Baegyangsa Temple is located in Naejangsan National Park in Jangseong, Jeollanam-do in a valley between Mt. Daegaksan (529.8 m) to the southeast and Mt. Baegamsan (741.2 m) to the northwest. Baegyangsa Temple was first founded in 632 A.D. during the Baekje Kingdom (18 B.C. – 660 A.D.). Originally, when the temple was first constructed, it was called Baegamsa Temple. Later, and during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), the temple changed its name to Jeongtosa Temple in 1034. The name of the temple at this time was in reference to the Pure Land in Buddhism, or “Jeongto” in Korean. The temple would change its name, once more, this time to Gakjinguksa Temple in 1350.
The temple was rebuilt in 1574 and was renamed Baegyangsa Temple. It was rebuilt by the monk Hwanyang at this time. The name of the temple, which means “White Sheep Temple” in English, is in reference to white sheep that would come down from the neighbouring mountains to listen to Buddhist sutra readings. After listening to these teachings, the sheep ascended up to the Pure Land.
Over the years, the temple has been renovated several times like in 1786, 1864, and 1917. And during Japanese Colonization (1910-1945), Baegyangsa Temple was named as one of the district head temples. Currently, it’s the 18th District Head Temple of the Jogye-jong Order, which is the largest sect in Korea. Also, Baegyangsa Temple is one of five monastic training temples for the Jogye-jong Order. These are known as “chongrim” in Korean, and Baegyangsa Temple runs the Gobul Chongrim.
In total, Baegyangsa Temple is home to two Korean Treasures, two Natural Monuments, and a Scenic Site. The two Korean Treasures are the Stupa of Buddhist Monk Soyo at Baegyangsa Temple and the Seated Wooden Amitabha Buddha Statue of Baegyangsa Temple. As for the two Natural Monuments, they are the Forest of Japanese Torreyas at Baegyangsa Temple and the Gobulmae Plum of Baegyangsa Temple. And the Scenic Site is the Baegyangsa Temple and Baekhakbong Peak.
Admission to the temple is 3,000 won for adults, 1,000 for teenagers, and 1,000 won for children.
Also, Baegyangsa Temple participates in the popular Temple Stay program.
With the temple being located in the southern part of the Naejangsan National Park, you’ll find that the walk up to Baegyangsa Temple is one of the prettiest you’ll find in all of Korea. As you make your way towards the temple grounds, large red maples will lead the way during the fall. Next, you’ll find a pond with the Ssanggye-ru Pavilion backing it. This is a picturesque place to snap a few photos whether it’s in the spring, summer, fall, or winter. The pond is beautifully framed by the towering mountain range behind it and the neighbouring trees that surround it.
Around a bend in the path, and to the left, you’ll cross over a bridge and find the Sacheonwangmun Gate. The outside front wall is adorned with a mural of the temple grounds. And housed inside the Sacheonwangmun Gate are four towering statues dedicated to the Four Heavenly Kings.
After exiting the Sacheonwangmun Gate, you’ll pass by the two-story Jong-gak. This is followed by the Uhwa-ru Pavilion that acts as the main entry gate to the rest of the temple grounds. Immediately to your right, and standing squarely in the centre of the main temple courtyard, you’ll find the Daeung-jeon Hall. The main hall was rebuilt in 1917, and the exterior walls are adorned with Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha) and various Buddhist motif murals. Behind the Daeung-jeon Hall is a nine-story pagoda. Stepping inside the Daeung-jeon Hall, you’ll find a triad of statues on the main altar. In the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), who is joined on either side by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). To the right of the main altar hangs a beautiful Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) mural. And to the left of the main altar is a shrine dedicated to the Nahan. These statues of the Nahan are backed by the Palsang-do (The Eight Scenes from the Buddha’s Life).
In front of the Daeung-jeon Hall, and to the left, is a two-in-one temple shrine hall. The first shrine hall, and the one placed to the right, is the Chilseong-gak Hall. An image of the Jeseok-bul (King of Heaven Buddha/Indra) sits alone on the main altar. And seven statues of Chilseong (The Seven Stars) join Jeseok-bul on either side and are joined by a golden string that connects all eight images. And the temple shrine hall to the left of the Chilseong-gak Hall, and still in the same building, is the Josa-jeon Hall. Inside this temple shrine hall, you’ll find numerous murals dedicated to prominent monks that once called Baegyangsa Temple home.
Next to the Chilseong-gak/Josa-jeon Hall is the historic Geukrakbo-jeon Hall. This hall dates back to 1574, when it was first built by the monk Hwaneung. Stepping inside this compact shrine hall, you’ll immediately notice the large image of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) on the main altar. As of June, 2020, the statue was designated as a Korean Treasure. Officially, this statue is known as the Seated Wooden Amitabha Buddha Statue of Baegyangsa Temple. It was first created in 1607 by three monks that included Hyeonjin. It was made for the peace of the deceased royal ancestors of King Seonjo of Joseon (r. 1567-1608). It was made at a time when Buddhist architectural artifacts were being restored immediately after the Imjin War (1592-1598) thanks to the large role that Korean Buddhism played in defending the Korean Peninsula. Interestingly, it’s the largest Buddha statue made before 1610. A letter at the base of the pedestal contains information on when it was first constructed and who created it. The statue was created by using wood that was overlaid with clay to give it a more natural appearance. The face of Amita-bul is plump, and it has imposing shoulders that gives the statue a greater presence. And in 1741 and 1775, a re-application of gold bond powder was applied to the statue twice. Joining this beautiful statue in the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall is a Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural) to the right and a mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) with a white tiger in the back corner of the temple shrine hall.
And the only other temple shrine hall that visitors can explore at Baegyangsa Temple is the Myeongbu-jeon Hall to the left of the Geukrakbo-jeon hall. Housed inside this temple shrine hall is a statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) on the main altar.
How To Get There
To get to Baegyangsa Temple, you can catch a bus from the Gwangju Intercity Bus Terminal. Buses to Baegyangsa Temple first leave at 6:35 a.m., and they run until 7:50 p.m. These buses leave at intervals anywhere from 60 to 80 minutes, and the bus ride will take one hour and twenty minutes.
Overall Rating: 7/10
Baegyangsa Temple is surrounded by so much natural beauty, which only adds to the temple’s overall appeal. Adding to the towering craggy peaks and the meandering stream are a handful of Korean Treasures and Natural Monuments. Of particular beauty is the newly minted Seated Wooden Amitabha Buddha Statue of Baegyangsa Temple as a Korean Treasure inside the historic Geukrakbo-jeon Hall. Also of interest is the unique interior of the Chilseong-gak Hall, the Sanshin white tiger mural in the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall, and the picturesque Ssanggye-ru Pavilion. The temple is a peaceful place for reflection.