Sinbulsa Temple – 신불사 (Ulju-gun, Ulsan)
Sinbulsa Temple is located in western Ulsan in Ulju-gun to the east of Mt. Yeongchuksan (1082.2 m). In fact, the famed Tongdosa Temple isn’t all that far away to the south, as well. When you first arrive at the temple grounds, after having wandered around the outskirts of the Samsung factory, you’ll first be greeted by a stone sign that says the temple’s name in Korean: 신불사. Down at the fork in the road, head right towards the temple grounds.
Straight ahead of you, and to the right, is the temple’s Jong-ru (Bell Pavilion). The Jong-ru houses a rather large Brahma Bell, especially when you consider that the temple is rather small in size. Adorning the beautiful bell are large Bicheon (Flying Heavenly Deities). Walking past the Jong-ru, you’ll be greeted by the Daeung-jeon Hall to your left. And straight ahead of you are the monks dorms.
The exterior walls to the Daeung-jeon Hall are rather plainly adorned. In fact, the four paintings that adorn the Daeung-jeon Hall are rather rudimentary in composition. However, stepping inside the Daeung-jeon Hall, you’ll be welcomed by a beautiful shrine hall filled with colour. Taking up residence on the main altar, and placed in the centre, is a statue dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). To the immediate right and left of this central image are statues dedicated to Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) and Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom). Joining this triad on the main altar are statues dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). And next to Amita-bul is Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul). And left of this set of altar statues is a shrine dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). And next to this more traditional image of Jijang-bosal is another image of Jijang-bosal. This statue, however, is a bit more peculiar. This statue of Jijang-bosal is seated atop a golden elephant and backed by a set of paintings of the Siwang (The Ten Kings of the Underworld). And on the far right wall of the Daeung-jeon Hall is another statue of Gwanseeum-bosal, as well as a beautiful Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural).
Next to the Daeung-jeon Hall is the Yongwang-dang Hall. Inside this shaman shrine hall, you’ll find a seated golden statue dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King) with a beautiful mural of Yongwang behind the statue of the Dragon King. This mural has Yongwang to the left and a blue dragon to the right. Just in front of the golden statue of Yongwang is an open pool where the mountain water collects. And to the immediate left of the main altar are rows of green statues dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul. Next to the Yongwang-dang Hall is an outdoor shrine dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). Again, this shrine is large and golden. And much like the images of Yongwang, there is a statue and mural dedicated to Dokseong that are both beautifully rendered.
Across the stream, and over the bridge, is another courtyard with a large statue dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal. There are two beautiful flanking seokdeung (stone lanterns) and a tiny stone statue of Gwanseeum-bosal to the right of the courtyard. It’s rather plain and cluttered, but the design of the stone statues are beautiful.
Now heading back through the temple grounds, and back to where you first started at the entry of Sinbulsa Temple, you should now see some shrine halls to your left. This part of the temple, and the row of temple shrine halls, is definitely the highlight to the temple. To the right of the shrine halls is an interesting little display case that opens. Inside is housed a painting dedicated to Samshin Halmoni (Three Spirits Grandmother). Samshin Halmoni, according to myth, protects every child from birth until they are seven years old. Then Chilseong (The Seven Stars) takes care of the child. So Samshin Halmoni is known as being the deity of childbirth and fate. It’s also exceedingly rare to find this deity at a Korean Buddhist temple.
Back at the row of temple shrine halls, you’ll find one of these shrine halls dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). Housed inside the Sanshin-gak Hall is a nice statue and painting dedicated to Sanshin. Rather fittingly, you’ll find a large boulder to the right of the main altar inside this shaman shrine hall. To the left of the Sanshin-gak Hall is another oddity. Inside this temple shrine hall, you’ll find a unique painting dedicated, once more, to Samshin Halmoni, who is joined by Dangsan Cheonwang. And inside the third, and final shrine hall, you’ll find older looking murals of guardians.
How To Get There
Sinbulsa Temple is definitely one of the more difficult temples to get to. First, you’ll need to take a bus from the Yangsan Health Centre (near the Yangsan Intercity Bus Terminal), then you an take either Bus #63 or #67. The bus ride will then let you off near the SDI (Samsung Development Institute) factory. This bus ride will take about an hour. From where the bus lets you off, you’ll need to walk. Take the first left that heads towards the main entrance of the factory. The road will then fork to the left just before you arrive at the SDI entrance gate. Follow this road, as it twists and turns for a good two to three kilometres. But don’t worry, there is good signage along the way to help guide you the entire way to Sinbulsa Temple. On your way, you’ll pass by a forested area, as well as a few smaller factories to the rear of the SDI factory.
Overall Rating: 6.5/10
Sinbulsa Temple in western Ulsan is one of the more original temples that you’ll find in Korea with a definite influence of Korean shamanism made apparent by the numerous shrine halls dedicated to various shaman deities like Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), Yongwang (The Dragon King), Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), and two shrines dedicated to Samshin Halmoni (Three Spirits Grandmother). So if you have the time and energy it takes to find Sinbulsa Temple, it’s well worth the effort.