Bulyeongsa Temple – 불영사 (Uljin, Gyeongsangbuk-do)
Bulyeongsa Temple is located in the very scenic Uljin, Gyeongsangbuk-do to the northwest of Mt. Cheonchuksan (653.3 m). Bulyeongsa Temple means “The Reflection of the Buddha’s Shadow on the Pond Temple” in English. The temple was first established in 651 A.D. by Uisang-daesa (625-702 A.D.).
According to one legend, Uisang-daesa built Bulyeongsa Temple near Mt. Cheonchuksan because it resembled Mt. Cheonchuksan in India, which is where the image of the Buddha was reflected on the water. Another legend behind the creation of Bulyeongsa Temple is that Uisang-daesa saw five Buddha images hovering above a pond in the area. So Uisang-daesa drove out the dragons that were residing there, and he then built Bulyeongsa Temple.
In 1396, Bulyeongsa Temple was completely destroyed by fire with the exception of the Nahan-jeon Hall. Not long after, the temple was rebuilt by the monk Soun. Then in 1592, during the Imjin War (1592-1598), all the buildings at Bulyeongsa Temple were destroyed by fire with the exception of the Yeongsan-jeon Hall. In 1602, the Daeungbo-jeon Hall was rebuilt; and then, in 1608, the rest of Bulyeongsa Temple was rebuilt. Tragically, the main hall was destroyed once more by fire in 1720. It was rebuilt five years later in 1725 by the monk Cheonok. In total, the temple has been rebuilt numerous times including 1500, 1608, 1724, and 1899.
In total, Bulyeongsa Temple is home to three Korean Treasures which includes the Daeungbo-jeon Hall (Korean Treasure #1201), the Eungjin-jeon Hall (Korean Treasure #730), and the Buddhist Painting of Buryeongsa Temple (The Vulture Peak Assembly) (Korean Treasure #1272). Additionally, the Bulyeongsa-gyegok Valley and Surrounding Area is considered a Scenic Site.
Admission to the temple for adults is 2,000 won, for youths (age 14-18) it’s 1,500 won, and for children (age 8-13) it’s 1,000 won.
Bulyeongsa Temple is located a fair distance from the Iljumun Gate. The walk up to the main temple grounds is one of the more beautiful walks, as the pathway leading up to the temple passes by lush forests and farmland used by the nuns that call Bulyeongsa Temple home. When you do finally arrive at the temple, the first thing to greet you is the Bulyeong-ji Pond. This pond harkens back to the founding myth of the temple. Navigating your way around the pond, and to the left, you’ll see a collection of temple shrine halls.
The first of these shrine halls is dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). Inside this rather plainly painted Chilseong-gak Hall is a beautiful mural of the shaman deity. Book-ending both sides of the painting are rows of Buddhist texts.
To the right of the Chilseong-gak Hall is the older-looking Eungjin-jeon Hall. The Eungjin-jeon Hall is the oldest structure at Bulyeongsa Temple. Originally, the Nahan-jeon Hall, which is another name for the Eungjin-jeon Hall, at Bulyeongsa Temple was spared a destructive fire that destroyed the entire temple complex in 1396. However, in 1592, another fire claimed the entire temple complex, once more, except for the Yeongsan-jeon Hall. According to a record found during the repair of the temple in 1984, it was discovered that the Yeongsan-jeon Hall had been converted over to the present-day Eungjin-jeon Hall. This took place after several repairs to the hall both before and after the Imjin War (1592-1598). Once again, the exterior walls to the Eungjin-jeon Hall are plainly painted in dancheong colours. Stepping inside the Eungjin-jeon Hall, you’ll find a triad of statues resting on the main altar. In the centre sits Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). This statue is then joined by sixteen statues of the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha). The Eungjin-jeon Hall is Korean Treasure #730.
Next to the Eungjin-jeon Hall to the right is the Uisang-jeon Hall. If this name sounds familiar, it should. It’s effectively a Josa-jeon Hall (Founders’ Hall), which is named after the founding monk of Bulyeongsa Temple, Uisang-daesa. Resting in the centre of the main altar, and among other paintings of famous monks, is a painting and small stone statue dedicated to Uisang-daesa. This central painting is joined by other murals dedicated to the likes of Wonhyo-daesa (617-686 A.D.) and Samyeong-daesa (1544-1610).
The final shrine hall in this area, other than the Beopyeong-ru Pavilion that overlooks the Bulyeong-ji Pond, is the Myeongbu-jeon Hall. The Myeongbu-jeon Hall is beautifully adorned both inside and out. Both the exterior and interior walls are, rather strangely, adorned with murals from Uisang-daesa’s life, which leads me to believe that this might have once been the original Uisang-jeon Hall. Seated on the main altar inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall is a large, green-haired statue dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). This central image is then joined on both sides by statues of the Siwang (The Ten Kings of the Underworld).
To the right of these four temple shrine halls, and in a courtyard of its own, is the Daeungbo-jeon Hall at Bulyeongsa Temple. Out in front of the Daeungbo-jeon Hall is a three-story stone pagoda that dates back to the early Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). Based upon the date recorded on the Buddhist Painting of Bulyeongsa Temple (The Vulture Peak Assembly), which is kept inside the Daeungbo-jeon Hall, the present incarnation of the main hall at Bulyeongsa Temple dates back to 1735. The Daeungbo-jeon Hall is Korean Treasure #1201. The exterior walls dancheong colours have faded, but the interior dancheong colours are well-preserved. Also inside the Daeungbo-jeon Hall, and resting on the main altar, is a triad centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). This statue is joined by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). This triad is backed by Buddhist Painting of Bulyeongsa Temple (The Vulture Peak Assembly). This main altar painting was first made in 1733. The central image in the centre of that of Seokgamoni-bul. The Buddha is then joined by ten Bodhisattvas, the Sacheonwang (The Four Heavenly Kings), and ten Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha). The Buddhist Painting of Bulyeongsa Temple (The Vulture Peak Assembly) is Korean Treasure #1272. Filling out the rest of the Daeungbo-jeon Hall, and to the left rear of the main hall, is a tiny statue and beautiful mural dedicate to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). And to the right rear of the main altar is a shrine with sari (crystallized remains). As for the rest of the interior of the Daeungbo-jeon Hall, it’s filled with paintings from the early 18th century, when the main hall was rebuilt.
The final shrine hall that visitors can explore at Bulyeongsa Temple is the Sanshin-gak Hall to the left rear of the Daeungbo-jeon Hall. While small in size, and largely unadorned around its exterior walls, it houses a beautiful mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). Of note are the intense green eyes of the tiger beside the image of Sanshin.
How To Get There
From the Uljin Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll find that there are several buses that go to Bulyeongsa Temple. But instead of having numbers, these buses simply say that name of the places that they’re going. Here are six of those bus names that go out to Bulyeongsa Temple: 1. Deokgu – Gwangbi, 2. Deokgu – Saejeom, 3. Bugu – Saejeom, 4. Uljin – Gwangbi, 5. Jukbyeon – Saejeom, 6. Jukbyeon – Sogwang. The bus ride to Bulyeongsa Temple from the bus terminal will take about twenty-seven minutes, or thirteen stops. From where the bus drops you off, you’ll need to walk an additional seven minutes, or five hundred metres, to get to the temple grounds.
You can take public transportation, or you can simply take a taxi. The taxi ride from the Uljin Intercity Bus Terminal takes twenty-five minutes and costs 18,000 won.
Overall Rating: 8/10
Bulyeongsa Temple is scenically located in a valley below the peaks of Mt. Cheonchuksan. Things to look for are the Daeungbo-jeon Hall and the Vulture Peak Assembly painting housed inside it. Other things to keep an eye out for are the Uisang-daesa paintings adorning the Myeongbu-jeon Hall and the historic Eungjin-jeon Hall, as well. And all of the temple shrine halls are beautifully fronted by the Bulyeong-ji Pond.