Muryangsa Temple – 무량사 (Buyeo, Chungcheongnam-do)

A Look Through the Cheonwangmun Gate at the Geukrak-jeon Hall at Muryangsa Temple in Buyeo, Chungcheongnam-do.

Temple History

Muryangsa Temple is located in Buyeo, Chungcheongnam-do at the foot of Mt. Mansusan (575 m). The name of the temple is in reference to Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). One of the halls that Amita-bul can reside in at a Korean Buddhist temple is called a Muryangsu-jeon Hall, which means “Immeasurable Life Hall” in English. The exact date that Muryangsa Temple was first built is unknown; however, it was first built during the reign of King Munseong of Silla (r. 839-857 A.D.). It was first built by the Beomil-guksa (National Preceptor).

Muryangsa Temple was later renovated and expanded during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). At this time, the temple consisted of a Daeung-jeon Hall, a Geukrak-jeon Hall, a Cheonbul-jeon Hall, a Eungjin-jeon Hall, and a Myeongbu-jeon Hall. In addition to all these temple shrine halls, Muryangsa Temple was also home to some thirty dorms and twelve neighbouring hermitages. Originally, Muryangsa Temple was situated on both sides of the Mansu-cheon Stream.

During the Goryeo Dynasty, Muryangsa Temple was also the last home to the Joseon scholar Kim Siseup (1435-1493). Born into the ruling class (yangban), Kim’s family originally came from Gangneung, Gangwon-do. Even though Kim was born in Seoul, he would maintain a special connection to the province of Gangwon-do. In fact, Kim compiled a book of poetry called “Tangyugwandongnok,” which was based on the family’s history and experiences in the Gangwon-do area. Purportedly, Kim Siseup was so brilliant that as a child he learned to read at the age of eight months. And by five, he could read and understand “The Great Learning” and the “Doctrine of the Mean.” Kim was a devout Buddhist, and instead of becoming a government official in protest of King Sejo of Joseon’s (r. 1455-1468) usurping Danjong of Joseon (eventually murdering him), Kim Siseup became a Buddhist monk.

During his literary career, Kim would produce around thirty volumes. Kim’s first novel, “Geumo Sinhwa” was the first novel written in Classical Chinese in Korea. It became an instant classic. Characteristic of Kim’s writing, he dealt with both Confucianism and Buddhism. A common theme was the king and his subjects respecting the entire nation regardless of background or status.

However, and like so many other famous temples in Korea, Muryangsa Temple was completely destroyed during the Imjin War (1592-1598). Muryangsa Temple would later be rebuilt by the monk Jinmuk during the reign of King Injo of Joseon (r. 1623-1649). When the temple was rebuilt, the main part of the Muryangsa Temple was shifted west of the Mansu-cheon Stream. In the 2000’s, Muryangsa Temple underwent several excavations which resulted in the recovery of several precious artifacts including pillar stones, stone walls, and roofing end-tiles with lotus designs on them that dated back to Later Silla (668-935 A.D.). In addition to these earlier artifacts, artifacts from the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) included roof tile shards with inscriptions on them from 971 A.D., 1045 A.D., and 1056 A.D. Also included in these Goryeo artifacts were name plates from the Mireuk-dang Hall and the dining hall.

Muryangsa Temple is home to six Korean Treasures including the Geukrak-jeon Hall (T #356) and the Five-Story Stone Pagoda of Muryangsa Temple (T #185). Muryangsa Temple also conducts the popular Temple Stay program (only in Korean).

Temple Layout

You first approach the temple past the aged Iljumun Gate and over the Mansu-cheon Stream. It’s through the Cheonwangmun Gate that you get a great view of the historic Geukrak-jeon Hall awaiting you past the five-story stone pagoda at Muryangsa Temple. Housed inside the Cheonwangmun Gate are three chipped and one lizard-like statue of the Four Heavenly Kings housed inside this second entry gate.

Beautifully framed by the low-lying trees and the surrounding mountains sits the Five-Story Stone Pagoda of Muryangsa Temple out in front of the Geukrak-jeon Hall. The uniquely designed pagoda is Korean Treasure #185. It’s believed that the pagoda dates back to Goryeo Dynasty. The pagoda retains elements of both the Baekje Kingdom (18 B.C. – 660 A.D.) and the Later Silla Dynasty (668-935 A.D.). The body of the pagoda seems somewhat compressed with the body roof stones being both wide and thin. During the dismantling and repair of the pagoda, three statues were found inside made from gilt-bronze. The three statues were Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise), Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). All three gilt-bronze statues were found inside the first story of the core stone, alongside a sarira (crystallized remains) reliquary that was found in the fifth story of the pagoda.

And fronting the Five-story Stone Pagoda of Muryangsa Temple is the Stone Lantern of Muryangsa Temple, which is Korean Treasure #233. The stone lantern, or “seokdeung” in Korean, is believed to date back to some time between Later Silla (668-935 A.D.) and early Goryeo (918-1392). Octagonal in shape, the pedestal of the lantern is adorned with lotus patterns. The light chamber has four windows, and the capstone that adorns the stone lantern is quite top heavy, especially for how slender the overall design is.

Beautifully backing both the historic five-story pagoda and the stone lantern is the massive two-story Geukrak-jeon Hall at Muryangsa Temple. The rare two-story shrine hall is believed to date back to some time in the mid-Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), and it’s Korean Treasure #356. The exterior walls to the Geukrak-jeon Hall are unadorned. Stepping inside the Geukrak-jeon Hall, you’ll quickly notice that there is just one open space inside the temple’s main hall. So while the building appears to be a two-story structure from the outside, it’s just one large room inside.

Resting on the main altar inside the Geukrak-jeon Hall are three massive statues that date back to 1633 according a letter found inside the images. The statues were made by the monk sculptor Hyeonjin. The massive clay statue are centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). This central image is then joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul). The triad is Korean Treasure #1565.

To the right of the Geukrak-jeon Hall and the five-story pagoda are Muryangsa Temple’s Jong-ru (Bell Pavilion) and Myeongbu-jeon Hall. A simple Jong-ru structure houses the Beomjong (Bronze Bell) that dates back to 1636. The bell has a large, crowning Poroe (Bell Dragon) on top of it, and the body of the bell is adorned with blossoming lotus and Bicheon (Flying Heavenly Deities). As for the Myeongbu-jeon Hall, you’ll find a black haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) sitting on the main altar surrounded by older wooden statues of the Siwang (The Ten Kings of the Underworld), as well as a pair of book-ending Geumgang-yeoksa (Vajra Warriors) that have bulging eyes and clinched fists.

To the left of the Geukrak-jeon Hall are a half dozen temple shrine halls. The first of these shrine halls, and underneath a mature red pine, is the compact Yeongsan-jeon Hall (Vulture Peak Hall). Sitting on the main altar is a large statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). This statue is joined by a collection of a thousand tiny white Buddha statues.

To the front right of the Yeongsan-jeon Hall is the Yeongjeong-gak Hall. This unusual sounding shrine hall is dedicated to the aforementioned Kim Siseup. Housed inside this simple shrine hall is a solitary painting of the famed academic on the main altar. Backing the Yeongjeong-gak Hall is the Wontong-jeon Hall. The Wontong-jeon Hall houses a smaller sized statue dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) on the main altar. This multi-armed and headed statue is joined by Yongwang (The Dragon King) on the main altar and backed by hundreds of beautiful wooden incarnations of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

The final temple shrine hall visitors can explore at Muryangsa Temple is to the north. The Samseong-gak Hall houses a frowning/contemplative painting of Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), the tiger-riding painting of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), and a beautiful mural dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars).

How To Get There

From the Buyeo Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to head left out the exit and continue to walk towards the big road. After crossing this road, take Bus #127 from the Buyeo Market Bus Stop. Then, at the Muryang Village Bus Stop, which is thirty-seven stops later, get off and walk about four hundred metres towards Muryangsa Temple.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10

Muryangsa Temple in Buyeo, Chungcheongnam-do is home to six Korean Treasures. Of these six, it’s the two-story Geukrak-jeon Hall that stands out first. Housed inside this historic shrine hall are the massive altar pieces that are also Korean Treasures. Out in front of the Geukrak-jeon Hall are the twin stone structures, and Korean Treasures: The Five-story Stone Pagoda of Muryangsa Temple and the Stone Lantern of Muryangsa Temple. Also adding to the overall atmosphere of the temple grounds are its serene location and the shrine hall dedicated to Kim Siseup.

The Iljumun Gate at the entry of Muryangsa Temple.
The Cheonwangmun Gate.
The lizard-like Jiguk Cheonwang.
The two-story Geurak-jeon Hall (T#356) fronted by the five-story pagoda (T#185), and the stone lantern (T#233) at Muryangsa Temple.
A look inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall at Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
A different look at the amazing Geukrak-jeon Hall, pagoda, and stone lantern.
Inside the Geukrak-jeon Hall. The main altar triad is Korean Treasure #1565.
The snow covered Yeongsan-jeon Hall.
An inside look at the Yeongjeong-gak Hall with a painting of Kim Siseup on the main altar.
A look inside the Wontong-jeon Hall.
A look towards the Samseong-gak Hall (left).
The mural of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) inside the Samseong-gak Hall.

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