Guryongsa Temple – 구룡사 (Wonju, Gangwon-do)


The view from the Cheonwangmun Gate at Guryongsa Temple in Chiaksan National Park.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Located in the heart of Chiaksan National Park is Guryongsa Temple, which means “Nine Dragons Temple,” in English. It’s believed that the temple was first constructed by the famed Uisang-daesa in 668 C.E.

Like all great temples, Guryongsa Temple has an imaginative creation story all to its own. Uisang, after walking several miles, found the location for a temple in the rolling folds of Chiaksan; however, a pond stood in the way of his plans. Living inside this pond were nine dragons who heard the monks plans to build a temple on their pond. The tricky dragons proposed a bet to Uisang: if the monk won the bet, they would leave; however, if the dragons won, Uisang would have to abandon his hopes of building a temple on their pond. With both parties agreeing to this little wager, the dragons proceeded to drown the monk to death. Torrential rain fell from the sky and flooded the mountain ranges. Sure that they had killed the monk, they went in search of him. What they found surprised the nine dragons. Instead of being dead, Uisang was peacefully sleeping on a boat. Awoken by the dragons, Uisang said, “Is that all the tricks you have? Now watch my trick with your eyes wide open.” Drawing a talisman from his person, Uisang flung it into the pond, where it proceeded to bubble and boil. The dragons fled to the East Sea, leaving a blinded dragon behind. Quick in their escape, the eight dragons left eight valleys behind as proof of their hasty escape through the mountains.

The temple is situated up a beautiful winding road that’s lined with mature pine trees and a flowing stream. The hike up to the temple grounds is about 900 metres in distance and is filled with things to see like the dragon based pillared Iljumun Gate. A little further up the road, and you’ll next come to an ancient stupa field. Nearing the temple grounds, you’ll finally see the first shrine hall at the temple: the Josa-jeon. Inside this hall hangs a painting of the Bodhidharma.

Just another hundred metres up the road and you’ll finally come to the elevated temple grounds. The impressive two-story Cheonwangmun Gate, which if you come at the right time of the day will have brilliant sunlight shooting through the slats in the roof, is flanked by a three-story stone pagoda. While rather non-descript, the stout-looking Four Heavenly Kings are rather intimidating in size and scowls. To the left of the Cheonwangmun Gate appears to be an aged statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha).

Up a steep set of stairs, and under the low-lying Bogwang-ru Pavilion, you’ll finally enter the main temple courtyard. Looking behind you, you’ll notice the rather long and spacious interior to the Bogwang-ru Pavilion that is used for meetings. To the right of this hall is the temple’s bell pavilion: the Jong-gak. And to left of the pavilion, and still under construction, is what looks to be a meditative pavilion.

Straight ahead is the Daeung-jeon, which acts as the temple’s main hall. Surrounding the exterior walls to this hall are some masterful Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, is a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s flanked on either side by what looks to be Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) and Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). The low-hanging orange paper lotus lanterns inside this hall are quite nice, as well.

To the left of the main hall is the Myeongbu-jeon. The exterior walls are painted with Judgment murals, as well as a mural of the Dragon Ship of Wisdom. Sitting inside this hall sits a golden haired Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). He’s backed by a well-populated mural of himself. Just behind the Myeongbu-jeon is the Samseong-gak. The most unique painting of the three, which includes a painting of Chilseong (The Seven Stars), Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), is the painting of Sanshin. Inside this mural, you can rather uniquely see a larger image of a male Sanshin joined by a smaller image of a female Sanshin slightly to the left.

The other two remaining halls at Guryongsa Temple are to the right of the main hall. The first, and newly constructed (and there’s a lot of newer construction at Guryongsa Temple), is the Gwaneeum-jeon. The golden statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) that sits all alone inside this hall is backed by a scenic landscape that also includes Yongwang. Just to the rear of the Gwaneeum-jeon is the Nahan-jeon. This is one of the more unique Nahan-jeon halls that you’ll find in Korea. Because besides the statue of Seokgamoni-bul that sits on the main altar, all 500 of the Buddha’s disciples take up residence inside their own glass box on the neighbouring walls, as well as the 16 main Nahan that join Seokgamoni-bul on the main altar.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll need to get to the city of Wonju from wherever it is that you live in Korea. From the Wonju Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to either take Bus #3 or #3-1 to Wonju Station. It should take about 15 minutes, or 6 bus stops. Now, from Wonju Station, you’ll need to get on Bus #41 to Guryongsa Temple. In total, the ride should last about 1 hour and 10 minutes.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10. I was definitely impressed by the beauty at Guryongsa Temple: both Buddhist and natural. The Cheonwangmun Gate is one of the larger ones that you’ll find at a Korean temple. On top of this large sized entry gate, you can also enjoy the male/female Sanshin mural, the boxed Nahan statues, and the rolling hills that lie all around Guryongsa Temple.


The Iljumun Gate at Guryongsa Temple.


The stupa field at the temple.


The two-story Cheonwangmun Gate and front facade at the temple.


A standing stone statue of Mireuk-bul.


One of the fierce-looking Cheonwang.


Light shafts shoot through the top of the Cheonwangmun Gate.


A look up towards the Bogwang-ru Pavilion.


A look inside the spacious interior to the Bogwang-ru.


The bell pavilion at Guryongsa Temple.


A look across at the main hall and the Myeongbu-jeon at Guryongsa Temple.


A Shimu-do mural that adorns the main hall.


 A look inside the main hall at Seokgamoni-bul.


A golden capped Jijang-bosal.


A look towards the Samseong-gak.


The male/female mural of Sanshin.


A look towards the Gwaneeum-jeon.


Inside is a golden, regal statue of Gwanseeum-bosal.


A look up at the Nahan-jeon.


 A look inside the Nahan-jeon. Each little box is filled with a Nahan figure.