding murals. As soon as you step inside the Myeongbu-jeon hall you’ll be greeted by a colourful main hall with a green haired Jijang-bosal sitting with a golden staff in his left hand. But the true highlight to this hall are the extremely grotesque paintings for sinners that adorn the interior walls to this hall. Usually, they’re saved for the exterior walls, but a bit of creative license was taken with the artistry of this hall. Of note is the vulture eating the eye out of a sinners head.

Behind this hall, and up a set of stairs, is a stone courtyard with two of the more unique stone statues of Buddhas. On the left is a faceless statue of a Buddha that has been formally smashed into three separate pieces. Fortunately for us, this statue has been repaired. Next to this ancient statue is a newer statue dedicated to what looks to be Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). What’s interesting about this statue is the glass orb that he holds in his left hand. Never seen that before.

The final building at Munsusa Temple is the Samseong-gak. Inside, and to the far right, are row upon row of caged electrical candles, which really heats up the hall in the summer. To the left of these electrical candles are paintings dedicated to San shin (The Mountain Spirit), Dokseong (The Recluse) and Chilseong (The Seven Stars). Of note is the highly original colour scheme of the San shin mural

Admission to the temple is free.

HOW TO GET THERE: There’s really two ways you can get to Munsusa Temple. First, if you decided to travel directly from Ulsan, you can catch the Munsusa Temple shuttle bus from the Ulsan Gongeuptop Rotary. It leaves at 8 and 9 A.M., respectively during the weekdays. The shuttle bus will drop you off at the Munsusa Temple parking lot. From the parking lot, you’ll have to walk an additional 500 metres to get to the temple.

The other way you can get to Munsusa Temple is from Busan. First you’ll have to get to the Nopo-dong subway station. From the bus stop outside the station, you can catch either bus #2300, #1137, #1127, or #2100 and get off at the Shinjeong bus stop and walk to get to the Gongeuptop Rotary. The bus trip from Busan to Ulsan will take about 2 hours. From where the bus drops you off in Shinjeong, you’ll have to walk an additional 5 to 10 minutes to the rotary. And then, much like if you live in Ulsan, you’ll have to take the temple’s shuttle bus.

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OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. By far, the highlight to this temple is the view. If you go on a clear day, you can either see Ulsan and/or the ocean below. And if you go early enough, you can see the fog slowly receding over Mt. Munsusan’s peaks. In addition to all of its natural beauty, the murals inside of the Myeongbu-jeon, the twin statues in the stone courtyard of the Buddha, the set of statues that sit on the altar inside the main hall, and the shaman deity murals inside of the Samseong-gak hall make Munsusa Temple a must see if you’re in the Ulsan area.

When I arrived, the fog was still lifting from the peaks at Mt. Munsusan. CSC_0963
The main hall as you approach the temple grounds.
If you turn left, instead of right, when the path forks, you’ll find this golden Buddha just before the stairs that ascend to the monks’ quarters.
The bell pavilion that you’ll pass under to gain admittance to the temple courtyard.
A different look at the main hall at Munsusa Temple.
A look inside the main hall at the five statues that reside on the altar.
The older looking three tier pagoda that stands between the main hall and the Myeongbu-jeon hall.
Sitting on the colourful altar inside the Myeongbu-jeon hall is this green haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
One of the gruesome paintings that welcomes you to the Myeongbu-jeon.
And an even more graphic painting of a sinner having his eye plucked out by a ravenous vulture.
One, of the two, Buddha statues that resides in the upper courtyard at Munsusa Temple.
 The newer Buddha statue that has a crystal orb in front of it.
And in the neighbouring Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall is this beautiful San shin (The Mountain Spirit) mural.
And one last look from the temple courtyard up at the monks’ quarters at Munsusa Temple.