Munsusa Temple – 문수사 (Gurye, Jeollanam-do)

The Three-Story Wooden Pagoda at Munsusa Temple in Gurye, Jeollanam-do.

Temple History

Munsusa Temple, which is named after Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom), was first constructed in 547 A.D. by the Buddhist monk Yeongi. The temple is located in Gurye, Jeollanam-do in the southwestern portion of the famed Jirisan National Park. Throughout the years, several prominent Korean Buddhist monks such as Wonhyo-daesa (617 – 686 A.D.), Uisang-daesa (625 – 702 A.D.), Seosan-daesa (1520 – 1604), and Samyeong-daesa (1544 – 1610) have all called Munsusa Temple home at one time or another. Much of what you currently see at Munsusa Temple was built in 1984, nearly four hundred years after it was partially destroyed by the Japanese during the destructive Imjin War (1592 – 1598). The temple was further damaged during the Korean War (1950-53).

Temple Legend

Like so many other Buddhist temples in Korea, Munsusa Temple has a rather interesting creation story attached to it. One day, a young monk named Cheongheodang was meditating, when an old man approached Cheongheodang and asked him if he could meditate with the old man. At first, Cheongheodang hesitated, and ultimately said no, because he didn’t have enough food for the two of them. Eventually, however, he relented, after the old monk implored Cheongheodang to stay and eat. The two then meditated night and day, until one day the old monk three down his staff against the face of the neighbouring mountain. The staff then turned into a yellow dragon, and the old monk rode the yellow dragon off into the fog. With this story in mind, Munsusa Temple became known as a temple where an individual can attain enlightenment through meditation.

Temple Layout

You first approach Munsusa Temple up a long and winding road that runs through a long valley. Finally arriving at the temple parking lot, you’ll gain an amazing view of the rolling peaks from the neighbouring Jirisan National Park. Passing under the arched entryway and past the monks’ living quarters both to your left and right, you’ll finally enter into the main temple courtyard at Munsusa Temple.

Almost instantly, you’ll notice the amazingly beautiful three-story wooden pagoda straight ahead of you. Inside this beautiful structure on the first floor, you’ll find solitary statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) on the main altar. To the right of the main altar is a painting dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). And to the left of the main altar hangs the Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural). Out in front of the elaborately painted exterior of the three-story wooden pagoda is a solemn-looking statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).

To the left of the three-story wooden structure, you’ll find a temple shrine hall that’s divided into three sections. This unpainted shrine hall only has the middle section open to the public. In the middle section, you’ll find a Reclining Buddha statue on the main altar. Above this image are two additional statues: one is dedicated to a contemplative Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha), while the other is dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).

Rather surprisingly, and to the left of the three-story wooden pagoda, you’ll find a penned in area that’s home to four Asiatic black bears. All four are housed inside a red cage. Originally, the bears had been given to the temple in 2001, and originally the plan was to re-release them into the wild. However, after much time, this has yet to happen. It’s not clear as to why they are still penned-up at Munsusa Temple. This is rather strange because the Korean government is attempting to re-populate Korea, and specifically Jirisan National Park, with the Asiatic black bear. Whether it’s because the black bears have now grown too accustom to human contact, of whether it’s something else; either way, the four Asiatic black bears still remain housed at Munsusa Temple for all visitors to see.

Just up the embankment, and up an uneven set of stairs, are three more temple structures in the upper courtyard at Munsusa Temple. The first of these, and the one to the far right, is a meditative hall for monks to meditate and enjoy the beautiful of Mt. Jirisan. In the centre of these three structures is the Munsu-jeon Hall. Housed inside this temple shrine hall is a solitary image of a crowned Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom). And to the far left, you’ll find a Sanshin/Dokseong-gak Hall. Inside this shaman shrine hall, you’ll find two rather simple murals dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) and Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). It’s from this vantage point that you get the most beautiful view of the valley below.

How To Get There

From the Gurye Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take a taxi to get to Munsusa Temple. The reason for this is that there isn’t a bus that goes directly to the temple from the Gurye Intercity Bus Terminal location. From the bus terminal, the taxi ride will cost you 14,000 won (one way). And the ride will take about forty minutes. And if you’re feeling adventurous, there’s a trail that leads from Munsusa Templeover to the famed Hwaeomsa Temple.

Overall Rating: 7/10

Munsusa Temple is a tough temple to rate. If you love bears, and you don’t mind seeing them caged up, then this temple easily becomes a ten out of ten. However, if you prefer your bears in the wild, Munsusa Temple should suffer a far lower rating. With that being said, there are a few other highlights outside the four Asiatic black bears like the newly built three-story wooden pagoda and the stunning location of Munsusa Temple in Jirisan National Park. Either way, this temple can leave you feeling conflicted.

The entry to Munsusa Temple.
And a statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) along the way.
The prominent three-story wooden pagoda at the centre of the Munsusa Temple grounds.
A different angle of the elaborate dancheong colours that adorn the wooden pagoda.
A look inside the pagoda at the main altar.
To the right is this shrine hall with a Reclining Buddha statue.
To the left of the wooden pagoda is the temple’s Jong-ru (Bell Pavilion).
The enclosure for the four Asiatic black bears at Munsusa Temple.
One of the Asiatic black bears.
And another.
The Munsu-jeon Hall in the upper courtyard at the temple.
A crowned image of Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) inside the compact Munsu-jeon Hall.
A look towards the Munsu-jeon Hall from the Sanshin/Dokseong-gak Hall.
And the amazing view outwards towards Mt. Jirisan from the Sanshin/Dokseong-gak Hall.

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