Geojosa Temple is located on the eastern slopes of the famed Mt. Palgongsan (1193 m) in Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do. Geojosa Temple was a branch hermitage of the neighbouring Eunhaesa Temple until recently. Originally, the temple was known as Haeansa Temple. However, there is some dispute as to when the temple was first built.
In fact, there are three theories as to when the temple was first built. The first theory states that the temple was first completed under the watchful eye of Wonhyo-daesa (617-686 A.D.) in 693 A.D. However, since Wonhyo-daesa died in 686 A.D., it’s highly unlikely that he founded Geojosa Temple in 693 A.D. Another theory states that the temple was completed in 738 A.D. by the monk Woncham. And a third theory states that the temple was completed during the reign of King Gyeongdeok of Silla (742 – 765 A.D.) through a royal decree. Whatever theory may be correct, all the theories claim that Geojosa Temple was completed before that of Eunhaesa Temple in 809 A.D. Throughout the years, Geojosa Temple has been renovated numerous times because of fires.
It’s believed that the Buddhist revival movement, which would become known as Jeonghye Gyeolsa, has its origins at Geojosa Temple. The movement was launched by the monk Deukjae, who was also the abbot of Geojosa Temple in 1188.
Predating this, in 1182, the monk Jinul (1158-1210) attended a dharma gathering at Bojesa Temple in Kaesong (now in present day North Korea). Here, he learned different meditation techniques. Then, in the spring of 1188, the abbot of Geojosa Temple, Deukjae, conducted a Buddhist gathering of fellow monks. It was at this time that Jinul was staying at Bomunsa Temple on Mt. Hagasan in Yecheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do. This meeting was conducted to form Jeonghye Gyeolsa (Concentration and Wisdom Community). This community would later move to Songgwangsa Temple in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do in 1190. It was here that Jinul would continue to grow this new Buddhist community by inviting monks from various Buddhist Orders with whom he had practiced and studied throughout the years before establishing Jeonghye Gyeolsa and Songgwangsa Temple.
The goal of Jeonghye Gyeolsa would be to create a new Buddhist community of pure-minded practitioners deep in the mountains of the Korean peninsula. This new form of Korean Buddhism would ultimately lead to the founding of the Jogye-jong Order. The main focus of Jinul’s new movement was to teach a comprehensive approach to Buddhism that included meditation (Seon), doctrine (Gyo), chanting and lectures. And Jinul’s time at Geojosa Temple would help form this new movement.
During the late Goryeo (918-1392), Geojosa Temple would gain a reputation as a great place to pray. This reputation was in large part due to a legend associated with the monk Wonham. In this legend, Wonham met an enlightened being named Nakseo at Geojosa Temple. From Nakseo, Wonham learned the teachings that revealed the dharma of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). It was through these teachings that a person could reach an eternal life. This made the hermitage famous for the site of important prayers.
During the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), and according to the Buddhist Temples Past and Present, which was published in 1799, Geojosa Temple was already closed at this time. Later, the temple was renovated. The exact date of this renovation is unknown. However, because the temple was largely destroyed, the renovations of Geojosa Temple focused on the historic Yeongsan-jeon Hall, which still remained intact.
In 1912, the temple changed its name from Geojosa Temple to that of Geojoam Hermitage, when Geojoam Hermitage became a branch hermitage of the neighbouring Eunhaesa Temple. A restoration of the entire hermitage took place in July, 1970, and the roof tiles for the Yeongsan-jeon Hall were repaired, as well, in June, 1978. More recently, Geojoam Hermitage has returned to the name of Geojosa Temple.
Geojosa Temple is home to one National Treasure. The Yeongsan-jeon Hall at Geojosa Temple is National Treasure #14, and it was first built in 1375, which makes it one of Korea’s oldest wooden structures. In fact, it’s one year older than the famed Muryangsu-jeon Hall at Buseoksa Temple in Yeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do.
You first approach Geojosa Temple from the temple parking lot. You’ll pass under the two-story Jong-ru Pavilion. The first story of the unpainted structure acts as an entryway to the main temple courtyard. And inside the second floor of the Jong-ru Pavilion, you’ll find all four of the traditional Buddhist percussion instruments.
Up the stone stairway, you’ll finally enter into the main temple courtyard. Straight ahead of you stands the historic Yeongsan-jeon Hall. This National Treasure was first built in August, 1375, making it the third oldest wooden structure at a Korean temple behind the Daeung-jeon Hall at Sudeoksa Temple and the Geukrak-jeon Hall at Bongjeongsa Temple in Andong, Gyeongsangbuk-do. The reason that we can know the precise age of the Yeongsan-jeon Hall is from calligraphic records found inside the temple structure. Also, and because of the Yeongsan-jeon Hall’s age, it allows us to look back into Korea’s past; and more specifically, a look back into the Goryeo Dynasty’s (918-1392) architectural past.
The unadorned exterior walls of the Yeongsan-jeon Hall are unique for its Jusimpo – 주심포 bracketing style. However, it’s the interior, more than the exterior, that makes the shrine hall so special. Housed inside the Yeongsan-jeon Hall, you’ll find 526 stone statues dedicated to the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha). It’s exceedingly rare to find a temple or hermitage in Korea that houses the Nahan inside the main hall. And if you look close enough, you’ll notice that each of the historic stone Nahan statues has a different facial expression and pose.
Joining the rows of Nahan statues inside the Yeongsan-jeon Hall is a main altar centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). Seokgamoni-bul is surrounded by a beautiful stone nimbus. Furthermore, the Yeongsan-jeon Hall has become famous for being able to grant prayers for miraculous virtues.
Out in front of the Yeongsan-jeon Hall is a three-story stone pagoda that dates back to the late Goryeo Dynasty to the early Joseon Dynasty. The pagoda is classified as Gyeongsangbuk-do Cultural Property Material #104.
To the far left of the Yeongsan-jeon Hall, you’ll find the recently built monks’ quarters. And between the monks’ quarters and the Yeongsan-jeon Hall is the temple’s Sanshin-gak Hall. This diminutive shrine was built during the latter part of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). And housed inside the Sanshin-gak Hall is an image of the Mountain Spirit with a blue robe who is holding a wooden staff.
How To Get There
There is no bus that directly goes to Geojosa Temple. Instead, you’ll have to follow the signs that lead you towards the temple from the neighbouring Eunhaesa Temple. You can catch a bus from Hayang that leaves about every hour to get to Eunhaesa Temple.
Overall Rating: 8/10
There isn’t all that much to see at Geojosa Temple. In fact, there are just a few structures at the temple which includes the Jong-ru Pavilion, the Sanshin-gak Hall, and the three-story stone pagoda. However, the size of Geojosa Temple means very little because it’s also home to one of Korea’s oldest wooden structures, which just so happens to be a National Treasure, as well. The Yeongsan-jeon Hall at Geojosa Temple dates back to 1375, and it gives visitors a helpful insight into what Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) architecture must have looked like. Adding to its overall beauty are the 526 statues of stone Nahan statues inside the Yeongsan-jeon Hall, as well. You can spend hours simply marveling over the intricate beauty of this historic temple shrine hall so enjoy!