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Jikjisa Temple, which means “Finger Pointing Temple,” in English, sits at the base of Mt. Hwangaksan (1111.3m) in Gimcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do. The temple is scenically located with quiet forests, towering mountain peaks, and rolling streams. According to temple legend, Jikjisa Temple was built in 418 A.D. by the monk Ado-hwasang. There are three theories as to how the temple got its name. The first states that after first seeing the location, Ado-hwasang pointed to a spot on the mountain and said that a large temple should be built at its base. The second story states that in 936 A.D., Master Neungyeo, while reconstructing the temple, instead of using a ruler to measure the land and the construction materials, used his hands to measure. And the third story refers to Seon Buddhism teaching and “pointing directly” to the Original Mind (Buddha Nature).
As for Ado-hwasang, he was a famed missionary from the Goguryeo Kingdom (37 B.C. – 668 A.D.). He’s sometimes credited with first introducing Buddhism to the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C. – 935 A.D.). Buddhism was formally accepted in the Silla Kingdom in 527 A.D., but this didn’t stop Ado-hwasang from helping to introduce and popularize Buddhism inside the Silla borders. If true, and the temple does in fact date back to 418 A.D., it makes Jikjisa Temple one of the oldest temples on the Korean peninsula.
While originally much smaller in size, the temple was later rebuilt and expanded by Jajang-yulsa (590-658 A.D.) in 645 A.D. during the reign of Queen Seondeok (r.632-647 A.D.). The temple was expanded to an amazing forty buildings. During King Taejo of Joseon’s reign, from 1392 to 1398, the temple became the largest in East Asia. However, during the extremely destructive Imjin War (1592-98), numerous military monks from Jikjisa Temple, known as the righteous army, took up armed resistance against the invading Japanese. As a reprisal, Jikjisa Temple was burned to the ground by the Japanese. In 1602, after the war, Jikjisa Temple was rebuilt; but this time, with only twenty buildings (half of its former size). Throughout the centuries, the temple has been expanded numerous times up until the 1980’s. Now, Jikjisa Temple is one of the eight largest temples in Korea, and its grounds are home to an additional five hermitages. Jikjisa Temple is home to four Korean Treasures, and it also runs the popular Temple Stay program.
You first approach the temple up a lush forest path. Along the way, you’ll come across the slightly elevated Iljumun Gate, or “One Pillar Gate,” in English. Through the trees, you’ll see the massive Mandeok-jeon conference hall to your left. But continuing along the pathway, you’ll next come across the Geumgangmun Gate. Inside this gate are housed two youthful painted incarnations of Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) and Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom). Past the Geumgangmun Gate (Diamond Gate), you’ll next come to the towering Cheonwangmun Gate. This gate has to be one of the largest Cheonwangmun Gate’s in Korea. It’s beautifully painted with swirling dragons, floating Bicheon, and pastoral paintings both inside and out.
Just past this gate, you’ll next come to the Mansye-ru Pavilion. It’s around this pavilion, and up a couple of stairs, that you’ll finally be squarely in the main temple courtyard at Jikjisa Temple. Straight ahead is the historic Daeung-jeon Hall. The main hall dates back to 1649, and it’s Korean Treasure #1576. Around the exterior walls are some chipped, but still vibrant, Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals. As for the interior, and resting on the main altar, are a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). This statue is joined on either side by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) and Yaksayeorae-bul (The Medicine Buddha, and the Buddha of the Eastern Paradise). The ornate altar that the statues rest upon is Korean Treasure #1859. These slender statues and altar are backed by a six metre tall mural that dates back to 1744. The mural is Korean Treasure #670, and it depicts the Vulture Peak Assembly. Out in front of the Daeung-jeon Hall are a pair of three story stone pagodas that date back to the ninth century. They beautifully frame the main hall.
To the left of the western pagoda, you’ll find the temple’s Jong-gak, or “bell pavilion,” in English. Just to the right rear of the main hall is the Seongjwa-gak Hall. This hall is more commonly known as the Samseong-gak Hall, and it houses three masterful murals of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), Chilseong (The Seven Stars), and Dokseong (The Lonely Saint).
To the far left of the Daeung-jeon Hall, and entering into a forested area of the temple, you’ll next come across a collection of newer looking shrine halls. The first to greet you is the Gwaneum-jeon Hall. The interior is minimalistic; however, there is an elegant looking statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) on the main altar. To the left of the Gwaneum-jeon Hall is the Eungjin-jeon Hall. Housed inside this hall, and in glass cases, are the historical disciples of the Buddha, the Nahan. There are a triad of statues centering the Nahan. In the centre of these statues rests a image of Seokgamoni-bul. And out in front of the Eungjin-jeon Hall is the Samyeong-gak Hall. This hall, as the name kind of hints at, is dedicated to the warrior monk, Samyeong-daesa (1544-1610). Not only was Samyeong-daesa a warrior monk, but he was also the abbot of the temple. Housed inside this hall is a beautiful painting dedicated to the patriotic monk. And just slightly to the rear of the Samyeong-gak Hall is the Myeongbu-jeon Hall. Inside this hall is housed a green haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). The statue is joined on both sides by the Ten Kings of the Underworld.
There are two additional shrine halls a little further west of these four preceding shrine halls. There’s the rather understated Yaksa-jeon Hall, which is to the left of the temple’s museum (which is well worth a visit, if you have the time). Housed next to the Yaksa-jeon Hall is the Biro-jeon Hall, or the Cheonbul-jeon Hall. This hall dates back to 1661. Housed inside this hall, alongside Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy), are a thousand white Buddha statues.
Admission to the temple is 2,500 won for adults.
HOW TO GET THERE: From the Gimcheon train station, you can catch local buses to the temple. You can catch Bus #11, #111, or #112 from the Intercity Bus Terminal that’s to the right next to the train station parking lot. The bus ride should take anywhere from ten to twenty minutes to get to Jikjisa Temple. You can take a bus, or you can simply take a taxi. And if you’re traveling in a group, perhaps this mode of transportation is preferable. The taxi ride should cost about 10,000 won. From where the bus drops you off at the bus stop, the walk up to the temple takes about fifteen minutes.
OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10. While a bit difficult to get to, Jikjisa Temple is packed with temple shrine halls and beautiful Buddhist artwork both inside and out. One of the oldest and largest temples in Korea, Jikjisa Temple’s highlights are the historic Daeung-jeon Hall, the Cheonwangmun Gate, and the Cheonbul-jeon Hall. Make sure, if you have the time, to check out the temple museum, as well.