Tongdosa Temple – 통도사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)
Hello Again Everyone!!
Much like my first post nearly ten years ago now, the famous Tongdosa Temple will be my very first blog post on my very new website. Once again, I’d like to thank you all for sticking with me all these years. And without further ado, here’s Tongdosa Temple!
Tongdosa Temple, which is located in northern Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do, is the largest temple in all of Korea with twenty hermitages spread throughout its vast grounds. First established in 646 A.D. by the famous monk Jajang-yulsa (590-658 A.D). The temple was founded to house the partial relics of the Buddha, Seokgamoni-bul. Jajang-yulsa, after traveling to the temple Yunjisi, in China. Tongdosa Temple means “Passing Through to Enlightenment Temple,” in English. And alongside Haeinsa Temple (The Dharma) in Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do, Songgwangsa Temple (Sangha) in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do, Tongdosa Temple (Buddha) make up the Three Jewel Temples (삼보사찰, Eng. Sambosachal) in Korea.
Tongdosa Temple is beautifully situated to the south of the towering Mt. Yeongchuksan (1082.2 m). Bisected by a stream that flows from the granite mountains, you’ll make your way up a trail shaded by the mature canopy of twisted red pines. Along the way, you’ll notice that the rock faces are covered in ancient carved graffiti. The first real sign that you’ve finally arrived at the temple is the large biseok (stupas) dedicated to centuries of monks that once called Tongdosa Temple home.
Just past the equally iconic and historic Banwol Bridge and the temple museum, is Tongdosa Temple’s Iljumun Gate. The pathway between this gate and the next, the Cheonwangmun Gate, is often filled with paper lanterns during Buddha’s birthday. Inside the Cheonwangmun Gate are the fierce-looking Four Heavenly Kings.
On the other side of this gate, you’ll enter into the lower courtyard at Tongdosa Temple. There are three shrine halls of importance inside the courtyard; namely, the Geukrak-jeon Hall, the Yaksa-jeon Hall, and the Yeongsan-jeon Hall (Vulture Peak Hall). Also found in the lower-courtyard is the two-story temple bell pavilion.
Passing through the Bulimun Gate (The Gate of Non-Duality), you’ll now find yourself in the upper courtyard. Straight ahead is the Gwaneum-jeon Hall, which is occupied by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Not only is this the first temple shrine hall visitors can explore, it’s probably the most popular next to the Daeung-jeon main hall. Behind this hall is the Yonghwa-jeon Hall, which is dedicated to Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). And behind that is the Daejeokgwang-jeon Hall with a beautiful statue of Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy) inside.
More populated than the lower courtyard, the other shrine halls that visitors can explore in the upper courtyard is the Myeongbu-jeon Hall dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) out in front of the Daeung-jeon Hall, the Nahan-jeon to the side of the main hall, as well as the Samseong-gak and Sanshin-gak (dedicated to Sanshin, the Mountain Spirit).
In the midst of these hall is the Guryong Shinji (“Nine Dragons Sacred Pool). Purportedly, and according to myth, Jajang-yulsa found nine dragons inhabiting the temple grounds before founding Tongdosa Temple. In order to build the temple, he had to drive the dragons out of the pond and off the grounds. Blinding them, one dragon begged to stay in order to protect the temple from evil spirits. To help house this dragon, Jajang-yulsa dug a pond for the dragon to inhabit and protect Tongdosa Temple. And this pond just so happens to be Guryong Shinji.
The most important hall, however, is the Daeung-jeon Hall. Without a Buddha sitting on the main altar, which they typically do at Korean Buddhist temples, there’s a window instead that looks out onto an outdoor stone shrine. This is known as the Geumgang Gyedan, or the “Diamond Altar,” in English. This altar houses the partial remains of the Buddha at the centre of the shrine in a stone lotus bud. The Geumgang Gyedan, at least now, is only opened to visitors during Buddha’s birthday. It’ll be busy, but also well worth it.
Admission to the temple is 3,000 won for adults and 1,000 won for children.
HOW TO GET THERE: From Busan, you’ll first need to get to the Nopo subway stop, which is stop #134. From there, go to the inter-city bus terminal. From the inter-city bus terminal get a bus bound for Tongdosa Temple. The ride should last about 25 minutes. The buses leave every 20 minutes from 6:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. From where the bus drops you off at the Tongdosa Bus stop, you’ll need to walk an additional 10 minutes to the temple grounds west of the bus stop.
OVERALL RATING: 10/10. What isn’t to love about Tongdosa Temple? It’s filled with a dozen temple shrine halls, the temple is 1,500 years old, it’s the largest in Korea, and it has 20 hermitages that one can explore with the price of admission to Tongdosa Temple. To top it off, you get to view the partial remains of the Buddha, which is only one of a handful of authentic shrines in all of Korea to house them. Without a doubt, Tongdosa Temple is an absolute must see. In fact, if you were only to see one temple in Korea, this would be the temple to see!