The Story Of…Unmunsa Temple

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The amazing main hall at the beautiful Unmunsa Temple in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone,

I think one of the scariest movies I ever saw while growing up was The Birds, the 1963 film by Alfred Hitchcock. Ever since that day, I’ve had this phobia of any close encounter with our winged friends.

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 The original poster for The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock.

With all that being said as a bit of a precursor, I visited Unmunsa Temple, in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do, this early fall season. The weather was still a nice 20 degrees during the daytime; and yet, the fall colours were out in full swing on the trees.

After visiting the neighbouring Naewonam Hermitage and Bukdaeam Hermitage, I found myself strolling up a path filled with these beautiful fall colours all around me. Because it was a weekday, and it was earlier in the day, I found myself enjoying the fall weather and colours at Unmunsa Temple all to myself.

Taking my time and snapping over a hundred pictures in total, I explored all that Unmunsa Temple had to offer. I especially enjoyed the massive main hall, the Mansye-ru pavilion with a painting of the Buddha with children, the Biro-jeon hall, as well as the other dozen halls that the temple has to offer a visitor.

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Where things took a turn for the worse.

But it wasn’t until I got to the Cheonbul-jeon that things took an interesting turn for the worse. I was all by myself snapping a few pictures inside the hall, when I heard a scratching sound at the door. It creeped me out a bit, but I took a couple more pictures. Finally, a bird appeared out of nowhere and buzzed close by my head. Ducking, I thought, “God help me.” Then the bird buzzed by me again, and again, and then again. The fourth time was the charm. I immediately made for the door. It was only then that I realized that I had left the door slightly ajar, and a much bigger bird was waiting for its partner on the other side of the door.

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Somewhere up there is where the bird was plotting against me.

In a near panic, or thinking I looked a little bit out of sorts after my perceived encounter with death, a nun at the temple greeted me with a bow as she made her way to the Cheonbul-jeon hall. Perfect. I hadn’t seen anyone the entire time of my tour of the temple; and just when I needed no one to be around, I was greeted with an “안녕하세요” (Annyeong hasyeyo). I returned this greeting with an “안녕하세요” of my own. The nun, whether it was because I was speaking Korean (which I hoped), or I looked scared out of my wits (which I think), she gave a little laugh and smile.

Either way, I found a tiny corner of my own at Unmunsa Temple, out of sight from everyone else, to both collect myself and to calm my rapidly beating heart.

All I can say is that you should keep your eyes peeled the next time you visit a temple, or the temple might just get you!

For more on Unmunsa Temple.

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The beautiful view as I exited out of the Cheonbul-jeon a bit out of sorts.

Updated: Unmunsa Temple – 운문사 (Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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Unmunsa Temple from the neighbouring mountainside.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Unmunsa Temple, which means “Cloud Gate Temple,” in English, is situated on Tiger Mountain along the Yeongnam Alps. The temple dates back to 560 A.D. where a Silla monk named Woneung built a hermitage and eventually gained enlightenment after three years of meditation. Originally, the temple was called Taejakgapsa (“Great Magpie Hillside Temple”). But in 937, King Taejo, the founder of the Goryeo Dynasty, renamed the temple Unmunsa Temple. The temple has undergone numerous renovations, especially during the Joseon Dynasty (1392 – 1910). And in 1958 an academy for monks was established. More recently, the temple has become a college for nuns. In total, there can be an average of 200 to 260 nuns at any given time at the temple.

You move towards the temple grounds under a beautiful canopy of twisted red pines. The five hundred metre long trail runs alongside the meandering Unmun-cheon River. Rather uniquely, you approach the temple from the rear with the main hall being the first thing you see as you approach. However, you’ll have to go the long way around to the left of the four foot high stone fence. It’s under the Beomjong-ru Pavilion, which also acts as the temple’s bell pavilion, that you’ll finally enter the temple grounds.

The gift shop is to the right, while a collection of Biseok stone memorials are to the left. The large Mansye-ru Pavilion lies straight ahead past the 500 year old weeping red pine. The Mansye-ru Pavilion houses a painting of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) with children surrounding him on all sides. This pavilion also acts as a barrier between the halls in the upper and lower courtyard. To the right lies the upper courtyard, while to the left lays the lower courtyard.

Heading to the right, you’ll first encounter the rather large Eungjin-jeon. Just past the Eungjin-jeon is the Daeungbo-jeon, which acts as the main hall at the temple. It’s beautifully adorned with exterior paintings of the Palsang-do murals which commemorate the eight scenes from the Buddha’s life. The newly built main hall is grand and cavernous all at the same time. Resting upon the main altar are seven seated and standing statues dedicated to various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, which include Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy), Seokgamoni-bul, and Nosana-bul (The Perfect Buddha).

With the Mansye-ru Pavilion to your left, and passing by a beautiful stone eight spoke Buddhist wheel, lies the Biro-jeon Hall. The exterior walls to this ancient hall have some of the most beautiful Palsang-do murals in all of Korea for both craftsmanship and age. As for the interior, and sitting all alone on the main altar, is a beautiful Birojana-bul statue. While in this hall, have a look up towards the rafters and the intricate woodwork and paintings.

To the side of the Biro-jeon Hall is the Obaek-jeon hall that houses the 500 disciples of the Buddha joined by a golden Seokgamoni-bul statue on the main altar. The exterior walls have some of the more simplistic renderings of the Shimu-do murals; however, they are masterful in their artistry.

Past the Biro-jeon and the two ancient pagodas that stand out in front of it, are a handful of some more smaller sized shrine halls. The first is the Jakap-jeon, which houses a statue dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul that either dates back to Late Unified Silla or early Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). He’s joined by four equally old stone Cheonwang reliefs. To the right of this hall is another diminutive hall; this time, it’s the Gwaneum-jeon. A rather squat-looking Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) sits all alone on the main altar. The interior walls to this hall are adorned with beautiful white-incarnations of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

The other two halls in this area are the Myeongbu-jeon and the Chilseong-gak. The Chilseong-gak is dedicated to the shaman deity Chilseong (The Seven Stars). The main altar mural is beautifully executed for all its intricacies. Rather uniquely, it has each of the seven stars in their own individual murals, as well as rather plain paintings dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) and Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) to the far sides. As for the Myeongbu-jeon, it houses a large green-haired statue dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlief) on the main altar. And he’s joined by equally large-sized wooden statues of the Ten Kings of the Underworld.

The rest of Unmunsa Temple is off-limits to visitors, as the temple is a fully functioning Buddhist training school for nuns.

Admission to the temple is 2,000 won.

For the Story of Unmunsa Temple.

HOW TO GET THERE:  You can get to Unmunsa Temple from the Cheongdo Intercity Bus Terminal. You can take a bus from this terminal towards Unmunsa Temple. This bus runs eight times a day. The first bus leaves at 7:40 in the morning, while the last leaves at 19:30.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10. Unmunsa Temple is filled with gorgeous buildings and surrounded on all sides by picturesque mountains. From the massive main hall to the beautiful Gwaneum-jeon, Biro-jeon, and Obaek-jeon, there’s a little of everything for everyone at this amazing nunnery. Take your time and spend the day, because with a handful of hermitages spread throughout the neighbouring mountainside, especially in the fall months, the temple setting can make for some pretty beautiful, and lasting, memories.

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As you approach Unmunsa Temple.
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The weeping red pine with the Mansye-ru Pavilion to the left.
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A look inside the Mansye-Pavilion with the Buddha inside.
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A look over the Eungjin-jeon at the neighbouring mountains.
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A look inside the Eunjin-jeon at the main altar.
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A look towards the Daeungbo-jeon, main hall, at Unmunsa Temple.
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The seven statues that make up the main altar inside the massive Daeungbo-jeon.
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A look towards the Biro-jeon Hall past the eight spoke Buddhist wheel.
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Just one of the amazing Palsang-do murals at the Biro-jeon.
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An up-close with Birojana-bul inside the Biro-jeon.
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A look towards the Obaek-jeon and past the Biro-jeon.
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Inside the Obaek-jeon Hall with hundreds of Nahan accompanying the Buddha.
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The diminutive Jakap-jeon Hall.
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The ancient stone statue dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul.
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Just one of the highly descriptive, yet ancient, Heavenly Kings.
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The main altar inside the Gwaneum-jeon Hall.
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A look across the main altar inside the Myeongbu-jeon.
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One of the Ten Kings of the Underworld that takes up residence on an exterior wall on the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.
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Inside the Chilseong-gak with the intricate Chilseong mural to the left.
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The biseok memorial shrines at Unmunsa Temple.