Cheonbulsa Temple – 천불사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)
Cheonbulsa Temple is located to the north-east of Mt. Yongcheonsan (544.7 m) in the eastern part of Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do. The name of the temple means “Heavenly Buddha Temple” in English, and it was originally constructed in 1974. Cheonbulsa Temple’s name refers to the energy of the temple that it gets from the heavenly realm of Tushita. When the head monk at Cheonbulsa Temple wanted to build a temple, he held a memorial service for one thousand days in a cave at Yaksuam Hermitage near Baekyangsa Temple in Gwangju. During this memorial service, the head monk received a divine revelation. In this revelation, he learned that he should find a place where the peaks of three mountains met. There, he should build a temple where a white crane sat. Eventually, the head monk found this location in Yangsan. Initially, he pitched a tent in the area, until he was able to develop the land and the temple more. Eventually, the head monk would build the amazing temple that we see currently at Cheonbulsa Temple.
You first approach the temple grounds up a pathway with a slight incline. Along the way, you’ll pass by a Koi pond to your left. In the centre of this Koi pond appears a seated stone image of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). And to your right is another Koi pond with a water fountain in the centre of it.
Continuing up the pathway that has a beautiful canopy of paper lanterns over top, you’ll notice a line of stone statues dedicated to the Sibijin-shin (The Twelve Spirit Generals) to your left. A little further along, and back at the main pathway, you’ll notice a two-story Jong-ru Pavilion with an elaborate set of the four traditional Buddhist percussion instruments to your left. And this bell pavilion is fronted by a simplistic five-story pagoda with a lotus flower relief design around its base. And to the right is a matching five-story pagoda.
Continuing your ascent, you’ll finally come to the main temple courtyard at Cheonbulsa Temple. The Daeung-jeon Hall is beautifully adorned both inside and out. Some of the latticework on the main hall is second to none, especially the white and red images of Wolgwang-bosal (The Moonlight Bodhisattva) and Ilgwang-bosal (The Sunlight Bodhisattva). As for the murals that adorn the exterior walls, they are an assortment of Buddhist motifs. And out in front of the Daeung-jeon Hall, you’ll find a jovial stone statue dedicated to Podae-hwasang (The Hempen Bag), as well as a large, green jade incense burner.
Stepping inside the Daeung-jeon Hall, you’ll find a triad of statues resting on the main altar centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). This statue is joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul). To the immediate left of the main altar is a thousand armed seated statue dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal. And to the immediate right of the main altar, you’ll find a colourful wooden relief dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). On the far left wall, on the other hand, hangs an amazing large wooden relief of the Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural). And on the right is a standing statue dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). This statue is backed by an elaborate, black mural of Jijang-bosal.
To the left of the main hall is the Yongwang-dang Hall. Inside the Yongwang-dang Hall, you’ll find a standing image of Yongwang (The Dragon King). This statue of the Dragon King stands atop a blue dragon who hovers over top of a shallow pool of water. The statue of Yongwang is backed by a large mural of the shaman deity joined by a pair of twisting yellow and blue dragons. And surrounding the wide main altar are murals of Bicheon (Flying Heavenly Deities). And to the right of the Daeung-jeon Hall, you’ll find an elegant stone relief dedicated to a contemplative Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha).
To the rear of the Daeung-jeon Hall, you’ll find a row of white jade statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). It’s also from this vantage point that you get an amazing view of the neighbouring mountains. Continuing up the mountain, and past a pair of burial mounds (not associated with Cheonbulsa Temple), you’ll find the Samseong-gak Hall. Sitting in the centre of the main altar is a statue dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). And to the right is a statue and painting dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). Rather interestingly, and to the left of the central image of Chilseong, is a window that looks out onto cascading water with Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) at its base.
Heading back down the mountain, you’ll find a more modern looking shrine hall. This rather long shrine hall actually houses two temple shrine halls. The temple shrine hall to the right is the Yaksa-jeon Hall. Inside the Yaksa-jeon Hall, you’ll find seven standing images with the central statue dedicated to Yaksayeorae-bul (The Medicine Buddha). And the temple shrine hall to the left, with its own entry, is the Geukrak-jeon Hall. The entire Geukrak-jeon Hall is filled with a soothing golden light that’s emitted from the thousands of tiny statues dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). There is a shrine dedicated to Jijang-bosal in the central part of the numerous alcoves inside this temple shrine hall. And to the far left, you’ll find a large statue dedicated to Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) on the main altar of the Geukrak-jeon Hall. The hallway outside both of these entryways is filled with beautiful painted floral patterns. So look upwards in this area.
Through the years, much has changed in and around Cheonbulsa Temple. However, what has remained constant is the beautiful Gwaneum-jeon Hall. To the front of the Yaksa/Geukrak-jeon Halls, and up an uneven set of stairs, you’ll find a beautiful corridor filled with stone statues dedicated to the thirty-three incarnations of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). All of these life-sized statues are amazingly rendered and lead up towards a cave entrance. Traditionally, as you walk among the statues, you’re supposed to pray every three steps. Watch your head, as you step inside the low-lying entryway to the Gwanseum-jeon Hall. Lining the walls, as you make your way up the passageway, are glowing row-upon-row of Gwanseeum-bosal figurines. Stepping inside the vaulted inner chamber of the Gwaneum-jeon Hall, you’ll find, seated all alone on the main altar, a beautiful, golden statue dedicated to the Bodhisattva of Compassion shimmering in the softened darker light of the prayer hall. The golden statue is joined by carved images of the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha) around the circumference of the cavernous interior.
How To Get There
To get to Cheonbulsa Temple, you’ll need to take Bus #50 or #301 from the Nopo-dong subway stop in Busan. You’ll need to get off the bus in Deokgye in Yangsan at the “Deokgye Sageo-ri – 덕계사거리” stop. From this stop, you’ll need to find the local bus stop in front. This local bus sign will say “Cheonbulsa – 천불사” on it. This bus comes every thirty minutes.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10
This temple is packed with beautiful Buddhist temple artistry and architecture. The Daeung-jeon Hall is beautifully adorned with amazing latticework. Also have a look for the large, green jade incense burner at the front of the main hall, as well as the artwork inside the Yongwang-dang Hall to the left of the Daeung-jeon Hall. Other interesting aspects are the two-in-one Yaksa/Geukrak-jeon Halls and the cascading waterfall behind the Samseong-gak Hall. But the most beautiful aspect of Cheonbulsa Temple is the subterranean Gwaneum-jeon Hall that has an outdoor shrine leading up to the temple shrine hall with thirty-three different incarnations of the Bodhisattva of Compassion. It’s really something that needs to be explored and experienced.