Gyeongheungsa Temple – 경흥사 (Gyeongsan, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

The “Wooden Seated Sakyamuni Buddha Triad of Gyeongheungsa Temple” in Gyeongsan, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Temple History

Gyeongheungsa Temple is located in southern Gyeongsan, Gyeongsangbuk-do to the northeast of Donghaksan (602.7 m). It’s believed by some that Gyeongheungsa Temple was first founded in 659 A.D. by the monk Hyegong-hwasang. But the evidence is rather thin to support this theory. Another theory states that Gyeongheungsa Temple was first founded in 1637. And later, the “Wooden Seated Sakyamuni Buddha Triad of Gyeongheungsa Temple” was enshrined at the temple in 1644. The temple would be rebuilt in 1719 and further rebuilt in 1897.

In the 1990s, the “Wooden Seated Sakyamuni Buddha Triad of Gyeongheungsa Temple” was examined to reveal a written message on the clothing of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). This written message revealed that there used to be four to five hermitages at Gyeongheungsa Temple before it was destroyed during the Imjin War (1592-98). Additionally, the temple was quite large and had dozens of monks that lived at the temple.

In 1990, the Daeung-jeon Hall was dismantled, repaired, and restored. Also, the monks’ dorms were repaired this time, as well. In 1993, a new Daeung-jeon Hall was built at Gyeongheungsa Temple. And the “Wooden Seated Sakyamuni Buddha Triad of Gyeongheungsa Temple” was moved to the new Daeung-jeon Hall, while the old Daeung-jeon Hall was converted into the temple’s Myeongbu-jeon Hall.

The “Wooden Seated Sakyamuni Buddha Triad of Gyeongheungsa Temple” is Korean Treasure #1750, while the “Buddhist Altar at Gyeongheungsa Temple in Gyeongsan” is Gyeongsangbuk-do Cultural Material #555.

Temple Layout

As you first approach the temple grounds, and as you enter the temple parking lot, you’ll notice the temple budowon (stupa field) to the right of the temple shrine halls. Slightly elevated, there are a row of six stupas varying in both shape and size to greet you as you first approach Gyeongheungsa Temple.

A little further to the left and past the monks’ dorms, there is a cluster of some four temple shrine halls. The first of these shrine halls is the Myeongbu-jeon Hall. The exterior walls are adorned with murals dedicated to Wonhyo-daesa (617-686 A.D.) and the Bodhidharma. Housed inside this shrine hall is a triad centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), who is joined on either side by Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Underneath this triad is only a small part of the main altar, which is known as a “sumidan” in Korean. Officially, this altar is known as the “Buddhist Altar at Gyeongheungsa Temple in Gyeongsan,” and it’s Gyeongsangbuk-do Cultural Material #555. Considering the normal size of a “sumidan,” it would appear as though only one-fifth of the original altar still remains. Some of the subjects on the altar that still remain are crabs, fish, frogs, lotus flowers, and peonies. Based on what remains of the “sumidan,” it’s presumed that the “Buddhist Altar at Gyeongheungsa Temple” was built in the early 17th century. And to the right of this historic main altar is a modern Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural).

Between the monks’ dorms and the Myeongbu-jeon Hall, and up a set of stairs, is the Daeung-jeon Hall. The exterior walls to this hall are adorned with Palsang-do (The Eight Scenes from the Buddha’s Life Murals). Stepping inside the Daeung-jeon Hall, you’ll find the “Wooden Seated Sakyamuni Buddha Triad of Gyeongheungsa Temple” on the main altar. This triad consists of a central image of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) being joined on either side by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). This Korean Treasure dates back to 1644, as indicated by a prayer discovered inside the statue of Seokgamoni-bul. There’s also an inscription on the pedestal that Seokgamoni-bul rests upon, as well. Additionally, records including the background, organizer, and maker of the statues were stored inside the body of the Historical Buddha. These records also relate the material used and the monk-sculptor, Cheongheo, who made these 17th century wooden statues. He was based out of Geumsansa Temple in Jeollabuk-do and was invited to many temples, including Gyeongheungsa Temple, to create these beautiful Buddhist statues. All three of the statues are both strong and serene in nature. And both Bodhisattvas wear regal crowns. The triad is a great example of Buddhist artistry during the mid-17th century. Also housed inside the main hall is a mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal, as well as a modern Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural).

To the rear of these two shrine halls, and slightly up an embankment, are two smaller sized shaman shrine halls. Turning to the left and then to the right, you’ll make your way up towards these shaman shrine halls along a forested pathway. The first of the two is the Chilseong/Dokseong-gak Hall. Housed inside this shaman shrine hall are a pair of original murals dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars) and Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). A little further to the right is the temple’s Sanshin-gak Hall. This shaman shrine hall houses a blue background fronted by an image of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) joined with a tiger with a nearly human face.

How To Get There

To get to Gyeongheungsa Temple from the Gyeongsan Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to walk for about five minutes, or 300 metres, to get to the Gyeongsan Shijang (market) bus stop. From this bus stop, you’ll need to take Bus #100. After 14 stops, or 21 minutes, you’ll need to get off at the “Daemyeong 2-ri (Cheong-do Banghyang) – 대명 2리 (청방향)” bus stop. From where the bus drops you off, you’ll need to walk 2.2 km to get to the temple.

And if public transportation isn’t your thing, you can simply take a taxi from the Gyeongsan Intercity Bus Terminal. The taxi ride will take you about 15 minutes, over 8 km, and it’ll cost you 12,000 won (one way).

Overall Rating: 6.5/10

The two major highlights at Gyeongheungsa Temple are the “Buddhist Altar at Gyeongheungsa Temple in Gyeongsan” and the “Buddhist Altar at Gyeongheungsa Temple.” Even though only twenty percent of the main altar inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall is still intact, it’s a stunning one-fifth. Also, the main altar triad inside the newly built Daeung-jeon Hall are stunning, as well, both in scope and style. In addition to these rather obvious highlights, you can also enjoy the three shaman murals inside the two shaman shrine halls, as well as the collection of stupas inside the budowon at the entry of the temple grounds.

One of the stupa in the budowon at the entry of the temple grounds.
The Myeongbu-jeon Hall.
A rather surprised image of Wonhyo-daesa (617-686 A.D.).
The triad inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall that rests upon the “Buddhist Altar at Gyeongheungsa Temple.”
The Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural) inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.
The pathway leading up to the new Daeung-jeon Hall.
One of the Palsang-do (The Eight Scenes from the Buddha’s Life Murals) that adorns the exterior of the Daeung-jeon Hall.
The “Wooden Seated Sakyamuni Buddha Triad of Gyeongheungsa Temple” inside the Daeung-jeon Hall.
The modern painting dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) inside the main hall.
The central image of Dongjin-bosal (The Bodhisattva that Protects the Buddha’s Teachings) from the Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural) from inside the Daeung-jeon Hall.
The trail leading up to the two shaman shrine halls at Gyeongheungsa Temple.
The Chilseong/Dokseong-gak Hall (foreground) and Sanshin-gak Hall (background).
The blue image of Dokseong (The Lonely Saint).
And the image of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).