Chunghyosa Temple – 충효사 (Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

The 500 White Jade Nahan Statues at Chunghyosa Temple in Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Temple History

Chunghyosa Temple is located in the very scenic Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do. It’s situated to the north of the picturesque Lake Yeongcheon, which is a long and deep lake, and east of Mt. Giryongsan (965.5m). Chunghyosa Temple, which means “Loyalty to Nation Temple,” in English, is located in Chunghyo-ri. This part of Yeongcheon is filled with locations with similar names, too. Chunghyosa Temple was first built in the 1970’s, and it has continued to grow and expand throughout the ensuing decades. Chunghyosa Temple is not apart of the Jogye-jong Buddhist Order, or even the Taego-jong Buddhist Order or the Cheontae-jong Buddhist Order in Korea. Instead, the temple focuses on the worship of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). More recently, they have attempted to get recognition by the government as a government approved Korean Buddhist temple.

Chunghyosa Temple is packed with originality, and it’s also home to a Gyeongsangbuk-do Tangible Cultural Heritage painting.

Temple Layout

You first approach the temple up a short road. The first thing to greet you are a pair of highly stylized guardian lions made from white jade. A little further up the road, and you’ll find the wonderfully ornate Iljumun Gate, or “One Pillar Gate,” that’s framed to the rear by part of the neighbouring mountainside. Still new in construction, the colours of the gate radiate.

To the left, and between the Iljumun Gate and the Sacheonwang statues, you’ll find a gravel plateau. Past the twin Geumgang-yeoksa (Vajra Warriors) that stand three metres in height, you’ll find a collection of five hundred Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha) statues. These five hundred statues are made from white jade. They were donated by individuals, families, and friends who have their name and the city in which they reside written on the statues at the base. These five hundred Nahan are meant to symbolize all those individuals that were gathered and participated in the First Council, which is also known as the “Council of Five Hundred,” in Buddhism. These five hundred gathered just after the passing of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) in 400 B.C. These five hundred Nahan were gathered to collect and write the Buddha’s teachings. As for the white jade statues at Chunghyosa Temple, they are gathered in a circle. You can walk in and among them, traveling in a maze-like coiling circle. The five hundred look inward at the centre of the circle, as though they have been re-assembled for a dharma talk. Each of the five hundred has a unique facial expression and body. Some of the statues are joined by jade birds, boats, monkeys, and children. If you look close enough, you’ll see sixteen of the original Nahan like Bindora Balrasa (Piṇḍola Bhāradvāja), Sobinta (Subinda/Abhedya), and Sulbakga (Gopaka/Jīvaka). You can even see the jovial Podae-hwasang (Hempen Bag), who is presumed to be an incarnation of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) with four children crawling over him. All five hundred statues are surrounded by a cauldron of mountains. To get the best view of the entire five hundred Nahan statues, you can climb a small hillside where you find the temple’s chicken coop. I can’t stress enough just how beautiful and amazing this shrine is. Without a doubt, it’s the most beautiful outdoor shrine of the Nahan in all of Korea.

Back on the pathway that leads up to the temple shrine halls, you’ll first pass by the Four Heavenly Kings (Sacheonwang). These statues are without a gate. They are rather tall, with big bellies, and stand guard at the entry of the temple grounds. A little further along, and you’ll come across a long row of the twelve zodiac generals to your right. And just past these statues is a wooden pavilion with an ad hoc bell pavilion. It’s joined by a relaxing stone statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). It’s also in this area that you can see the temple’s visitors’ centre and dorms. From what I could tell, both a monk and a nun live at this temple (rather unusual). There’s also a Plexiglas enclosure in front of an elevated platform for which large gatherings are conducted. There are beautiful paintings underneath the semi-enclosed elevated platform, as well.

To the far left of the semi-enclosed elevated platform is a large shrine dedicated to Jijang-bosal. There are, in fact, three shrines in one for Jijang-bosal, which only further emphasizes the primacy that the Bodhisattva of the Afterlife has at Chunghyosa Temple. To the left is a standing triad of statues centred by Jijang-bosal. To the right are even more statues of Jijang-bosal. This collection is known as the Tongil Jijang-bosal, or “통일지장보살,” in Korean. There are six stone statues of Jijang-bosal standing, fronted by an additional two seated statues of Jijang-bosal. Both shrines are backed by an amphitheater of smaller stone statues of Jijang-bosal. The wide collection of Jijang-bosal statues at this part of the temple are intricate in design.

A little further along, and you’ll come to the lower courtyard at Chunghyosa Temple. In a well-manicured clearing, you’ll find a stout three-story pagoda fronted by a rather atypical statue of Yaksayeorae-bul (The Medicine Buddha). To the right of the three-story pagoda, you’ll find an octagonal-shaped shrine hall dedicated to Jijang-bosal. In the centre of this Myeongbu-jeon Hall, you’ll find a three-sided main altar. And adorning the Myeongbu-jeon Hall’s exterior walls are the Shimu-do (Ox-Herding murals), and a pair of relief images of the Buddha, Seokgamoni-bul.

To the rear of the stout three-story pagoda, you’ll find the temple’s Daeung-jeon Hall. This rather simple shrine hall houses a triad of statues on the main altar. And just as peculiar as the Yaksayeorae-bul statue and the uniquely shaped Myeongbu-jeon Hall, you’ll find that the statues populating the main altar inside the Daeung-jeon Hall to be atypical, as well. In the centre, as it should be, is a statue of Seokgamoni-bul. This statue is joined by Gwanseeum-bosal to the left and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power) to the right. There are five common triads that Seokgamoni-bul are apart of, and the one at Chunghyosa Temple isn’t one of them. I guess this is yet another thing that sets Chunghyosa Temple apart.

To the right of the Daeung-jeon Hall is a compact Yongwang-dang Hall, which houses a stone image of Yongwang (The Dragon King). Above the entry to this shaman shrine hall is a twisting blue dragon relief underneath the shrine hall name plate. And to the left of the Daeung-jeon Hall is the two-story Beomjong-gak (bell pavilion).

But it’s to the rear of the Daeung-jeon Hall, up a well manicured pathway, that you’ll find the Samsaebo-jeon Hall. In front of this unique shrine hall is a five-story stone pagoda with a four lion base reminiscent of the iconic Four Lion Three-Story Stone Pagoda at Hwaeomsa Temple. In front of this pagoda is a jovial stone statue of Podae-hwasang (Hempen Bag), and a highly original statue of Bukseong (The Northern Star), who is typically found in the Chilseong Taenghwa (Seven Star Mural). Bukseong is a symbol of longevity; and if you rub the head of the statue of Bukseong at Chunghyosa Temple, it’ll bring you long life.

As for the Samsaebo-jeon Hall, the exterior walls to the hall are adorned with Palsang-do (The Eight Scenes from the Buddha’s Life Murals). Stepping inside the Samsaebo-jeon Hall, you’ll instantly realize that the shrine hall isn’t configured like most others in Korea. Straight ahead is a golden wall. If you look close enough, you’ll realize that this golden wall is made up of thousands of tiny Jijang-bosal faces. In the centre of these faces is a relief of a seated image of Amita-bul. This central image of Amita-bul is joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal and Daesaeji-bosal. And above this triad is a heavenly image of Amita-bul. On the far left wall of this shrine hall, you’ll find the traditional triad statues that are typically in the centre of the hall. This triad is centred by Seokgamoni-bul. To the right of this triad is a golden relief of Jijang-bosal. And to the left is a painting of Indra, or Jeseok-cheon in Korean, and “Heaven King Deity,” in English. This mural, which is beautifully surrounded by golden relief images like the Sacheonwang (Four Heavenly Kings) dates back to 1764, and it’s Gyeongsangbuk-do Tangible Cultural Heritage #299.

To the left of the Samsyebo-jeon Hall, you’ll find an artificial cave with a stone image of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). And up the hillside, you’ll find the scenically located Samseong-gak Hall. Housed inside this shaman shrine hall are three beautiful paintings of Sanshin, Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), and Chilseong.

How To Get There

From the Yeongcheon train station, you’ll need to walk about 500 metres, or 10 minutes, to get to the bus stop called “Yeongcheon Gongseol Sijang (Yumyeong Yakguk) – 영천공설시장 (유명약국앞).” From this bus stop, you can board any number of buses. Bus #450 and Bus 450-2, go to Chunghyosa Temple. The bus ride will take over an hour and last 39 stops. Also Bus #450-1 and Bus #451 go to the temple, as well, but there’s an additional stop, so it’ll take 40 stops to get to Chunghyosa Temple. The bus ride also takes over an hour to get to the temple. Bus #451 goes to Chunghyosa Temple, too, and it takes 38 stops and over an hour to Chunghyosa Temple. Finally, Bus #360, Bus #360-1, Bus #361, and Bus #363 all go to Chunghyosa Temple, too. However, the major difference is that it takes these buses two hours to get to the temple. From where all of these buses let you off, which will be at the “Chunghyo 2-ri – 충효2리” Bus Stop, you simply have to cross the road and walk towards the temple about 200 metres. Just follow the signs.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10

Without a doubt, the main highlight to Chunghyosa Temple is the collection of five hundred white jade statues of the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha). You’d be hard pressed to see something as equally impressive as this outdoor shrine at Chunghyosa Temple at any other Korean Buddhist temple. In addition, the interior of the Samsaebo-jeon Hall, the large outdoor Jijang-bosal shrine, the highly unique Bukseong (North Star) statue are but a few other things that mark Chunghyosa Temple as an absolute must for those interested in art and/or Buddhism.

The highly stylized guardian lions and Iljumun Gate at Chunghyosa Temple.
The Geumgang-yeoksa at the entry to the Nahan outdoor shrine.
Some of the amazing Nahan statues at Chunghyosa Temple.
Yes, that’s a monkey offering a Nahan a peach.
Another amazing view of the spiraling circle of white jade Nahan statues.
The inner circle to the outdoor circular shrine dedicated to the Nahan.
The outdoor shrine dedicated to Jijang-bosal.
The rows of smaller statues dedicated to the Bodhisattva of the Afterlife.
The stout three-story stone pagoda with the Daeung-jeon Hall behind it.
The lions based five-story stone pagoda with the Samsaebo-jeon Hall in the background.
Inside the Samsyebo-jeon Hall.
A unique statue of Bukseong (The North Star).
Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) inside his artificial cave.
The picturesque Samseong-gak Hall.