Daeheungsa Temple – 대흥사 (Gyeongju)
Daeheungsa Temple is located in northern Gyeongju, and it’s situated at the start of a long valley to the south-east of Mt. Jioksan (569 m). Daeheungsa Temple is a modern temple that belongs to the Yeombul-jong Order, which is one of the twenty-seven Buddhist orders recognized by the Korean government. They give primacy to chanting, and they focus on Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) as their primary Buddha that they worship. Yeombul-jong Buddhism was first founded in 1991 by the monk Kim Yunbo, and its headquarters is located in the city of Daejeon at Wongwangsa Temple. As for Daeheungsa Temple, it’s built on the rather large area of some 12,400 pyeong, which is nearly 41,000 m2.
You first approach the temple grounds past several farmers fields and up a narrow country road. The temple in fact seems to be misplaced; surrounded by agriculture on all sides. Standing in the centre of the temple parking lot, you’ll face a large retaining wall. Climbing the large set of stairs next to the retaining wall, you’ll finally pass through the Cheonwangmun Gate and enter the lower courtyard at Daeheungsa temple. Housed inside the Cheonwangmun Gate are four rather underwhelming statues dedicated to the Four Heavenly Kings.
Finally standing in the lower courtyard, you’ll first notice the overall ornateness of the temple which is opposed to the understated Jogye-jong Order temples. To your immediate left is a statue dedicated to Podae-hwasang (The Hempen Bag). And a little further left, you’ll find the Jong-ru (Bell Pavilion), which houses a beautiful bronze bell. Straight ahead of you, on the other hand, is a large stone statue dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion), who stands in the centre of a shallow pond. To the rear of this pond, and elevated on an altar, is a statue dedicated to the Noble Eightfold Path. This statue is then backed by a seated stone statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). And over top of the outdoor shrine, in an archway, is a hanging stone sculpture of a manja (the swastika). To the right rear of the pond, you’ll find another elevated shrine. This time, the shrine is fronted by a large metal Geumgang-jeo (Diamond Pounder), and it’s backed by another large stone image of Seokgamoni-bul. Again, another hanging stone manja sways from an archway over the entire outdoor shrine.
Climbing another flight of stairs to the rear of the Gwanseeum-bosal pond, you’ll next come to the Cheonbul-jeon Hall. Just outside this shrine hall are sixteen large paintings dedicated to the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha). There are also smaller stone statues in this area of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Stepping inside the Cheonbul-jeon Hall, and resting on the main altar, is a triad centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). This triad, as the name of the temple shrine hall already hints at, is surrounded by a thousand smaller statues of Seokgamoni-bul and Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise).
Up yet another flight of stairs; this time, to the upper courtyard, you’ll pass through the beautiful dragon adorned entry gate. At the top of these stairs, and past the dragon entry gate, you’ll be welcomed to the upper courtyard by a large concrete main hall. The exterior walls to the Geukrak-jeon Hall are only adorned with the traditional dancheong colours. Stepping inside the Geukrak-jeon Hall, you’ll notice a large triad of statues resting on the main altar. This triad is centred by Amita-bul. And this central image is joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul).
To the left of the Geukrak-jeon Hall is a training centre for monks. Also in this area is a large statue dedicated to Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). But it’s to the right of the Geukrak-jeon Hall that your eyes will be most drawn to. Here, you’ll find a white shrine hall, which looks to be Indian-inspired, that houses sari (crystallized remains) inside it. But before stepping inside this elevated outdoor shrine, you’ll first need to pass by the guardians Narayeon Geumgang and Miljeok Geumgang (The Twin Guardians of Korean Temples). And on top of the oval-shaped shrine hall is a five-story stone pagoda. Once you step inside this oval-shaped white hall, you’ll notice that the walls are painted with Palsang-do (The Eight Scenes from the Buddha’s Life Murals). And resting on the main altar are the sari.
Just behind this white oval-shaped shrine hall, and to the right of the Geukrak-jeon Hall, is the Samseong-gak Hall. Housed inside this shaman shrine hall are three simplistic shaman murals. They are of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), Yongwang (The Dragon King), and Dokseong (The Lonely Saint).
How To Get There
From the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take Bus #203. You’ll need to take this bus for forty-five stops, which will last about one hour and twenty minutes. You’ll need to then get off at the Oksan 2-ri stop and walk for an additional eight hundred and fifty metres to get to Daeheungsa Temple.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10
Daeheungsa Temple is definitely one of the more difficult temples to locate and then find. It’s placed in a remote part of northern Gyeongju to the rear of several farmers fields. With all of that in mind, Daeheungsa Temple is home to quite a few surprises like the white, oval-shaped shrine with sari inside it. Also as eye catching is the pond with a statue of Gwanseeum-bosal in the centre of it. Everything at Daeheungsa Temple seems to be large, so get out there and enjoy exploring this little known temple that’s apart of a lesser known Buddhist Order. In addition, the temple is just down the valley from Jeonghyesa-ji Temple Site, which houses a thirteen-story pagoda that’s a National Treasure