Heungnyunsa Temple - 흥륜사 (Gyeongju)
The painting at Heungnyunsa Temple depicting Dazu Huike cutting off his own arm in front of the Bodhidharma.
Hello Again Everyone!!
With our last visit to Gyeongju, after visiting Bulguksa Temple, Anapji, and Bunhwangsa Temple, we decided to visit Heungnyungsa Temple (흥륜사). It was on the tourist city map, and near the city gates, so with the car we thought why not.
Heungnyunsa Temple was the first Buddhist temple built in 544 after Buddhism was adopted as the state religion in 528 during the reign of the Silla King Beopheung according to the Gyeongju historic plaque at the temple. The temple was built to pray for Princess Seongguk, who was a daughter of King Michu. The temple was built as a request from the famous monk Ado. However, with all that said, after a roof tile was removed, an inscription read “Yeongmyosa.” So a recent theory now claims that the temple site was actually or originally called Yeongmyosa Temple. The plaque isn’t clear either way.
When you first approach the temple, you’ll make your way through narrow roads. Once you turn left, and are standing inside the courtyard, you’ll first be greeted by a compact bell pavilion and a stone pagoda. Beside the bell pavilion is the main hall at the temple. And behind the main hall is the monk dorms. To the right of the study hall and main hall is the temple kitchen. To the far right of the courtyard is the main study hall. And while the temple lacks a lot of the luster of other temples in Gyeongju, Heungnyunsa Temple has a couple hidden treasures. One unique feature is the temple’s pagoda, which is extremely unique in its construction and very hard to even describe, so you’ll have to check out the pictures to see what I mean. Another gem is a painting on the exterior of the main hall. The painting depicts the story of the Bodhidharma and Dazu Huike severing his arm to show his dedication of faith. Also, the painting of a Biseon (flying angel) floating up in the rafters of the bell pavilion is absolutely gorgeous. There is also an older looking guardian painting that is quite amazing in its descriptiveness. There is a beautiful lotus painting near the entrance of the temple kitchen. And strangely, there are neither Palsang-do paintings depicting the eight scenes of the Buddha’s life, nor are there any ox-herding murals on the exterior of the main hall. Instead, there are an assortment of paintings decorating the exterior of the main hall like the Bodhidharma and Dazu Huike painting.
HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Heungnyunsa Temple from the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal, head towards Daereungwon Royal tombs and Beopjansa Temple. Before you hit either place, you’ll notice highway 35 to your right. Turn right down this highway/street for about a kilometre. You’ll notice a sign to your right that will read흥륜사.
This sign is smaller and brown and slightly elevated. Head down the road where this sign is. Walk for about 300 metres down a farm road nestled between country houses and past a rice paddy. To your left will be a sign that will once more read흥륜사. Heungnyunsa Temple is to your right.
OVERALL RATING: 4/10. While not nearly as spectacular as the other famous temples in Gyeongju, Heungnyunsa Temple possesses enough to keep a temple adventurer’s attention. Amongst the points of interest are the lack of either Palsang-do paintings or ox-herding murals on the exterior of the main hall. But not to worry, instead, the exterior of the main hall is dedicated with large murals unique to Heungnyunsa, like the depiction of Dazu Huike severing his arm to demonstrate his devotion to his faith in front of Bodhidharma. Also, there are other beautiful paintings around the temple like the lotus painting near the kitchen as well as the angelic Biseon floating around the bell pavilion beams at the temple. And lastly, the unique of the temple’s pagoda all add up to take the time to visit Heungnyunsa Temple if time permits. While it won’t be at the top of your list, if you’re in Gyeongju for a couple days, it certainly deserves the time to be explored.
The compact bell pavilion at Heungnyunsa Temple.
A better look at the bell at the temple.
A beautiful Biseon at the top of the bell pavilion.
The study hall at the temple.
The uniquely designed pagoda.
One of the fierce guardians of the pagoda.
An abstract depiction of an individual on the pagoda.
The gorgeous lotus painting on the exterior of the kitchen at Heungnyunsa Temple.
A view of the monk dorms at the temple.
The main hall at Heungnyunsa Temple.
The main altar in the main hall.
To the right of the main altar is Jijang Bosal, the Bodhisattva of the Afterlife.
Here is the older looking guardian painting on the left side of the main hall.
A view across the main hall. On the right wall are two paintings for deceased monks at the temple.
A unique painting at the rear of the main hall at Heungnyunsa Temple.
The eternal struggle between war and peace.
A golden dragon chasing a flaming pearl to the right.
Two headstones for deceased monks.
One last look at the temple and the sign of enlightenment.