Wongaksa Temple – 원각사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The central altar statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) inside the main hall at Wongaksa Temple in Yangsan Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!!

Wongaksa Temple is situated at the base of Mt. Cheonseongsan in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do down a nearly deserted country road. When you first approach the temple, the first thing to greet you is a yellow sign with the Korean word “원각사” and an arrow pointing towards the temple grounds. Up the temple driveway is the visitors’ centre with the dorms and kitchen to the right.

To the left of this initial cluster of buildings are the temple halls. Next to the visitors’ centre is a stone statue and alcove that houses a standing statue of Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). This statue is backed by a bit of a fading picture of lotus flowers. Around this outdoor altar are smaller statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

Further left, and next to the outdoor altar centred by Yaksayore-bul, is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall dedicated to three shaman deities. This temple hall appears to the right rear of the main hall. Inside the shrine hall are three beautiful renderings of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), and Chilseong (The Seven Stars).

Next to the Samseong-gak shrine hall is the main hall at Wongaksa Temple. In front of this hall is a three-tier pagoda that is Silla inspired. Inside the hall, and sitting on the main altar, is the triad of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) in the centre flanked by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the right and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) to the left. The hall has two walls of miniature statues dedicated to various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Next to these bronze coloured statues, on the far right wall, is an elaborate guardian painting. The exterior walls are adorned with simplistic Ox-Herding murals. These murals are said to have been painted by the head monk at Wongaksa Temple. Strangely, and this is a first for me, there was a punching bag to the right rear of the main hall. I guess when you need to get your stress out, no matter your calling, you have to get it out!

HOW TO GET THERE: The easiest way to get to Wongaksa Temple is to take a taxi from the Yangsan Intercity Bus Terminal. The ride should take about 20 minutes and cost 11,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 4/10. On its own, this temple really doesn’t have that much to offer. It does have a quaint outdoor altar dedicated to Yaksayore-bul, as well as the beautiful murals inside the Samseong-gak shrine hall and the head monk’s Ox-Herding murals around the main hall. And don’t forget the punching bag behind the main hall. However, if you include this temple with a couple other temples and hermitages in the area, it can make Wongaksa Temple worth the trek.

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The view as you make your way towards Wongaksa Temple.

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The welcoming yellow sign that greets you at the temple.

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A look around the temple courtyard.

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A standing statue of Yaksayore-bul at the temple.

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A closer look at the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall at Wongaksa Temple.

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Inside hangs this impressive incarnation of Chilseong.

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As well as this equally impressive Dokseong mural.

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The visitors’ centre and monks’ dorms at the temple.

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The Silla inspired three-tier stone pagoda out in front of the main hall.

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A look inside the main hall at the main altar with Amita-bul front and centre.

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The guardian mural that hangs inside the main hall.

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Another look around the main hall’s interior.

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One of the murals that adorns the exterior walls to the main hall.

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The rather odd punching bag that’s placed behind the main hall. Perhaps one of the monks fancies himself a boxer in his spare time.

Bulgwangsa Temple – 불광사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam)

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One of the monks at Bulgwangsa Temple out for a morning walk with the temple’s duck.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Bulgwangsa Temple is located in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do. And Bulgwangsa Temple is really nothing more than a visitors’ centre, the monks’ facilities, and the main hall. When you first enter the gravel courtyard, you’ll be greeted by the visitors’ centre to your immediate left. Straight ahead are the monks’ facilities, which includes the monks’ dorms and kitchen

The only real place that a Korean temple adventurer would be interested in is the rather long main hall at Bulgwangsa Temple. To the left of the temple’s main watering hole is a display case with a statue of Yongwang (The Dragon King) inside. He is stoically sitting on a throne with a flaming pearl in his right hand and a root in his left. Backing this watering hole is a larger stone statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). He is joined by a square stone engraving of a triad of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. The triad seems to be centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise).

Surrounding the exterior of the main hall are some beautiful murals. There are a variety of them like Wonhyo-daesa’s awakening, the Dragon Ship of Wisdom, as well as various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. At the rear of the main hall is a bricked pagoda that is used for ceremonies for the dead as is made evident by the neighbouring Judgment painting along the exterior of the main hall.

I was surprised when I visited the left side of the main hall to see a red beaked duck that all the workers at the temple, as well as the monks, greeted the duck with a revered “hello.” I’m not sure what this means, but since the monks walk and pet the duck, and the workers feed it, it must have some unexplained meaning.

Inside the elongated main hall, which can obviously accommodate a few hundred worshippers, is an equally long main altar. In the centre is a statue of Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Light), and he’s flanked by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) to the left and Nosana-bul (The Perfect Buddha Body) to the right. There is a gorgeously designed statue of the multi-armed and headed Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the left. In front of this statue is a picture of a white tortoise. This picture ties into both Gwanseeum-bosal and the aquarium next to the monk lectern in front of the main hall. According to Buddhist scripture, Gwanseeum-bosal will return as a white tortoise. And on the far right is a statue of a glass encased Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). He is fronted by a beautiful brass statue of the contemplative Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha).

Finally, the left side wall has a rather large guardian painting that must have over one hundred guardians. Surrounding this mural, much like the right side, are dozens of smaller sized statues of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas like Jijang-bosal.

HOW TO GET THERE: You can get to Bulgwangsa Temple in one of two ways. First, you can catch a bus to Yangsan Intercity Bus Terminal and catch city bus #2000. The bus ride will take you about 40 minutes, and you’ll have to get off at Jujin Village in Soju-dong. Either that, or you can catch city buses # 247 or #301 from the Busan City Bus Terminal in Nopo-dong. You’ll then have to get off at Jangheung. Before ascending the mountain, you’ll see a Buddhist temple to your left. This is Bulgwangsa Temple.

OVERALL RATING: 4/10. This is a temple that should be seen with a more prominent temple. And fortunately for you, Bulgwangsa Temple is perfectly situated at the base of Mt. Cheonseongsan just before you make your way towards either Mitaam Hermitage or Hwaeomsa Temple. Besides filling up on water and taking a rest before the hardy climb, Bulgwangsa Temple has a few highlights like the temple duck, the main altar aquarium, and the multi-armed and faced Gwanseeum-bosal statue.

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The main hall at Bulgwangsa Temple with Mt. Cheonseongsan looming in the background.

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A collection of statues at the temple.

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A statue of Yongwang near the temple’s watering hole.

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The beautiful Wonhyo and Uisang painting that adorns the exterior wall to the main hall.

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The brick pagoda to the rear of the main hall.

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The well-loved duck at the temple.

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The temple’s abbot feeding the red-beaked duck.

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A look inside the main hall at the main altar.

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Surprisingly, there’s an aquarium inside the main hall with this albino turtle inside it.

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The guardian mural inside the main hall.

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The triad of statues that rest on the main altar with Birojana-bul in the centre.

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To the left of the main altar is this elaborate statue dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal.

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And to the right of the main hall is this statue of Mireuk-bul and Jijang-bosal.

Seongraksa Temple – 성락사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The replica Dabotap pagoda in the foreground with the large main hall in the background at Seongraksa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Originally, I had been attempting to visit a neighbouring temple, when I stumbled upon Seongraksa Temple. At first, I thought it would be a small and non-descript temple, but I was happily mistaken.

When you first approach Seongraksa Temple, which is located in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do, it’s in one of the city’s better hidden back alleys. The first things to greet you at this temple are two large and colourful guardian statues. Up the winding entrance road, on either side of the curbs, are two rows of granite Buddha statues. These statues either hold really unique items in their hands, or their hands are striking a specific mudra (a symbolic ritual gesture). Some of the better ones are the ones where the Buddha holds a tablet or a tiny temple in his hands. Another really good one is the twisted hand that points to a tiny pinched speck of air. There are duplicates, and sometimes triplicates, of these statues as you make your way up to the temple courtyard, but they certainly don’t disappoint.

Finally, when you make it to the crest of the hill, and the corresponding courtyard, you’ll be greeted by a near exact replica of the Dabotap Pagoda from the famous Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju. Unlike the original version of the pagoda in Gyeongju, this pagoda has all four of the fierce guardian lions on each corner. Also, it has the amazingly intricate finial at the top of the pagoda. The only difference between the two is that instead of housing a stele inside the centre of the body, like at Gyeongju, the new version of this brilliant masonry houses a stone statue of Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Light).

Behind the pagoda is a very large main hall. Finally, standing in front of the two story main hall, you’ll be greeted by a row of lotus holding seated stone statues of the Buddha. Behind these statues, and engraved along the stone base, are four uniquely sculpted Cheonwang (Heavenly Kings).

Housed inside the first floor of the main hall are the monks’ dorms, the kitchen, and a conference room. The meditation hall, and the true main hall of the temple, sits on the second floor of the building. The corners of each roof panel are adorned with large horned dragons. And the artwork that surrounds the second floor are rather simple Shim-u-do, Ox-Herding, murals.

As you step into the meditation hall, you’ll be greeted by a rather large interior. Sitting on the main altar, in the centre, is Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). He’s flanked by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) to the right and Nosana-bul (The Perfect Body Buddha) to the left. To the left of this main altar is a standing statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). Interestingly, there didn’t seem to appear to be a guardian painting, but there are hundreds of tiny golden and jade statues of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. In the right front corner is a unique triad of statues. In the centre of this triad is Jeseok-bul. To the right of Jeseok-bul is a statue of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) with a fierce looking tiger in front of him. And to the left is Okhwang-sangje (The Daoist Jade Emperor of Heaven). While this triad isn’t the most expensive looking set of statues, it’s pretty amazing that they’re even housed together as a triad. To the right of this triad, and along the right wall, is an unknown statue. The statue, with clenched fists, almost looks like a Yongwang that has lost his weapons. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s Yongwang (The Dragon King) and there was no one around to ask who he was. Perhaps next time…

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Yangsan Subway Station, Line 2, stop # 243, you’ll need to catch a taxi. The taxi ride should take about 12 minutes and cost you about 5,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10. There are really three main highlights to this temple. The first, and most obvious, is the replica of the Dabotop Pagoda from the famous Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju. The other two highlights are the originally designed Buddha’s that line the road that leads up to the temple, and the unique triad of Sanshin, Jeseok-bul, and Okhwang-sangje. While a bit out of the way, the temple has a few hidden gems, and not so hidden gems to make your trip worth it.

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The road that winds its way up to Seongraksa Temple.

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Just one of the Buddhas that lines the entrance at the temple.

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And another.

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And this one, through an anatomic miracle, points to a speck of dust.

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As you approach, a near replica of Dabo-tap Pagoda, from  Bulguksa Temple, awaits you.

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A better look at the pagoda that rests in the temple courtyard.

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The one telling difference between the two temples’ pagodas is this image of Birojana-bul at the heart of the pagoda at Seongraksa Temple.

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The massive main hall at Seongraksa Temple.

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The beautiful Buddhas that line the main hall.

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Adorning the main hall is this relief of one of the Heavenly Kings.

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A look across the front of the second story of the main hall.

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One of the realistic Shimu-do murals that adorns the exterior walls to the second floor of the main hall.

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A look inside the second floor hall. In the centre sits Birojana-bul. And he’s joined by Seokgamoni-bul and Nosana-bul.

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A shrine dedicated to Jijang-bosal inside the main hall.

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The extremely unique triad of Jeseok-bul in the centre flanked by Sanshin to the right and Okhwang-sangje to the left.

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An unknown statue that has an altar all to himself. This statue is to the right of the extremely rare triad of Jeseok-bul, Sanshin, and Okwang-sangje.

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And the view from the main hall out onto the temple courtyard.

Colonial Korea: Tongdosa Temple – 통도사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do as it appeared in 1933.

Hello Again Everyone!!

This week, in the latest installment of the Colonial Korea series, I thought I would focus, instead, on a temple south of the DMZ. So this time, I thought I would focus on the famed Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Rather famously, Tongdosa Temple is part of the three Korean jewel temples (삼보사찰). Tongdosa Temple serves as the “Bul” or Buddha aspect of the three jewels. Tongdosa Temple is joined by Haeinsa Temple in Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do and Songgwangsa Temple in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do to comprise the three Korean jewel temples.

First founded in 643 A.D. on the southern slopes of the beautiful Mt. Chiseosan, Tongdosa Temple means “Transmission of the Way Temple,” in English. The temple was founded by Jajang-yulsa, and the reason that Tongdosa Temple is the “Bul” component of the three Korean jewel temples revolves around him. After traveling to China to further his Buddhist studies, Jajang-yulsa visited Yunjisi Temple. It was here that he obtained the holy relics of the Buddha. These holy relics included the Buddha’s begging bowl, a portion of his skull, as well as numerous sari (crystallized remains). After returning to the Korean peninsula, and through the support of Queen Seondeok (r. 632-647), Jajang-yulsa helped spread Buddhism throughout the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C. to 935 A.D.). A part of Buddhism’s growth throughout Korea was helped by the establishment of Tongdosa Temple to store the Buddha’s partial remains.

From the very moment Tongdosa Temple was established, it has thrived throughout the centuries and millennia. From state-sponsored Buddhism to the Confucian led Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), Tongdosa Temple has always been at the forefront of Korean Buddhism. However, in 1592, and much like the rest of the Korean peninsula, Tongdosa Temple was laid to waste by the invading Japanese during the Imjin War. Finally, in 1645, the temple was reconstructed, including the beautiful Daeung-jeon main hall. In more recent years, Tongdosa Temple has undergone numerous renovations and rebuilds, which includes the new temple museum. Tongdosa Temple is Korea’s largest temple.

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The second of two Iljumun Gates at Tongdosa Temple as of 1933.

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The stately Cheonwangmun Gate in 1933

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The bell pavilion at Tongdosa Temple from 1933

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The Yeongsan-jeon Hall in the lower courtyard in 1933.

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A closer look at the intricate woodwork adorning the Yeongsan-jeon Hall.

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The compact Yaksa-jeon in 1933.

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A better look at the Yaksa-jeon Hall.

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The three tier stone pagoda in the lower courtyard in 1916.

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The Bulimun Gate in 1933, as you transition to the upper courtyard.

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A closer look at the Bulimun Gate.

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The highly popular Gwaneum-jeon Hall in 1933.

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The stone lantern in front of the Gwaneum-jeon Hall from 1916.

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A closer look at the Gwaneum-jeon Hall.

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The Seokong from 1917, which purportedly houses some of the Buddha’s relics.

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The Eungjin-jeon Hall in 1933.

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The Eungjin-jeon Hall up close.

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The famed Daeung-jeon main hall in 1933.

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A look at one of the entrances of the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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Some of the beautiful latticework that adorns the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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A look around the eaves of the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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And a look inside the Daeung-jeon.

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How the second of two Iljumun Gates looks today.

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The view from the Geukrak-jeon towards the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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A look towards the temple’s bell pavilion.

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The view of the three story stone pagoda and the Yeongsan-jeon Hall backing it.

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The Yaksa-jeon Hall as it looks in 2015.

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The back of the Gwaneum-jeon with the Seokong behind it. The Bulimun Gate lies in the background.

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Both the Daeung-jeon Hall (right) and the Eungjin-jeon (left) together.

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The view from the left of the main hall.

Gwaneumam Hermitage – 관음암 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The main hall at Gwaneumam Hermitage at Tongdosa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Much like Biroam Hermitage, Gwaneumam Hermitage is named after a Buddhist Bodhisattva. Gwaneumam Hermitage is named after the Bodhisattva of Compassion: Gwanseeum-bosal. The hermitage is actually the newest hermitage directly associated with Tongdosa Temple. Gwaneumam Hermitage was built 30 years ago. Originally, the land where the hermitage was built was used by a married Buddhist priest and his family. But the land was bought for building the hermitage. The one key feature of this hermitage, and it stands out when you visit it, is a five storied sari stupa. Purportedly, according to the Tongdosa Temple website, the stupa at Gwaneumam Hermitage houses the partial remains of the Historical Buddha. These remains were from Myanmar (Burma). It’s a remarkable history for a hermitage that almost seems underwhelming.

As you first approach the hermitage from a dirt road, you’ll first realize that the land where the hermitage now resides must have be a former rice paddy. The only reason I say this is because the hermitage is surrounded by rice paddies in all directions. Entering through the opening in the walled off hermitage compound, and by the black dragon heads that stand on each edge of the opening, you’ll enter into a non-descript hermitage courtyard.

To the left is the compact main hall with the beautiful pagoda with the purported remains of the Buddha inside. The paintings around the main hall are Buddhist themed in nature. Stepping inside the main hall, you’ll see a large, red canopy hovering over top of the main altar. Underneath this elaborate canopy are a triad of statues. Sitting in centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). To the right of this altar is a large guardian mural.

As for the rest of the hermitage grounds, there’s the monks’ dorms, a visitors centre, and the hermitage’s kitchen. To the right of these buildings is a unique pagoda and a monk statue, as well as a pavilion that overlooks a beautiful garden. The pagoda strangely has rounded edges, instead of the typical sharp stone lines of a more traditional Korean pagoda. Also, the hobbitesque monk statue sports a stone straw hat. To the right of this monk statue is a wooden/straw pavilion for monks to meditate as they look over the beautiful garden that lays out in front of it.

HOW TO GET THERE: Gwaneumam Hermitage is a bit tricky to find. It’s not on the Tongdosa Temple grounds; instead, it lies in the neighbouring hills and fields. With your back to the main gate at Tongdosa Temple, head straight for about 200 metres. Turn left at the first major road. This road will head straight, beside the Tongdosa Temple parking lot, for about 300 metres. By this point, you may be able to see the top of the main hall. As the road forks, head left around a curved road for about 200 metres. You’ll then see a handful of taller apartments. Head down the back alley behind one of these apartments for about 100 metres. Hang a right at the edge of these apartments for another 100 metres, by then you’ll be able to see both the hermitage sign as well as the hermitage and rice paddies that surround Gwaneumam Hermitage. Unlike all the other hermitages that take up residence on the Tongdosa Temple grounds, Gwaneumam Hermitage is free to enter.

OVERALL RATING:  2.5/10. Unless you’re a die hard temple/hermitage adventurer like me, I wouldn’t recommend visiting this hermitage. However, if it’s true that the hermitage does house the partial remains of the Buddha, then this hermitage would obviously be rated a bit higher. But at this time it doesn’t seem all that clear if they do or don’t. The highlight of this hermitage is the beautifully painted compact main hall, purported stupa that houses the partial remains of the Buddha, as well as the atypically shaped pagoda and the hobbitesque monk statue. The garden is also a nice place to take pictures and gather your breath before finding your way back to the bus stop or the Tongdosa Temple gate.

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The drive up to Gwaneumam Hermitage.

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The lotus field at the hermitage.

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One of the hermitage’s walls with a decorative dragon adorning the entry to Gwaneumam Hermitage.

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The five tier pagoda out in front of the hermitage’s main hall.

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One of the aged haetae in front of the pagoda.

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One of the panels of protective guardians that adorns the base of the five tier pagoda.

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A look through the entry of the main hall at Gwaneumam Hermitage.

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One of the murals that adorns the main hall.

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The main altar inside the main hall. Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) is joined by a standing Jijang-bosal and a standing statue of Gwanseeum-bosal.

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An up close of the guardian mural that hangs inside the main hall.

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A better look at the elaborate main altar inside the main hall.

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The hermitage’s stone artwork and relaxing hut.

Bogaksa Temple – 보각사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The view of the city of Yangsan down below as you exit the main hall at Bogaksa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Perched on Mt. Obongsan in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do, where the buildings give way to the forested mountain, is Bogaksa Temple. To get to the elevated Bogaksa Temple grounds, you’ll first need to trek your way up the narrow side-streets as you make your way to the all-new temple. In fact, from the base of the mountain, up to the temple grounds, you’ll need to climb 150 metres in altitude.

When you finally do arrive at Bogaksa Temple, you’ll be met by the front façade retaining wall and a standoffish Iljumun Gate. The two pillared Iljumun Gate is adorned with two fiercely painted guardians on both doors. Also, the ceiling of the gate is painted with decorative Biseon.

Climbing the side-winding set of stone stairs, you’ll pass by a masterful relief of a crowned Bodhisattva. It’s finally when summiting the stone stairs that you stand in Bogaksa Temple’s main temple courtyard. There are relaxing seats to enjoy the view, as well as some purple and pink water lilies. They are joined by the nuns’ dorms and a visitors centre. But it’s the newly constructed main hall that stands out above all the other structures at the temple.

First constructed in the spring of 2015, the main hall’s exterior walls are masterfully adorned with Shimu-do and Palsang-do murals. The Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals rest on the bottom of the two sets in a circular style of painting; while the Palsang-do murals rest above them and are much larger in size. Additionally, the colourful wooden lattices and Nathwi that adorn the front doors of the main hall are something to keep an eye out for, as well. Stepping in the side door of the main hall, you’ll first notice the solitary statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) sitting on the main altar. To the right of the seated statue of the Buddha hang three paintings. The furthest is the large sized guardian mural. It’s joined by a vibrantly painted Sanshin (Mountain Spirit) mural, as well as an intricately painted mural of an all-white Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). To the left of the main altar hangs two more paintings. The one closest to the main altar is Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). He’s joined by an equally animated mural of Chilseong (The Seven Stars).

Stepping out from the main hall, you’ll notice some amazing views of the city of Yangsan down below from the elevated foundation of the main hall.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Busan University Yangsan Campus subway stop, stop #241 on the second line, you’ll need to go out exit #3 and board a taxi bound for Bogaksa Temple. The ride should last about 10 minutes and cost about 4,000 to 5,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 4/10. While not all that large in size, and not that old in age, Bogaksa Temple certainly has a few highlights to this modern temple. One is the views of Yangsan from the heights of the temple. Another are all the paintings housed inside and outside the main hall. And if you come during late summer and early fall, you’ll be able to see some beautiful water lilies in full bloom.

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The two pillared Iljumun Gate at Bogaksa Temple.

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One of the fierce decorative guardians painted on the doors to the Iljumun Gate.

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The view as you look through the Iljumun Gate.

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The crowned stone Bodhisattva relief as you climb the stone stairs.

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A look through the front door of the main hall at Bogaksa Temple.

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Some of the main hall’s floral latticework.

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The final painting in the Palsang-do set.

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Just one of the masterful circular Ox-Herding murals that adorns the main hall.

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A look around the interior of the main hall.

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The guardian mural that hangs in the main hall.

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As well as a vibrant Sanshin mural.

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An intricate Gwanseeum-bosal mural.

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A seated Jijang-bosal mural.

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And a Chilseong mural.

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The view in through the out door.

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Some of the neighbouring temple buildings.

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The amazing view from the main hall.

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A pink water lily in full bloom at the temple.

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As well as a vibrant purple water lily.

Seongbulsa Temple – 성불사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

DSC_0561 A first look inside the beautiful and modern main hall at Seongbulsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Up a side-winding road that hugs a dry riverbed is Seongbulsa Temple. This small temple to the south of Tongdosa Temple lacks in size, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in originality.

When you first arrive, other than being greeted by a barking dog that wanders, you’ll be greeted by a pond with a Buddha statue in the centre of a stone lotus pedestal. This statue is surrounded by all twelve of the zodiac generals. To the left of this rustic pond is a stone marker with red painting in both Korean and Chinese characters with the temple name written on it. To the right is the temple’s visitors’ centre.

To the right of the visitors’ centre is the modern looking main hall. In front of the main hall is an expansive deck that looks out onto the dry riverbed. Around the exterior of the main hall are rather amateurish looking paintings of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). However, this amateurishness quickly fades away as soon as you enter the main hall. Sitting on the main altar, and in the centre of the triad, is a beautifully robed statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). On the left wall is a beautifully ornate black-backed guardian painting. To the left and right of the main altar are dozens of tiny Buddha and Bodhisattva statues. On the right wall, on the right hand side, is a beautiful statue and painting of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). He’s joined by a row of miniature statues of himself (green hair and all). To the left of Jijang-bosal is one of the more originally painted murals of the Dragon Ship of Wisdom.

To the right of the main hall is really the hidden treasure to the entire temple. On the outside it appears to be nothing more than a Sanshin-gak shaman shrine hall; however, it’s really so much more. The Sanshin-gak is decorated with some amateurish murals that symbolize Sanshin. On the right is a painting of a monk with a tiger, and on the left is a fiercely rendered painting of just a tiger. Inside this hall, you’ll be greeted by a pair of paintings. The one on the right is Sanshin. Not only is there a big and beautiful painting of Sanshin, but there’s an even more impressive statue of Sanshin in front of the painting. To the left of Sanshin is a painting that is somewhat hidden by a couple of artificial bouquets. The painting is a rendering of Dangun Wanggeom. Dangun was the legendary founder of Gojoseon, which was the first Korean kingdom. He founded this kingdom in 2333 B.C. around Liaoning, Northeast China, and the Korean Peninsula. It is extremely rare to see Dangun inside a Buddhist temple. However, much like the neighbouring Sinbulsa Temple in south-western Ulsan, this painting seems to have been painted by the same artist.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Yangsan Subway Station walk to Emart. From there, you’ll find a bus stop where you’ll find Bus #10. This bus doesn’t come all that often, but when you do finally board it, ride it for 12 stops or 23 minutes. Get off at the Daewoo Marina Gamgyel maeul stop. Walk for about 10 minutes, or 675 metres, towards Seongbulsa Temple.

OVERALL RATING: 4.5/10. This temple is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It’s neither too close to Tongdosa Temple, nor is it too close to downtown Yangsan. As a result, this temple is a bit difficult to get to. But if you’re willing to spend the time to get to Seongbulsa Temple, you won’t be disappointed by some of the temple artwork. The highlight of this temple, by far, is the Dangun Wanggeom painting in the Sanshin-gak. It’s rare to find a painting of this founding Korean king; but when you do, it’s definitely a nice surprise. Added to this highlight is the beautifully robed statue of Amita-bul, the painting of the Dragon Ship of Wisdom, as well as the pond at the temple.

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The temple grounds as you approach from the parking lot.

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A artificial pond at Seongbulsa Temple.

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The atypical-looking main hall at the temple.

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A look inside the main hall at the main altar

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The shrine dedicated to Jijang-bosal.

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Next to it hangs this beautiful Dragon Ship of Wisdom mural.

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An up-close with the guardian mural.

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The temple courtyard. And yes, that’s a picnic table!

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A dried up creek bed next to the temple.

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The odd-looking Sanshin-gak at Seongbulsa Temple.

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A very unique tiger mural that adorns the exterior wall to the Sanshin-gak.

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A painting that adorns the main hall at Seongbulsa Temple.

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The Mountain spirit inside the Sanshin-gak.

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And he shares it with this unique pairing: Dangun Wanggeom.

The Story Of…Tongdosa Temple

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The famed Geumgang Gyedan Altar with the lotus shaped stone that houses the Buddhas partial remains behind the main hall at Tongdosa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

I’m often asked what my favourite temple in all of Korea is, which makes sense because I run a website on Korean temples. For me, the answer is quite simple: Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do. There are so many reasons why Tongdosa Temple is my favourite temple in Korea; so many of those reasons revolve around fond memories.

One of those memories is that it was the second temple I ever visited in Korea (the first being Bulguksa Temple). I went with friends from the very first school I ever worked at. Most of those people are still my friends to this day. I’ve also brought a lot of new friends I’ve met through the years to this temple just because it has so much to offer a first time visitor. But perhaps one of my greatest friendships came from a novice Czech monk that was training at Tongdosa Temple not too long ago.

Another reason is that it’s the first temple I brought my mom to when she came to Korea for the first time in 2004. Like me, I wanted her time here to mirror some of the adventures and joys in my life while staying in Korea. And there was no better representation of these feelings than Tongdosa Temple.

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The stunning main hall at Tongdosa Temple.

But perhaps the greatest reason I love Tongdosa Temple so much is that it’s the first place I went on a date with my wife. We fumbled around our feelings, as we wandered around the temple grounds and museum, while figuring out just what we felt for the other. So what better reason do you need to love a place than it being the place where you dated your future wife?

As you can tell, I have so many reasons why Tongdosa Temple is my favourite temple in all of Korea. But outside of friendships, family, and a beautiful wife, the temple is a pretty awesome place to visit, especially when you consider it houses the partial remains of the Buddha.

For more on Tongdosa Temple.

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A colourful look at the amazing Tongdosa Temple.

Bohyunsa Temple – 보현사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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A look outside from the main hall onto the nine-tier pagoda in the temple courtyard at Bohyunsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

I was out on yet another temple adventure that explored one of the most important Buddhist mountains in Yangsan: Mt. Cheonseongsan. This time I thought I would explore the north-eastern portion of the mountain, which brought me to Bohyunsa Temple.

When you first approach Bohyunsa Temple, up a long and winding country road, you’ll first see a ledge with a twin set of statues up the embankment. As you approach, you’ll notice that these two statues, uniquely, are a pair of Cheonwang (Heavenly King) statues. Jigook Cheonwang, the Heavenly King of the east stands to the right, while Gwangmok Cheonwang, the Heavenly King of the west stands to the left. They stand in front of a set of stairs that lead up to the temple courtyard.

As you climb the set of stairs, you’ll notice a collection of buildings to the right. These buildings include the temple kitchen and monks’ dorms. Straight ahead is a beautifully situated main hall that sits below the peak of Mt. Cheonseongsan and looks out upon Yangsan. Surrounding the main hall are some nicely rendered Shimu-do, Ox-Herding murals. Inside the main hall, and sitting on the main altar, is a triad centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). All around the main hall, in every nook and cranny, are smaller sized golden statues of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. To the left of the triad is a black haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). To the immediate right of the main altar is the Chilseong (Seven Stars) painting that is commonly situated in the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. But atypically, the painting is housed right next to the main altar. Next to the Chilseong mural is the guardian painting. Like all the paintings inside the main hall, this painting is beautifully rendered with thirty-two different guardians.

To the left of the main hall is a stunning nine-tier pagoda. Around the base and body of the pagoda are some skillfully carved stone engravings of various Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and guardians. Directly behind this pagoda is a large granite statue of what looks to be Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). With a medicine jar in his left hand, he meditatively looks out on the temple grounds. Much like the pagoda, the stone statue of Yaksayore-bul is just as beautifully crafted.

The final building on the temple grounds is the Samseong-gak shrine hall. This hall is to the left rear of the main hall, and parallel to the temple pagoda and Yaksayore-bul statue. The exterior of the Samseong-gak shrine hall is perhaps some of the most originally designed paintings adorning this type of hall in all of Korea. It almost seems as though a temple monk did the paintings. But whoever painted them, the paintings depict various animals and birds like turtles, deer, cranes, pheasants, and a dragon. By far, the most original pair of Nathwi (Monster Mask) are situated on either side of the entrance to this hall. Protruding out of the painted masks are a set of devilish horns that only add to the scariness that these Nathwi are attempting to convey. Inside the Samseong-gak shrine hall are a set of popular shaman deities in Korean Buddhism. In the centre is an older looking Sanshin (Mountain Spirit) painting as well as statue. To the left of Sanshin is a painting of Dokseong (The Recluse). Rather uniquely, there are no assistants in the painting with Dokseong. And to the far right is another older looking painting of Yongwang (The Dragon King).

HOW TO GET THERE: From Nopo Subway Station, line #1, stop #134, take Bus #58 for 26 stops. You’ll need to get off at the Cheonseong river town stop. After that, you’ll need to grab a taxi for 13 minutes, or 2.7 k.m., to get to Bohyunsa Temple. The taxi fare should be between 4,000 to 4,500 won.


크게 보기

OVERALL RATING: 5/10. While this northeastern Mt. Cheonseongsan temple won’t blow you away, it certainly has a lot for the discerning Korean temple adventurer. Such things as the pair of Cheonwang stone entrance statues, the stone statue of Yaksayore-bul and the nine -tier pagoda, as well as the exterior paintings around the Samseong-gak shrine hall and the Dokseong painting make Bohyunsa Temple well worth the effort to find on the eastern outskirts of Yangsan.

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The road that leads up to the temple.

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 The stairs that lead up to the main hall with two Heavenly Kings guarding the way.

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 The beautiful main hall.

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The nine-tier pagoda at Bohyunsa Temple.

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Just one of the ox-herding murals that adorns the exterior walls of the main hall.

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 A look inside the main hall at the main altar.

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 The statue of Jijang-bosal, which is to the left of the main triad inside the main hall.

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 The beautiful guardian mural inside the main hall.

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 The mural of Chilseong to the left of the main altar.

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 A closer look at the Yaksayore-bul statue, which is situated next to the nine-tier pagoda.

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 The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall, which lies just behind the main hall.

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 A small shrine with a statue of Sanshin.

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 The unique painting that adorns the Samseong-gak.

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 As well as one of the more creative Nathwi paintings.

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 The painting of Sanshin inside the Samseong-gak.

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 As well as the painting of Dokseong.

The Story of…Beopcheonsa Temple

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 The temple courtyard at Beopcheonsa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

The very last major temple I had yet to visit in Yangsan was Beopcheonsa Temple. The first time I attempted to visit this nunnery in the mountains of Mt. Geumjeongsan, which borders on Busan to the south, I thought I was going the wrong way down a dirt road. The road simply seemed to be headed to nowhere. I hadn’t brought a map with me, and the prospect didn’t look all that promising, so I turned around.

A week later, and with map in hand, I headed back to Beopcheonsa Temple. Upon second look, if I had in fact followed my instincts, and the road that appeared to go no further than a farmer’s field, I would have ended up at the beautiful Beopcheonsa Temple.

After arriving at the temple parking lot, I was greeted by a beautiful Cheonwangmun Gate and stone lanterns. After passing through the gate, and coming out on the other side, I was nicely surprised with the unique main hall that had windows behind the main altar statues that looked out onto the mountain, as well as a Samseong-gak joined by twisting read pines.

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 The pair of ducks that walk around the temple grounds.

As I walked the grounds, I was able to see a beautiful pond where a pair of colourful ducks were swimming, as well as an area for some stone statues of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). Amazingly, the entire grounds were populated by stray cats that the nuns at the temple took care of. It was only when I got to the north side of the temple grounds, and was walking around the Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) shrine that a nun called me over. I thought, oh no, now I’m in trouble for trespassing on a part of the temple that I shouldn’t have been visiting.

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 The Jijang-bosal shrine where I thought I was going to get in trouble.

But when I got to her, she invited me in to the temple’s visitors’ centre. I thought, okay, why not. When I entered, they offered me a coffee and tangerines. We talked exclusively in Korean. They asked me questions about my time in Korea, whether I was married, and why I was so interested in Korean Buddhism. As we were talking, a half dozen cats came in to have a drink of milk that the nuns had provided inside the visitors’ centre. After about 30 minutes, they gave me a Buddhist CD and wished me well upon my way.

The offering up of coffee to me is a bit funny. It’s a bit funny because I never have coffee unless a Buddhist monk or nun offers it to me, which upsets my coffee-loving wife to no end.

For more on Beopcheonsa Temple.

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 Inside the main hall as one of the nuns I had coffee with conducts the morning prayer service.