Gakwonsa Temple is located in Cheonan, Chungcheongnam-do on the northern side of Mt. Taejosan (420m). If the name of the mountain sounds familiar, it should. It’s named after the founder of the Goryeo Dynasty, King Taejo of Goryeo (r.918-943). The name of the mountain is named after King Taejo because according to legend he built up his military forces in this area. Gakwonsa Temple is apart of the Jogye-jong Order, which is the largest Buddhist order in South Korea.
Throughout the years, and especially more recently, Gakwonsa Temple has undergone numerous reconstructions and renovations. It almost seems like a brand new temple. Upon first arriving at the temple, you’ll first need to summit the two hundred and three stairs to see what the temple is most famous for. Once you have in fact climbed all two hundred plus stairs, you’ll immediately notice the massive bronze statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). This massive statue of the Buddha was first started in 1976, and it was enshrined for the reunification of the Korean peninsula. And the statue of Amita-bul was the largest in Korea until the statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) was constructed at Beopjusa Temple in 1988. In total, the bronze statue weighs an amazing sixty tons, and it sits fifteen metres in height. In fact, the statue is so large that Amita-bul’s ears are one hundred and seventy-five centimetres in length. The statue was completed on May 9th, 1977. The statue is serenely seated on a lotus blossom base. Its left arm lies on its lap, while the right hand is raised. The benevolent statue of Amita-bul looks out onto the city and the valley below. The statue of the Buddha is one the most beautiful statues in Korea; surpassed by only the statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) at Seokguram Hermitage in Gyeongju.
Still standing next to the massive Amita-bul statue, you’ll get a great view of the expansive temple grounds at Gakwonsa Temple below. As you make your way down to the rest of the temple grounds and the temple shrine halls, you’ll see that all of the halls are just as massively built as the Buddha of the Western Paradise. The first hall you’ll encounter along the way is the Chilseong-gak Hall. The interior of this hall is elaborately decorated with floral patterns and a painting of Chilseong (The Seven Stars) on the main altar. The exterior walls are decorated with some more floral patterns, as well as beautiful Bicheon (Flying Heavenly Deity).
Directly across from the Chilseong-gak Hall, and this part of the temple grounds, is the massively built main hall: the Daeungbo-jeon Hall. The Daeungbo-jeon Hall at Gakwonsa Temple is the largest of its kind in Korea. The massive main hall is equaled by the equally large sized triad of statues that’s centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). The exterior walls of the main hall are adorned with beautiful floral latticework and a collection of Gwimyeon (Monster Mask) reliefs.
To the right of the main hall, you’ll find a collection of shrine halls. The first of the set is the Sanshin-gak Hall dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). Inside this hall is an eloquently painted mural of the Mountain Spirit. Outside the Sanshin-gak Hall, you’ll find a masterful mural of a tiger (Sanshin’s sidekick). Next to the Sanshin-gak Hall is the Cheonbul-jeon Hall. Housed inside this hall, with Seokgamoni-bul sitting all alone on the main altar, are one thousand miniature statues of Buddhas in various poses and position. On the exterior walls to this hall, you’ll find the Palsang-do murals (The Eight Scenes from the Buddha’s Life).
The rest of the temple grounds are a maze of dorms, study halls, and the temple’s bell pavilion. There’s also a large parking lot that can store up to one hundred cars at any given time.
Admission to the temple is free.
How To Get There
From Cheonan, you can take city Bus #102. This bus goes through the downtown part of the city, so you can catch it there. The ride shouldn’t be all too long, certainly no longer than twenty minutes.
Overall Rating: 8.5/10
By far, the main highlight to Gakwonsa Temple is the massive bronze Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) statue that serenely looks out upon the city of Cheonan. The main hall is equally massive in size. It has beautiful shaman murals inside the Chilseong-gak Hall and the Sanshin-gak Hall. Gakwonsa Temple is especially beautiful during the spring during cherry blossom season.