Manbulsa Temple, which means “Ten Thousand Buddhas Temple,” in English, is located in south-eastern Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do. The temple is scenically located in a valley west of Mt. Manbulsan (275.4m). Manbulsa Temple is a modern temple in the truest sense of the word with its overstated colours and ornate shrine halls. The idea for the construction of Manbulsa Temple dates back to 1981, when the monk Hakseong first thought of building it. However, it’s not until 1992 that the first cornerstone got laid at Manbulsa Temple, which, in effect, started the initial construction of the temple. In February, 1993, the founding monk, Hakseong, brought back a sari (crystallized remain) of the Historical Buddha, Seokgamoni-bul, to Manbulsa Temple from Sri Lanka. Then, in 1995, the first construction of Manbulsa Temple was completed. And in 1998, the main hall at Manbulsa Temple was completed. Since then, Manbulsa Temple has continued to be expanded with various outdoor shrines, statues, and shrine halls.
As you first approach the temple grounds, and past the temple parking lot, you’ll see the beautiful Yongcheon-ji Pond. In the centre of this pond sits a seated statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). Continuing up this road, you’ll see the first of the numerous rows of two metre tall statues of the ten thousand Buddhas that take up residence at Manbulsa Temple. Having made your way past the temple parking lot, you’ll notice large brownish red walls topped by gold paint. To the left of these walls is a large statue of Seokgamoni-bul sitting under a bodhi tree, where the Buddha gained enlightenment. Also, you’ll find a cute stone statue depicting the Shimu (Ox-Herding Murals) that typically adorn the exterior walls to various temple shrine halls. Finally coming to the large entrance, which is book-ended by a pair of stone statues of dongja (assistants), you’ll enter into the courtyard that houses the Manbul-jeon Hall and the Beom-jong Pavilion, or temple bell pavilion, in English.
In front of the Manbul-jeon Hall, you’ll find a lotus pond that’s well-populated by Koi. It’s across a bridge that you’ll finally be able to enter this highly ornate shrine hall. The Manbul-jeon Hall, or the “Ten Thousand Buddhas Hall,” in English, as the name kind of hints at, is filled with wall-to-wall golden statues of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas both large and small. You can, in fact, circumnavigate around the main altar of this hall. As for the main altar itself, it’s centred by a beautiful statue of Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). This statue is joined on either side by Seokgamoni-bul and Rocana-bul (The Perfect Body Buddha). As for the temple bell pavilion, while it’s three stories in height, it’s also rather plainly painted with dancheong colours.
Strangely, the Great Lantern Tower at Manbulsa Temple was conspicuously absent (perhaps a simple oversight on my part). This Great Lantern Tower is a smaller sized replica of the one found at Bodh Gaya, India. The massive lantern is occupied by 15,000 lamps, which fill three golden spires. At the base of these amazingly ornate spires are twelve zodiac general statues. Adding to the overall feel of this golden grand lantern are red capped baby stone statues that are praying. These statues, sadly, are dedicated to children that have passed away: a reminder that life can be painfully brutal at times.
To the far left of this temple courtyard, you’ll find the Jeokmyeol-bogung. If this name sounds familiar, it should. It’s the traditional name given to the five shrines that Jajang-yulsa (590-658 A.D.) created upon his return to the Korean peninsula that he established with the sari (crystallized remains) of the Buddha. This shrine at Manbulsa Temple is where they house the sari of the Buddha that the monk Hakseong brought to the temple from Sri Lanka. The sari are housed inside an ornate reliquary with a window that allows visitors to look upon the sari of the Buddha.
Next up on the tour of Manbulsa Temple, and still included in the walled off compound, you’ll find a reclining bronze statue of Seokgamoni-bul. This thirteen metre long statue of the image of the Buddha just before he entered nirvana is now housed under a large wooden shelter. You can rub the Buddha’s toes for good luck. And to the rear of the temple grounds, you’ll find the Myeongbu-jeon Hall that houses a golden capped statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). This shrine hall is joined by hundreds of tombs for the dead.
The final place that visitors can explore at Manbulsa Temple is perched on top of a ridge behind the Manbul-jeon Hall. Standing thirty-three metres in height is the golden statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). Like the Myeongbu-jeon Hall, this statue is surrounded, both back and front, by stone markers for the dead. The base of the statue is adorned with hundreds of tiny statues of Amita-bul; and at the front of the base you’ll find an image of Gwanseeum-bosal holding a baby. It’s also from this vantage point of the massive statue that you get a great overall view of the entire temple grounds in the valley below.
How To Get There
You’ll need to catch a train to Dongdaegu Station. From Busan, the KTX (bullet train) ride takes about an hour. And from Seoul, this very same train ride takes an hour and thirty-seven minutes. From the Dongdaegu Station, there’s a Manbulsa Temple bus that goes directly to the temple. The bus ride takes about an hour and ten minutes depending on traffic.
Overall Rating: 8.5/10
For the temple purists, perhaps this isn’t the temple for you. With that being said, there’s a lot to see and enjoy at Manbulsa Temple like the thirteen metre long bronze statue dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul, the thirty-three metre tall statue dedicated to Amita-bul, the Jeokmyeol-bogung shrine with a sari of the Buddha inside, the Great Lantern Tower, and the colourful and bright Manbul-jeon Hall that welcomes you at the entry of the temple grounds and sets the tone for the rest of what awaits you at Manbulsa Temple. While perhaps not to everyone’s liking, you can honestly say that there’s nothing quite like Manbulsa Temple in Korea.