Seonamsa Temple – 선암사 (Suncheon, Jeollanam-do)


 The picturesque Seungseon-gyo Bridge that welcomes you to Seonamsa Temple in Jogyesan Provincial Park.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Seonamsa Temple, which means “Heavenly Rock Temple,” in English, is located on the eastern slope of Mt. Jogyesan on the west end of Mt. Jogyesan Provincial Park. Legend has it that the missionary monk, Ado, built a hermitage named Biroam Hermitage in the same location as the present day Seonamsa Temple in 529 A.D. Some 350 years later, in 861 A.D., National Master Doseon-guksa built a large sized temple and called it its present name, Seonamsa Temple. Seonamsa Temple played a central role in the development of Seon Buddhism in Korea. Also, many Buddhist masters have practiced and taught at Seonamsa Temple after attaining enlightenment. During the Imjin War, which lasted from 1592-1598, several buildings at Seonamsa Temple were destroyed. More recently, since 1992, restoration plans have been enacted to restore the temple to its original 11th century form. In total, Seonamsa Temple houses 19 cultural properties in its halls and museum.

To get to Seonamsa Temple from the parking lot, you’ll have to first walk a kilometer. Along the way, you’ll come across collections of ancient stupas. You’ll know you’re just about to arrive at the temple when you see two rainbow shaped bridges to your right. The first of the two is rather nondescript; but it’s from the first that you get a great view of the beautiful Seungseon-gyo Bridge, which lies a little further up the valley. This beautiful bridge was first constructed in 1713 by monk Hoan. It was built over a six year period, and it’s one of the most beautiful you’ll see in all of Korea. If you look carefully, you can see a dragon at the base of the bridge. This is meant to chase away evil spirits. You can get some great pictures from the base of the river that runs under it, but there’s no set of stairs, so be careful.

The next site you’ll see at the temple is a pavilion, the Gangseon Pavilion, which welcomes you to the temple grounds. Just to the right, you’ll see a beautiful oval shaped pond with an island of pink flowers in its centre.

A little further up, and up a pretty good incline of a road, you’ll finally come to the Iljumun Gate at Seonamsa Temple. The current gate dates back to 1719, after the original was destroyed by fire in 1540. After having passed through the Iljumun Gate, you’ll next come to the overly commercialized percussion hall. The walls are crammed with needless knick knacks that puts a bit of a bad taste in the mouth of a visitor to the temple. To the right, between the two gates, is the temple’s rather unassuming bell pavilion.

Finally making your way past the campy percussion hall, and to the right, you’ll suddenly find yourself in the main temple courtyard with the Daeung-jeon, the main hall, front and centre. In front of the main hall are two three-storied stone pagodas. Both pagodas date back to the 9th century and are simplistic in design. They are designated National Treasure #395. Being framed by the twin pagodas is the Daeung-jeon. The exterior walls of the Daeung-jeon at Seonamsa Temple are extremely plain all but for the dancheong paint patterns. Housed inside the main hall is a solitary seated statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). This statue is backed by a vibrant painting on the main altar.

To the right of the main hall is the Myeongbu-jeon hall, which is dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). Sitting on the main altar inside this hall is a green haired seated statue of Jijang-bosal. He’s surrounded on all sides by ten statues and paintings of the Ten Kings of the Underworld.

Through a path that leads past the main hall and the Myeongbu-jeon hall, you’ll emerge on the other side on the upper terrace of the temple grounds. This treed and flowering area houses five shrine halls. The first, and the furthest to the right, is the beautiful and historic Palsang-jeon. The hall is believed to date back to sometime before the 18th century. There are ten Buddha statues on the main altar, centred by Seokgamoni-bul. These statues are backed by copies of the original Palsang-do paintings. The exterior walls of the interior hall are adorned with copies of the original Nahan paintings.

Next to the Palsang-jeon is the Buljo-jeon. Inside this hall are rows of both paintings and statues of the Buddha. Between these two halls, and up on a little ledge, is the Wontong-jeon, which is dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). This hall was first constructed in 1660, and the statue of Gwanseeum-bosal inside this hall is beautifully ornate.

Next to the Buljo-jeon hall is the Josa-jeon hall, which houses eight paintings of monks who helped shape Seonamsa Temple. This hall stands next to a rather original lily pond. Past the shrubbery, and out on the other side, you’ll see the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall that houses a painting of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) and a cartoonish looking tiger to keep him company.

Admission to the temple is 2,000 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll have to get to the Suncheon Jonghap Bus Terminal (순천종합버스터미널). From the bus terminal, you’ll need to take either Bus #1 or #16 to get to the Seonamsa Temple bus stop. Once you arrive, you’ll need to walk a kilometre to the trail.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10. Just for the sheer number of cultural properties alone that can be found at Seonamsa Temple, it deserves this rating. But when you add into the mix the Seungseon-gyo Bridge, the original looking Wontong-jeon Hall, and the historic Iljumun Gate, well, you get the picture. In combination with the neighbouring Songgwangsa Temple, it can make for quite the day.


 The scenic river valley that leads up to Seonamsa Temple.


 Some of the stupas that greet you along the way.


 The view under the Seungseon-gyo Bridge up at the Gangseon Pavilion.


 A better look at the Gangseon Pavilion and ravine that runs beside it.


 The beautiful oval shaped pond that welcomes you to the temple.


 The first look up at the Iljumun Gate.


 A better look at the historic gate.


 The unassuming bell pavilion at Seonamsa Temple.


 The Daeung-jeon main hall at Seonamsa Temple with one of the 9th century stone pagodas out in front of it.


 A look inside the main hall at the solitary statue of Seokgamoni-bul.


 The corridor that leads to the upper courtyard at the temple. To the left is the Myeongbu-jeon.


 The main altar inside the Myeongbu-jeon hall with Jijang-bosal front and centre. He’s joined by the Ten Kings of the Underworld.


 One of the paintings of the Ten Kings of the Underworld.


 The somewhat forested upper courtyard at the temple.


 The first hall to the right is the Palsang-jeon.


 A look inside at the altar inside the Palsang-jeon hall.


 One of the copies of the Nahan paintings that line the walls inside the Palsang-jeon.


 The picturesque view from the Palsang-jeon out onto Mt. Jogyesan.


 The highly unique Wontong-jeon hall.


 Inside is this highly elaborate statue of Gwanseeum-bosal.


The next hall to the left is the Buljo-jeon hall.


 A look inside the Buljo-jeon at the walls of statues and paintings of the Buddha.


The next hall is the Josa-jeon.


 A look inside at just three, of the eight, paintings of historic monks that once lived at Seonamsa Temple.

Seonamsa Temple – 선암사 (Busanjin-gu, Busan)


The amazingly original pagoda dedicated to Jijang-bosal at Seonamsa Temple in Busan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

It’s amazing the things you can discover when you look close enough. I lived in the area of Gaegeum, in Busan, for nearly 4 years; and yet, I knew nothing about the amazing temple that sat on the neighbouring heights of Mt. Baekyangsan near the Mandeok Tunnel. By chance, I learned about Seonamsa Temple, and I was happy that I did.

At a bend in the road, and up a very long set of stairs, you’ll step into the large temple courtyard at Seonamsa Temple. Immediately, and directly in front of you, is the large main hall. When you enter the main hall, and to your left, is one of the largest and most intricately designed guardian murals. Sitting on the main altar are a large set of Buddhist statues. In the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s flanked by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). To the left of the altar is a statue of what looks to be Dokseong (The Recluse) holding a fan. Wrapped around the exterior walls are simplistic, yet elegant, Shimu-do murals. They are joined by some rather unique dragon-heads with the tiniest of claws protruding out near their outstretched necks near the main hall’s name plate.

To the right of the main hall are the monks’ quarters. And to the left of the main hall is the Gwaneeum-jeon hall. Housed inside this rather long hall is a statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva). Situated under a low standing golden canopy is a beautifully designed statued of the bodhisattva with one of the more elaborate murals backing Gwanseeum-bosal.

Next to this hall is the Myeongbu-jeon hall. Sitting on the main altar of this hall is the green-haired Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). He’s backed by one of the more original murals of himself. Additionally, Jijang-bosal is surrounded by some of the finer sculpted statues of the 10 Kings of the Underworld. Surprisingly, the mural of the Bodhidharma and Dazu Huike adorn the right interior entrance to this hall. But the biggest surprise is just outside the doors to this hall. One of the most original pagodas dedicated to Jijang-bosal sits just to the left of the Myeongbu-jeon. The pagoda is adorned with various animals, Biseon, Buddhas, and Bodhisattvas. Words simply pale when attempting to describe this pagoda.

The final two areas to the lower courtyard house various items. First, and a little further past the Myeongbu-jeon, is the temple’s bell pavilion. While lacking the typical dancheong paint scheme, it does have a interesting wooden figure carved into the eaves of the structure. As though she’s holding the entire weight of the world on her shoulders, she lifts the roof of the bell pavilion with all her strength. The other area of the lower courtyard that houses something of interest is a shrine area dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King). This statue of Yongwang, much like the pagoda dedicated to Jijang-bosal, is one of the most original statues dedicated to this shaman deity that I have yet to see in Korea.

Up another long set of narrow stairs, you’ll come to the upper courtyard at Seonamsa Temple. To your immediate left is a three-tier pagoda that almost seems to be half buried in the dirt because the pagoda sits without the customary base. And to your immediate right is a large sized hall dedicated to Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s joined by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the right and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Amita-bul’s Wisdom and Power). The triad of golden statues that sit on the main altar appear to be surrounded by murals of the 10 Kings of the Underworld. As for the exterior of this large Geungnak-jeon hall, it’s adorned with more Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals.

To the left of the Geungnak-jeon hall is a hall dedicated solely to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). This is a rather unique feature as he’s almost always housed with other shaman deities. Inside of this hall is a beautiful black mural of Chilseong. And the final hall housed on the upper courtyard of this temple is the shrine hall dedicated to both Dokseong (The Recluse) and San shin (The Mountain Spirit). Both murals inside of this hall are some of the better you’ll see at a Buddhist temple in Korea. And the angel-laid golden halo around the head of San shin is a nice, and unique, feature to his painting.

The final area to this vast temple complex is the upper, upper courtyard that solely houses one shrine hall. And it’s probably the most unique shrine hall at Seonamsa Temple. From what I can gather, it’s a shrine hall dedicated to ancestors. It’s also from these heights that you can get a pretty good view of this part of Busan.

HOW TO GET THERE: Take the Busan subway, line two (the green line), to Dongui University stop #222. From this stop, you can take a taxi to Seonamsa Temple, and it should cost you about 3,500 to 4,000 won. The trip should last you about 10 minutes.

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OVERALL RATING: 8/10. Just for the amount of things alone that you can see at this mountainside temple in Busan, it’s well worth the trip to explore its grounds. But when you add into the mix the massive guardian mural in the main hall, the Jijang-bosal pagoda, the angelic San shin mural, the highly original Yongwang statue, and the ancestor hall that sits atop the entire temple grounds, and you’ll know why I rated this city temple as highly as I have.

The long and steep set of stairs that lead up to the temple courtyard.
A look through the side entrance at the Gwaneeum-jeon Hall.
A look at the main hall at Seonamsa Temple.
A dragon that adorns the outside  walls of the main hall. This dragon is a bit unique because of the little claws it has at its sides.
The triad of statues that sits on the altar inside the main hall. In the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s flanked by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power).
What looks to be a Dokseong-figure to the left of the main altar inside the main hall.
An up-close look at the unique guardian mural inside the main hall.
The unpainted monks’ quarters.
A look over at the Gwaneeum-jeon and up at the Geungnak-jeon on the upper courtyard.
To the left of the Gwaneeum-jeon Hall is the unpainted bell pavilion and the Myeonbu-jeon Judgment Hall.
A female figure up in the eaves of the bell pavilion.
A look inside the the Myeonbu-jeon at the colourful altar.
A better look at the very unique pagoda to the left of the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.
And equal to the unique Myeonbu-jeon pagoda is this seated Yongwang (Dragon King) statue.
What looks to be a half-buried pagoda in the upper courtyard.
A look over at the Chilseong-gak to the right and the shaman shrine hall that houses Dokseong (The Recluse) and San shin (The Mountain Spirit) in the background.
A look inside the shaman shrine hall at San shin to the left and Dokseong to the right.
A look at the Geungnak-jeon Hall, which stands to the right of all the shaman shrine halls.
And a look inside the Geungnak-jeon Hall at the main altar with Amita-bul (The Bodhisattva of the Western Paradise) sitting in the centre of the triad. Amita-bul is flanked by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Amita-bul’s Power and Wisdom).
And up on the final terrace is what looks to be an ancestral shrine.
The mural that sits inside of the ancestral shrine hall.