Banyasa Temple – 반야사 (Nonsan, Chungcheongnam-do)
Banyasa Temple is located in southeastern Nonsan, Chungcheongnam-do. More specifically, the temple is located in the foothills of Mt. Tongbaeksan (303.7 m). The name of the temple, Banyasa Temple, means Prajñā in Sanskrit. In English, this word is often translated to mean “wisdom,” “intelligence,” “insight,” or “understanding.” Banyasa Temple is a modern temple that was formerly a limestone mine during Japanese Colonial Rule (1910-1945). Remnants of this past can still be seen at the temple to this day if you look close enough. However, since Banyasa Temple is a modern temple, there is very little information out there about it even in Korean.
From the temple parking lot, you’ll immediately realize from all the shale and split rocks that Banyasa Temple was a former limestone mine. Also at the base of the rock foundation that supports the temple grounds, you’ll notice closed-off shafts that were once used for mining.
To the right of the temple parking lot, and up a winding road, you’ll pass by the temple bathroom on your way to the main temple courtyard at Banyasa Temple. Resting in the centre of the temple grounds is the large Daeung-jeon Hall. There are beautiful and robust dragon-heads protruding out from either side of the signboard for the shrine hall. And rather uniquely, the exterior walls to the Daeung-jeon Hall are adorned with stained-glass windows dedicated to the Shimu-do (The Ox-Herding Murals). Typically, this set is a collection of ten murals instead of cut glass. Stepping inside the well-lit interior of the Daeung-jeon Hall, you’ll find a beautiful triad of statues resting under an ornate, golden canopy. At the centre of this triad is the image dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). This central statue is then joined on either side by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). And hanging on the far right wall is a stained-glass Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural), which is yet another first for me.
To the left of the Daeung-jeon Hall, and standing on a small hill, is a statue dedicated to Yaksayeorae-bul (The Medicine Buddha, and the Buddha of the Eastern Paradise). But it’s behind the Daeung-jeon Hall that’s the real highlight to the temple.
To the rear of the Daeung-jeon Hall, you’ll find two cave openings. The cave to the back right has two large stone walls guiding you in towards a large opening in the mountainside. This cave is off-limits to visitors; however, to the left of this off-limits cave is a set of stairs that lead down into another cave. The stairs to this cave’s entryway are covered in a blue covering that guides you in towards the Donggul-beopdang Hall. Watch your head as you descend. At the bottom, you’ll find blue and pink lights lighting up the cave emitting through the windows that span the cement bridge. And below the cement bridge are piles of rocks. But it’s to the left, and through the cave’s glass doors, that you’ll enter into the Donggul-beopdang Hall. Straight ahead, and with the roughly carved rock ceiling above, you’ll notice a multi-armed and headed statue dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) at the end of the left-side cave. This left-side cave is lit-up with multiple lights in multiple colours. To the right of this cave, and through a corridor that you formerly saw through the bridge’s windows, you’ll enter into the longer labyrinth of caves in this cave shrine hall. The first of the shrines in this area is a seated shrine dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King). To the left of this chamber, you’ll enter into another part of the cave system in the Donggul-beopdang Hall. The left side of this long cave lights up the entire interior. And to the right is a collection of springs and pooling water that are also lit up by a rainbow of colours. In the centre of one of these springs is a statue of the baby Buddha pointing upwards. At the end of this rather lengthy cave is a metal guardrail that protects visitors from plunging even further into the darker depths of the unattended portion of the cave system.
How To Get There
From the Nonsan Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to catch Bus #408. In total, the bus ride will last about 32 minutes over 28 stops. You’ll need to get off at the “Samjeon 1-ri – 삼전1리” stop. From where the bus lets you off, you’ll need to head southeast. There’s a large standing stone with the letters “삼전1리” to your right where you should walk. This is the road you’ll need to head down. The name of this road is the “Samjeon-gil – 삼전길.” In total, from where the bus has dropped you off, the walk is about 1.1 km, or about 15 to 20 minutes.
You can take public transportation, or you can simply take a taxi. The taxi ride from the Nonsan Intercity Bus Terminal will take about 22 minutes or 15 km. The taxi ride, one way, will cost about 16,000 won.
Overall Rating: 8/10
You’ll be completely amazed by the cave system shrine hall known as Donggul-beopdang Hall at Banyasa Temple from the shrine dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the shrines dedicated to the baby Buddha and the shaman Yongwang (The Dragon King). The atmosphere inside this cave shrine hall is something you rarely get to experience, so it’s definitely something to be enjoyed as is the stained-glass artwork adorning the Daeung-jeon Hall both inside and out. If you already couldn’t tell, Banyasa Temple has quite a few unique surprises to it. Get ready to be amazed!