Jeongtosa Temple – 정토사 (Nam-gu, Ulsan)
Jeongtosa Temple is located in Nam-gu in the southern part of Ulsan past the Taehwa River. And it’s situated just to the east of the diminutive Mt. Samhosan (125.7 m). Jeongtosa Temple is named after “Jeongto,” which is the Korean word for “Pure Land” in English.
Jeongto is a pure heavenly realm that’s occupied by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who have shed all of their afflictions. This is the ultimate goal of the popular Jeongto form of Korean Buddhism, which is known as the “Pure Land School” in English. Specifically, Jeongto is referring to a heaven in the Western Paradise inhabited by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). In Mahayana Buddhism, there are numerous Buddhas, and each Buddha has their own Pure Land. For example, there is an Eastern Paradise, known as “Jeongyuri” in Korean, which is home to Yaksayeorae-bul (The Medicine Buddha, and the Buddha of the Eastern Paradise). Of the these Pure Lands, Jeongto is the most popular. Based upon the Pure Land traditions, when an individual enters the Pure Land, it’s equivalent to attaining enlightenment. And once a person enters the Western Pure Land, the individual is then instructed by Amita-bul and numerous Bodhisattvas to help complete their attainment of enlightenment. It is at this stage that a person has the choice to return at any time as a Bodhisattva to any one of the Six Realms of Existence. Or they can stay in Jeongto and reach Buddhahood and deliver others from suffering. So it is to this symbolic meaning and tradition that Jeongtosa Temple is named.
As you first approach Jeongtosa Temple, you’ll notice an upright stone marker with the name of the temple on it written in Korean: 정토사. Making your way towards the temple buildings, and up a slight incline, you’ll first notice stone statues of a dongja (attendants) and Podae-hwasang (The Hempen Bag) with a well-worn belly that’s been rubbed for good luck by those visiting the temple. Book-ending buildings guide you up towards the main hall and the lower courtyard. These buildings are the monks dorms, the visitors centre, and the temple’s kitchen.
A little to the left, and then back to the right, and up another concrete incline, you’ll be standing squarely in the centre of the temple’s lower courtyard. Straight ahead of you is the Daeung-jeon Hall. This large main hall’s exterior walls are adorned with various Buddhist motif murals like an all-white Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) riding a white elephant. Stepping inside the Daeung-jeon Hall, you’ll find a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). This statue is joined on either side by, not so surprising, Yaksayeorae-bul (The Medicine Buddha, and the Buddha of the Eastern Paradise) and Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). On the far left wall is a Dragon Ship of Wisdom mural, as well as a Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural). And to the right of the main altar is a multi-armed mural and statue dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal.
Out in front of the Daeung-jeon Hall, and reminiscent of the famed Four Lion Three-story Stone Pagoda of Hwaeomsa Temple, is a three-story stone pagoda at Jeongtosa Temple. Housed inside this pagoda are some purported sari (crystallized remains) of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). And to the right of the Daeung-jeon Hall is the Myeongbu-jeon Hall. Housed inside this temple shrine hall is a green haired statue dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), who sits upon the main altar. And this statue of Jijang-bosal is joined inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall by Siwang (The Ten Kings of the Underworld).
To the left of the Daeung-jeon Hall and the accompany lion based pagoda is a large stone statue and shrine dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal. And to the right of this statue is the highly unique concrete pantheon of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. On the top level of this outdoor shrine, you’ll find statues dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul and Amita-bul. And on the lower levels of this neatly divided shrine, you’ll find images of Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy), Yaksayeorae-bul, and Gwanseeum-bosal.
To the rear of the Daeung-jeon Hall, and up another embankment that leads to the upper courtyard at Jeongtosa Temple, is the newly built Samseong-gak Hall. The murals housed inside the Samseong-gak Hall are the traditional triad that you’ll find at most Korean Buddhist temples. The central image is that of Chilseong (The Seven Stars). This image is joined on either side by Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) and Dokseong (The Lonely Saint).
And to the far, far right, and housed on an overlooking courtyard, is a stone semi-circle shrine dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul. And this large stone statue is surrounded in the semi-circle by the sixteen Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha), the Sacheonwang (The Four Heavenly Kings), and various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas like Munsu-bosal, Jijang-bosal and Gwanseeum-bosal. And to the rear of this outdoor shrine is the newly constructed Geukrak-jeon Hall, which was in the process of being built when I visited in 2018. And it’s also from this vantage point that you get a beautiful view of the temple grounds below, including large temple murals that adorn the temple buildings like the three piece, twelve mural set, dedicated to the history of Buddhism and Buddhism in Korea.
How To Get There
From the Ulsan Intercity Bus Terminal in Nam-gu, you can take a taxi. The ride should last about twenty minutes and cost you 8,000 won. You can do that or take a bus from just north of the terminal around the KEB Bank. You’ll need to head north for about five hundred metres. You can then take Bus # 401, #307, #124, #417, #482, #712, #134, #432, or #733. The bus ride should take about twenty to twenty-five minutes. The name of the final bus stop is “Gongwonmyoji Ipgu – 공원묘지입구.” And from this bus stop, you’ll need to head north for about five minutes (just follow the signs).
Overall Rating: 8/10
I was very pleasantly surprised while visiting Jeongtosa Temple. There are a lot of halls, shrines, a beautiful pagoda, and murals to enjoy in and around the temple grounds. The highlights at this temple are the pantheon of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, the semi-circle shrine dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul, and the lion-based pagoda out in front of the main hall. But there is definitely a lot to see and enjoy at this lesser known temple near downtown Ulsan.