Now and Then: Magoksa Temple

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Magoksa Temple in the early part of the last century.

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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.

Now and Then: Donghwasa Temple


Donghwasa Temple during the early 20th century.

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Donghwasa Temple was first established in 493 A.D. by the monk Geukdal-jonja, and the temple is located on the beautiful southern slopes of the famed Mt. Palgongsan in Daegu. The name of the temple, in English, means “Paulownia Blossom Temple.” The name of the temple relates to the creation of Donghwasa Temple. According to legend, the name comes from the reconstruction of the temple in 832 A.D. During its reconstruction, even in the deadest of winter, the wild paulownia trees would bloom all around the temple grounds. With this in mind, the temple was renamed Donghwasa Temple from its former name of Yugasa Temple. The reconstruction of the temple in 832 A.D. was initiated by the monk Simji-wangsa, and it was during the reign of King Heungdeok (r. 826-836). The last major rebuild at the temple occurred in 1732. And the last major addition was the impressive thirty metre tall stone statue of Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha), which was completed in November of 1992 in the hopes of one day reunifying the Korean peninsula.

From its reconstruction in 832 A.D., Donghwasa Temple remained one of the most important temples in Korea. During the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), the temple was only one of four temples that administered the civil service exam for monks. And even during the Confucian led Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), which saw harsh restrictions placed on Korean Buddhism, Donghwasa Temple continued to flourish, which was made evident by the continued construction of new buildings at the temple.

In more recent years, it’s the 9th regional headquarter of the Jogye-jong Buddhist Order, which is the largest sect in Korea. The temple houses thirteen treasures including paintings and pagodas, and it also takes part in the highly popular Temple Stay program.

Donghwasa Main Hall

The main hall at Donghwasa Temple at the turn of the last century.

Donghwasa Geukrakjeon

And the Geukrak-jeon Hall, as well.


Another long, old, look at Donghwasa Temple.


A look at the main hall today.


And the impressive thirty metre tall statue of Yaksayore-bul built in 1992.


Now and Then: Silsangsa Temple

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A look at Silsangsa Temple from the turn of the last century.

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Silsangsa Temple is located in Namwon, Jeollabuk-do, and it was first established in 828 A.D. by the monk Jeunggak (Hongcheok). The name of the temple means, in English, “True Nature Temple.” In the early 800s, Hongcheok traveled to Tang China with Monk Doui to learn more about Buddhism. After a time, they returned to the Korean peninsula after both were certified in the new Seon (Zen) lineage. It was at this time that Hongcheok was named a National Master (Guksa) by the Silla king. In the same year as the temple’s creation, Hongcheok established the Silsang-sanmun, or the “True Nature Mountain Gate,” in English, as one of the Nine Mountain Schools. The reason that he decided to build Silsangsa Temple on the northern part of Mt. Jirisan was based on geomantic principles. Hongcheok believed that if he didn’t build a temple on this site that Korea’s spiritual energy would flow over and into Japan. Around the same time, Master Doui similarly constructed Borimsa Temple, which was another member of the Nine Mountain Schools (Gajisan). After the establishment of Silsangsa Temple, Master Hongcheok continued to spread the new Seon teachings throughout the Silla Kingdom. Uniquely, Silsangsa Temple is founded on an open plain and not up in the mountains like a lot of Korean temples. Currently, it’s surrounded on most sides by farmers’ fields.

Throughout the years, the temple has been renovated, re-built, and destroyed. In the early 900s, Silsangsa Temple was expanded under royal order according to the geomantic advice of master Doseon. Tragically, the temple was destroyed in 1597 by the invading Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-98). Slowly, the temple was rebuilt, when in 1684 the Geukrak-jeon was restored. Eventually, the temple complex would grow large enough to house thirty-six buildings by 1700. During the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), the temple faced a period of decline, as well as a destructive fire. In fact, the temple was completely destroyed by fire in 1882. After this fire, the temple was restored to its current, much smaller, size. And during the Korean War (1950-53), parts of the temple were harmed by fighting forces that passed through this area of combat. Fortunately, most cultural relics were spared.

While visibly not quite as grand as its former glory, parts of that past still remain. In total, the temple houses eight Treasures. In addition to these eight Treasures, the neighbouring Baekjangam Hermitage, which is directly associated with Silsangsa Temple, houses National Treasure #10 in the form of a highly unique Unified Silla (668-935 A.D.), three-story, stone pagoda. Silsangsa Temple also houses the largest steel statue of a Buddha in Korea in the form of a Unified Silla Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). Also, the temple lies within the park limits of the picturesque Jirisan National Park.


One of the temple buildings at Silsangsa Temple.


 Another building at Silsangsa Temple.


The temple grounds around the turn of the last century.


One of the temple’s stone lanterns out in front of the main hall.


One of the original spirit poles that stands guard out by the entrance of the temple.


The ancient biseok dedicated to Hongcheok.


Silsangsa Temple’s main hall today.


The temple grounds at Silsangsa Temple.


The biseok dedicated to the founding monk, Hongcheok.


The exact same spirit pole as it appears now.

Now and Then: Bongeunsa Temple


Bongeunsa Temple at the turn of the 20th century.

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Bongeunsa Temple was first founed in 794 A.D. by Yeonhui. Yeonhui was the highest ranking monk in the Silla Kingdom, and Bongeunsa Temple was originally known as Gyeonseongsa Temple. After the collapse of the Silla and Goryeo Kingdoms, Buddhism during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) was highly suppressed by Confucian leaders. However, by 1498, and under the patronage of Queen Jeonghyeon (1462-1530), the temple was reconstructed. It was also at this time that the temple was renamed to its present name: Bongeunsa Temple.

With continued support from the royal court, this time from Queen Munjeong (1502-65), Buddhism continued to thrive during the mid-16th century. It was at this time, from 1551 until 1936, that the temple acted as the headquarters for Seon (Zen) Buddhism in Korea. And from 1552-64, the temple was used as the centre for the Buddhist National Exam. It was also during this time, during King Myeongjong’s reign (r. 1545-67), who was the son of Queen Munjeong, that the temple was relocated to its current location. Formerly, the temple was located a kilometre southwest of its current Gangnam home.

In 1902, Bongeunsa Temple was named one of Korea’s 14 major temples; and then, in 1939, the temple was almost completely destroyed by fire. The remaining parts of the temple that weren’t already destroyed at this time were destroyed during the Korean War (1950-53). Ever since then, Bongeunsa Temple has undergone numerous renovations, reconstructions, and growth. It was only after Japanese Colonial rule that Bongeunsa Temple became subordinate to Jogyesa Temple and the Jogye-jong Order, which just so happens to be the largest Buddhist sect in Korea.

More recently, Bongeunsa Temple is in dispute with the Seoul municipal government over potentially relocating it from its posh Gangnam neighbourhood. Bongeunsa Temple is home to one treasure, Treasure #321, which is a Bronze Incense Burner with Silver-inlaid Design.

Bongeunsa Iljumun1950

The Iljumun Gate at Bongeunsa Temple in 1950.


A look into Bongeunsa Temple’s past.


Bongeunsa Temple a little more recently.


Bongeunsa Temple and its Gangnam neighbourhood.


And the modern 23 metre tall statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha).

Now and Then: Woljeongsa Temple

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Woljeongsa Temple in 1929.

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Woljeongsa Temple was first constructed in 643 A.D. by the great monk, Jajang-yulsa. The name of the temple, in English, means “Moon Vitality Temple.”

According to the temple’s foundation myth, Jajang was praying on a mountain next to a pond. He was chanting before a stone statue of Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) in an attempt to see the Bodhisattva. On the seventh day, Jajang had a vision where the Buddha gave him a four line poem in Sanskrit. The next day, Jajang was visited by a monk. The monk was surprised by Jajang’s appearance and commented that the monk looked both pale and troubled. Master Jajang explained that he had been given an unreadable poem by the Buddha that he simply couldn’t understand. The mysterious monk explained the four lines to Jajang and told him he needed to travel to Mt. Odaesan where he could find 10,000 Munsu-bosals. After seven more days of chanting and prayer, a dragon appeared to Jajang. The dragon told Jajang that the mysterious monk that he had formerly met was in fact Munsu-bosal. So the dragon implored Jajang to travel and build a temple to the Bodhisattva. So in 643 A.D., Jajang reached Mt. Odaesan. Unfortunately, when Jajang arrived, the mountains were covered in a thick fog. This prevented the monk from building a temple. Instead, Jajang built a thatched house while waiting for the fog to lift. This house, that he built over three days, would eventually become the site for the famed Woljeongsa Temple.

Throughout the years, Woljeongsa Temple has suffered through repeated destruction and reconstruction. The most recent of these events took place during the Korean War, when the Korean army burned down ten temple buildings because the temple had become a hiding place for rebel forces. More recently, these buildings have been restored. In total, Woljeongsa Temple houses two National Treasures and three Treasures. Of this collection, it’s National Treasure #48, the Octagonal Nine-story Stone Pagoda of Woljeongsa Temple that stands out above the rest. The early Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) pagoda, with a seated stone statue of a Bodhisattva out in front of it, is something to both marvel at and enjoy. The pagoda is also believed to house 37 sari (crystallized remains) of the Buddha. In addition to the temple’s beauty, it’s also scenically located in Odaesan National Park.


The main hall and the famed Octagonal Nine-story Stone Pagoda at Woljeongsa Temple.


A closer look at National Treasure #48.

Woljeongsa 1943

Soldiers seen during Japanese colonial rule at Woljeongsa Temple.


Japanese monks during colonial rule (1910-45).


The temple after the destructive Korean War (1950-53).


And Woljeongsa Temple today.


A 2014 picture of the octagonal pagoda and main hall.


Better days at the temple.

Now and Then: Unjusa Temple


The mysterious Unjusa Temple in black and white.

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Unjusa Temple is located in Hwasun County, Jeollanam-do, and its origins are largely unknown. But whatever the date of its creation, it’s believed that master Doseon-guksa established the temple according to geomantic principles. In fact, the name of the temple, Unjusa Temple, can have two meanings. One meaning is “the place where clouds stay.”

Another meaning, and perhaps the more relevant one to the temple’s founding myth, is “Driving the Ship Temple,” in English. The reason this name is important to the principles behind the creation of Unjusa Temple is that Doseon-guksa, according to geomancy, believed that this part of the peninsula would be uneven, and potentially capsize, if it wasn’t righted. Compared to the eastern side of the Goryeo Kingdom, Yeongnam (which means “south of the passes,” in present day Gyeongsang Provinces), the western portion of the peninsula, Honam, had an apparent lack of mountains. So to counter this listing, Doseon decided to build one thousand Buddhist images and one thousand pagodas. By not listing, the ship could be brought back to port (and home).

To counteract this imbalance in nature, Doseon decided to call down stone masons from heaven to build a thousand Buddha statues and pagodas. However, before the final Buddha statue could be completed, the cock crowed as the night drew to a close. With this, all the heavenly masons were recalled back to heaven, leaving two incomplete statues left lying unfinished on the temple grounds. These two unfinished statues, which visitors are able to see on a neighbouring mountain top, are called Wabul in Korea, or “The Stone Statues of the Lying Buddha,” in English. In all probability, however, Unjusa Temple was created as a school for stonemasons.

Presently, of the original one thousand Buddha statues and pagodas, twenty-one stone pagodas and ninety-four Buddha sculptures still remain on the temple grounds. Of these stone structures, three are listed as Korean treasures, while Unjusa Temple itself is considered Historic Site #312. Among all the potential temples you can visit throughout Korea, Unjusa Temple definitely has a mysterious feel to it. More recently, and from 1984 to 1991, the Jeonnam National University Museum conducted four excavations and two academic studies to uncover some of the temple’s greater mysteries.


A closer, older, look at the valley of pagodas.


 The extremely unique Hwasun Stone Shrine: Treasure #797.


A combination of both historic pagodas and statues.


The twelve metre long Stone Statues of the Lying Buddha.


A more recent photo from Unjusa Temple towards the valley of pagodas.


 The unique Hwasun Stone Shrine.


Some mountainside statues and a crowning pagoda.


A contemporary picture of the twelve metre long Lying Buddhas.

Now and Then: Jikjisa Temple


An aerial shot of Jikjisa Temple from the last century.

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Jikjisa Temple in Gimcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do, was first founded in 418 A.D, and it’s believed to be one of the oldest temples on the Korean peninsula. It’s believed to have been established by the venerable monk, Ado. In fact, one of the meanings behind the temple’s name has to do with Ado. The name “Jikji,” in English, means “pointing directly,” which is in reference to Ado when he pointed at a perfect spot to locate a future temple that turned out to be Jikjisa Temple. Another meaning behind the temple’s name is that it refers to a Seon expression where one is “pointing directly to the Original Mind.” One final meaning behind the temple’s name is that during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), temples weren’t built by using rulers; instead, they were measured by hand. In English, “Ji” means “finger.”

Monk Ado, a Goguryeo monk, is legendary in his own right. It’s believed that he was the first missionary monk to introduce Buddhism to the shamanic Silla Kingdom, which formally accepted Buddhism in 527. Originally much smaller in size when it was first established, Master Jajang-yulsa further expanded the temple to some forty buildings in 645 A.D. Jikjisa Temple enjoyed a further renaissance with major renovations in the 10th century under the geomantic recommendations of Master Doseon-guksa.

Like so many other famous temples throughout the Korean peninsula, Jikjisa Temple faced almost complete destruction during the Imjin War in 1592. Ten years later, in 1602, some twenty buildings were rebuilt. Jikjisa Temple faced repeated destruction by fires throughout the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), as well as further damage caused by fighting during the Korean War (1950-53). It wasn’t until 1966, with governmental support, that the temple was finally rebuilt to its former glory by 1981.

Today, Jikjisa Temple is the 8th regional headquarters for the Jogye-jong sect, which is the largest Buddhist Order in all of Korea. It was also the first temple to participate in the Temple Stay program in 2002. The temple continues to provide the Temple Stay program to any and all guests. In total, the temple houses a National Treasure and ten additional Treasures. The one National Treasure it does house, National Treasure #208, is the Gilt-bronze Sarira Reliquary from Sakyamuni Stupa of Dorisa Temple.


Another aerial shot.


A shot of the Mansye-ru Pavilion.


A look towards the temple’s main hall.


 A look towards the Biro-jeon Hall.


Another temple hall.


A picture from what looks to be Buddha’s birthday.


And one more look at Jikjisa Temple in all its splendour.


A look towards the Mansye-ru Pavilion, today, through the Cheonwangmun Gate.


The Biro-jeon Hall to the left with the Myeongbu-jeon Hall to the right.

Now and Then: Beomeosa Temple

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A bird’s-eye-view of Beomeosa Temple from the turn of the last century.

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Located in the northern part of Busan, on Mt. Geumjeongsan, Beomeosa Temple dates back to 678 A.D. The temple was founded by the famed temple-builder, Uisang. The name of the temple means “Fish from Heaven Temple,” in English, which is in reference to the creation myth that surrounds the temple. According to the myth, there is a well with golden water on top of Mt. Geumjeongsan, which is where the temple is located. Supposedly, golden fish rode a rainbow down from the heavens to inhabit the well.

Beomeosa Temple became known as one of the ten great temples of the Hwaeom sect in Korea, even though it is now part of the Jogye-jong Buddhist Order, which is the largest sect in Korea. During the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), there were more than a thousand monks that took up residence at the temple. During the destructive Imjin War from 1592-98, Beomeosa Temple was completely destroyed by the invading Japanese. In 1602, the temple was reconstructed, but was destroyed a few years later in an accidental fire. So in 1613, the temple was rebuilt once more. And it’s from this date that a number of shrine halls and buildings were constructed. These structures include the main hall and the Iljumun Gate.

More recently, Beomeosa Temple is one of the sixth largest temples in Korea. And spread throughout the rolling hills of Mt. Geumjeongsan are an additional eight hermitages directly associated with Beomeosa Temple. In total, besides a dozen shrine halls that a temple visitor can explore, Beomeosa Temple also houses seven treasures within its grounds.

Beomeosa 1929

Another amazing view of Beomeosa Temple from 1929.

Beomeosa 1931

The Iljumun Gate from 1931.

Beomeosa1 1931

The Cheonwangmun Gate from 1931.


A pavilion with the main hall to the right from 1931.


A more modern picture of Beomeosa Temple from 1970.


The Iljumun Gate from 1970, as well.


A 2013 picture of Beomeosa Temple.


A more recent picture of the Iljumun Gate.


The temple courtyard at Beomeosa Temple.

Now and Then: Hwaeomsa Temple

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Hwaeomsa Temple from 1920.

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Hwaeomsa Temple is located in present day Gurye, Jeollanam-do, and it’s part of the famed Jirisan National Park. The name of the temple means “Flower Garland Sutra Temple,” and it relates to one of the temple’s most famous residents. The temple was first founded in 544 A.D. by the monk Yeongi, who may, or may not have, come from India as a missionary monk. Then, in the mid-600s, the famed Uisang returned from Tang China after ten years of study. With him, he returned with the Hwaeom sect teachings. So through his efforts, Hwaeomsa Temple was rebuilt and expanded at this time with the support of Queen Seondeok (r. 632-647).

And then, once more, the temple was further expanded and refurbished by Master Doseon-guksa in the late 800s. It was at this time that most of the temple’s stone monuments like the massive stone lantern and the stone pagodas were built.

Then, during the Imjin War from 1592 to 1598, Hwaeomsa Temple was completely destroyed. After thirty years, the temple was finally rebuilt. Today, Hwaeomsa Temple is one of the largest temples in Korea, and it’s also one of the most respected. Hwaeomsa Temple houses some of the most recognizable features in all of Korea like the Gakhwangjeon Hall and the Three-story Stone Pagoda with Four Lions. In total, the temple houses four National Treasures and eight additional Treasures.


Monks out in front of the Gakhwang-jeon Hall, which is National Treasure #67.


 A monk next to the massive stone lantern, which just so happens to be National Treasure #12.

Hwaeomsa 1914

National Treasure #35, The Three-story Stone Pagoda with Four Lions at Hwaeomsa Temple, from 1914.


Gakhwang-jeon Hall, today.


National Treasure #12, today.


And the unforgettable Three-story Stone Pagoda with Four Lions at Hwaeomsa Temple.

Now and Then: Bunhwangsa Temple


Bunhwangsa Temple, in Gyeongju, during Japanese colonial rule.

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Bunhwangsa Temple, which means “Fragrant Emperor Temple,” in English, was first constructed in 634 A.D. under the auspices of the famed Queen Seondeok (r. 632-647 A.D). Bunhwangsa Temple is located in the heart of Gyeongju with the neighbouring Hwangnyongsa-ji Temple Site in the next field. During the height of the Silla Kingdom, it covered a large amount of land, and it was one of the four main temples during this time. Unlike today, where any and all visitors are welcomed to the temple, Bunhwangsa Temple was formerly not a place for commoners. In fact, Bunhwangsa Temple was used by the state to ask the Buddha to bless and keep the kingdom safe. Famed monks like Jajang-yulsa and Wonhyo-daesa have called Bunhwangsa Temple home. Sadly, Bunhwangsa Temple was completely destroyed in the 1200s by the invading Mongols. Nearly 500 years later, it was rebuilt in the late 1700s.

Bunhwangsa Temple is best known for its three-story stone pagoda, the Stone Brick Pagoda at Bunhwangsa Temple, also just so happens to be National Treasure #30. There are many reasons why this pagoda qualifies as a national treasure, but one of them is its age. It dates back to 634 A.D., the same year that the temple was established, and it’s also the oldest datable Silla stone pagoda that’s still in existence. Amazingly, the pagoda’s bricks were all hand-made from black andesite stone. This was done to replicate the Tang China pagodas, popular at that time, that missionaries were describing to Queen Seondeok as they traveled through the Silla Kingdom. While the pagoda is currently three-stories in height, it was formerly thought to be nine stories in height and hallow inside. Currently, it has a solid centre with the bricks and debris from its former collapse. The interior used to be so large that it was once used to house Buddhist scriptures. Around the four corners of the pagoda’s base are four dog-like lions. As the pagoda was being refurbished in the 1970’s, only one of the original four remained. In the process, three were replicated and now stand on the pagoda alongside the one original lion.

In 1915, during Japanese colonial rule, the Japanese authorities decided to repair the Bunhwangsa Temple pagoda. During this time, they found numerous relics housed inside the pagoda like a sari-box that contained the calcified remains of a cremated monk. In addition to this item, other relics like gold, scissors, coins, and a needle case were also found inside the pagoda. It’s unclear who these items might have belonged to, but because they were a woman’s items, it’s believed to have belonged to a royal woman.

While considerably smaller nowadays, both in size and importance, remnants of its former grandeur still remain. Up until recently, the temple grounds were under excavation. In total, the temple houses the aforementioned National Treasure #30, as well as three additional provincial Tangible Cultural Properties.

Bunhwangsa 1914

Bunhwangsa Temple from 1914!


Bunhwangsa Temple in disrepair. In the centre, near the bottom, you can see the one original dog-like lion.


A closer look at one of the Diamond Guardians (Eumgang-yeoksa), near one of the pagoda’s entrances.


What the temple grounds formerly looked like during the early 20th century.


Bunhwangsa Temple in 1962.

Bunhwangsa 1970s

Bunhwangsa Temple in the 1970s after being repaired.


And the Bunhwangsa Temple pagoda today.


And another angle of National Treasure #30.