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Janggoksa Temple, which means “Guardian Valley Temple” in English, is located on the western slopes of Mt. Chilgapsan (559.7) in Cheongyang, Chungcheongnam-do. Located in a valley, Janggoksa Temple was first established in 850 A.D. by Seon Master Chejing (804-880 A.D.).
It should be noted that Seon Master Chejing, who was posthumously awarded the title of Master Bojo, established Borimsa Temple in Jangheung, Jeollanam-do. Borimsa Temple was established in 860 A.D. ten years after the establishment of Janggoksa Temple. Borimsa Temple was made at the request of King Heonan of Silla (r. 857-861 A.D.). Borimsa Temple was one of the Gusan Seonmun, or “Nine Mountain Zen Gates” in English. According to legend, and one year after the passing of the monk Doui (?-825 A.D.) in 826 A.D., Doui’s disciples gathered. At this meeting, his disciples decided to proclaim their unity and form the Gusan Seonmun for their school of Buddhism. Eight of these nine sects were from the Great Chan Master Mazu Daoyi (709-788 A.D.) lineage. The Gajisan Sect was established by Chejing. For more on the Gusan Seonmun, check out David Mason’s website.
So before Borimsa Temple was established in 860 A.D., Janggoksa Temple was established probably as a remote meditation centre for the practice of Seon Buddhism which was growing in popularity at this time. Janggoksa Temple would grow to be a medium sized temple, and it would undergo several repairs throughout the years of its existence. However, most of the temple’s history is largely unknown except the large number of relics that remain at Janggoksa Temple from the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), which would indicate that the temple flourished at this time.
The first of the known repairs took place in 1777, which was followed in 1866, 1906. Additional repairs took place at Janggoksa Temple in 1960 after the temple was partially damaged during the Korean War (1950-1953). The temple was further expanded in the 1990’s with a newly constructed Samseong-gak Hall at Janggoksa Temple. Uniquely, Janggoksa Temple is home to two Daeung-jeon Halls: the Lower and Upper Daeung-jeon Halls.
In total, Janggoksa Temple is home to two National Treasures: The Iron Seated Bhaisajyaguru Buddha and Stone Pedestal of Janggoksa Temple (N.T. #58) and the Hanging Painting of Janggoksa Temple – Maitreya Buddha (N.T. #300). There are four additional Korean Treasures that can be found at Janggoksa Temple like the Upper Daeung-jeon Hall and the Lower Daeung-jeon Hall.
The first structure that greets you at Janggoksa Temple is the temple’s stately Iljumun Gate. Continuing up the country road for an additional four hundred metres, you’ll finally come to the front façade of Janggoksa Temple. You’ll need to pass under the Unhak-ru Pavilion to gain admittance to the main temple courtyard at Janggoksa Temple. Having mounted the uneven set of stairs that runs through the Unhak-ru Pavilion, you’ll notice the Jong-ru (Bell Pavilion) to your immediate left. The Jong-ru is filled with the four traditional Buddhist percussion instruments. But back at the Unhak-ru Pavilion, and situated on the second floor of the open pavilion, is a replica of the Hanging Painting of Janggoksa Temple (Maitreya Buddha). The original Gwaebul is National Treasure #300. The original Gwaebul was painted in 1673 by five monks for the long life of King Hyeongjong of Joseon (r. 1659-1674), his Queen, and the prince. The National Treasure stands an astounding 8.609 metres in height and 5.99 metres in width. The central image in the Gwaebul is Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). This central image is joined by six Buddhas and six Bodhisattvas. Mireuk-bul has a crown that’s adorned with the image of four Buddhas. Also, and rather interestingly, the overall aesthetic of the mural looks similar to a Vulture Peak mural.
Across the lower temple courtyard from the Unhak-ru Pavilion is the Ha Daeung-jeon Hall (Lower Daeung-jeon Hall). The Lower Daeung-jeon Hall was first constructed during the mid-Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), and it’s Korean Treasure #181. The exterior walls to this historic main hall are adorned with simplified dancheong colours. Stepping inside the Lower Daeung-jeon Hall, you’ll uniquely notice that Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), who is traditionally housed inside a Daeung-jeon Hall, is replaced by the image of Yaksayeorae-bul (The Medicine Buddha, and the Buddha of the Eastern Paradise). This statue of Yaksayeorae-bul that sits all alone on the main altar is officially known as the Gilt-bronze Seated Bhaisajyaguru Buddha of Janggoksa Temple. This gilt-bronze statue was first created in 1436, and it’s Korean Treasure #337. Yaksayeorae-bul holds a medicine case in his left hand while making a mudra (ritualized hand gesture) with his right hand. Joining the main altar statue inside the Lower Daeung-jeon Hall are a collection of three murals. To the left hangs a modern mural dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). And to the right hangs two additional murals. The first is a Vulture Peak mural, while the other is a Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural).
To the right of the Lower Daeung-jeon Hall stands Janggoksa Temple’s Myeongbu-jeon Hall. This hall is dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) who appears on the main altar with a golden cap and green hair. The Myeongbu-jeon Hall is joined to the left of the Ha Daeung-jeon Hall by the Seolseon-dang Hall. Like the Lower Daeung-jeon Hall, the Seolseon-dang Hall is believed to date back to the mid-Joseon Dynasty. It was originally built as a meditation and lecture hall. It’s Korean Tangible Cultural Property #151. The exterior is unadorned, and it’s off-limits to visitors.
Climbing another set of stairs that will lead you up towards the upper courtyard at Janggoksa Temple, you’ll find three additional shrine halls. The first of these shrine halls is the Sang Daeung-jeon Hall (Upper Daeung-jeon Hall), which is the second main hall at Janggoksa Temple. The Upper Daeung-jeon Hall was first built during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), and it’s Korean Treasure #162. The interior flooring of the Upper Daeung-jeon Hall is made of bricks, some of which have an eight petal lotus pattern on them. These seem to date back to Later Silla (668-935 A.D.). The central image inside the second main hall is the Iron Seated Vairocana Buddha and Stone Pedestal of Janggoksa Temple, which is Korean Treasure #174. Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy) appears to have a small triangular face with long eyebrows and small eyes. The stone base that Birojana-bul sits upon was originally designed for a seokdeung (stone lantern), so the statue doesn’t quite seem to match its base. The statue of Birojana-bul is believed to date back to the mid-9th century. Rather strangely, this statue, and the accompanying main altar statues inside the Upper Daeung-jeon, were absent during my early morning visit; instead, just a cloth hat appeared on the pedestal instead of the historic statue.
Also conspicuously absent in the Upper Daeung-jeon Hall was the Iron Seated Bhaisajyaguru Buddha and Stone Pedestal of Janggoksa Temple, which is National Treasure #58. Like the statue of Birojana-bul that rests in the centre of the three statues inside the Upper Daeung-jeon Hall, all that remained of the iron statue of Yaksayeorae-bul (The Medicine Buddha, and the Buddha of the Eastern Paradise) was its stone pedestal and a cloth formed into a hat. The National Treasure dates back to the early 10th century. The stone pedestal is wide with holes on all four corners of it, indicating that it was once protected by a canopy. As for the statue itself, it has its right hand pointing to the ground, while the left rests on its lap. Originally, the iron statue of Yaksayeorae-bul had a medicine jar in its left hand, but it’s now missing.
The shrine hall next to the Upper Daeung-jeon Hall is the temple’s Eungjin-jeon Hall. A solitary statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) sits on the main altar on a large red silk pillow. Seokgamoni-bul is joined by a hundred Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha) statues. It’s also from the upper courtyard that you get a beautiful view of the valley where Janggoksa Temple is located, as well as the lower courtyard.
The last temple shrine hall that visitors can explore at Janggoksa Temple is the crowning Samseong-gak Hall which is situated at the highest point of the temple grounds. Up a side-winding pathway, you’ll be led up to the shaman shrine hall. Housed inside the Samseong-gak Hall are three murals dedicated to the most popular shaman deities at a Korean Buddhist temple. They are Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), Chilseong (The Seven Stars), and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). Of the three, it’s the Santa-esque mural dedicated to Sanshin that stands out the most for its artistic originality.
How To Get There
From the Cheongyang Intercity Bus Terminal, you can catch a taxi to Janggoksa Temple. It’ll cost around 17,000 won and take about 25 minutes.
Overall Rating: 8/10
It’s rare for a Korean Buddhist temple to house a single National Treasure, let along two. But not only does Janggoksa Temple house two national Treasures, it’s also home to two Daeung-jeon main halls, as well as four additional Korean Treasures. Janggoksa Temple is packed with originality and beauty; and while it’s lesser known among the major temples in Korea, it’s definitely worth a visit.