Okcheonsa Temple – 옥천사 (Goseong, Gyeongsangnam-do)
Okcheonsa Temple, which means “Jade Springs Temple” in English, is located in Goseong, Gyeongsangnam-do. Okcheonsa Temple dates back to 676 A.D., when it was first established by Uisang-daesa (625-702 A.D.). Okcheonsa Temple was one of the Hwaeom-shipchal (The Ten Great Hwaeom Temples) alongside such temples as Buseoksa Temple, Haeinsa Temple, Hwaeomsa Temple, Gapsa Temple, Beomeosa Temple, Bulguksa Temple, and Bongjeongsa Temple. For these efforts, Uisang-daesa is also known as the “Temple Builder.”
Rather interestingly, and according to Choi Chiwon (857–10th century), nearby Ssanggyesa Temple was originally named Okcheonsa Temple, when it was first founded in 722 A.D. But because Okcheonsa Temple in Goseong, Gyeongsangnam-do predated the founding of the former temple by some 50 years, Jingam-seonsa (774-850 A.D.) decided to change the name of the temple to Ssanggyesa Temple.
Okcheonsa Temple went through several phases of restoration and expansion following its original construction. Jingyeong-guksa of Unified Silla (668-935 A.D.) and Jingak-guksa of Goryeo (918-1392) both resided here in order to study Buddhism. And during the Imjin War (1592-98), the temple served as a defensive temple. The temple managed parts of the Righteous Army. The temple was completely destroyed in 1592.
In the 18th century, Okcheonsa Temple was rebuilt. At this time, it was greatly expanded. Not only was the temple rebuilt for religious reasons, but it was also rebuilt for defensive reasons, as well. As a result, the state provided funds for the restoration of the temple. Perhaps the greatest indication that the temple was partially used for militaristic reasons is that from 1733 to 1842 some 340 conscripted soldiers lived at Okcheonsa Temple.
In the 20th century, Okcheonsa Temple was the first home to the great monk Cheongdam. In fact, and on the September 27th of each year according to the lunar calendar, both Uisang-daesa and Cheongdam are celebrated. Okcheonsa Temple also has three additional hermitages on the temple grounds. They are Baegnyeonam Hermitage, Cheongnyeonam Hermitage, and Yeondaeam Hermitage.
In total, Okcheonsa Temple is home to three Korean Treasures. They are the Bronze Banja Gong with Inscription of Imja at Okcheonsa Temple, which is Korean Treasure #495; the Buddhist Paintings of Okcheonsa Temple, Goseong (Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva and Ten Underworld Kings), which is Korean Treasure #1693; and the Hanging Scroll Drawing of Shakyamuni Preaching the Lotus Sutra at Vulture Peak, which is Korean Treasure #2110.
You’ll first approach Okcheonsa Temple up a winding road. When you arrive at the temple parking lot, you’ll notice a stele to your immediate left, as well as a hidden Jong-ru Pavilion (Bell Pavilion). The Jong-ru Pavilion is home to the four traditional Buddhist percussion instruments. However, the most imposing structure to greet you at Okcheonsa Temple is the Jabang-ru Pavilion. It’s situated in front of the main temple courtyard like a walled-off fortress. This structure hearkens back to the temple’s military history just after the Imjin War and the funding behind it’s rebuild in the early 17th century. The hall was once used as a military meeting place, as well as a barrier to protect the inner sanctum of the temple grounds. The Jabang-ru Pavilion is extremely long in length, and it’s adorned with numerous scenic murals.
Climbing the stairs to the left of the Jabang-ru Pavilion, you’ll enter into the compact temple courtyard. Because of the compact temple courtyard, the buildings at Okcheonsa Temple almost appear to be touching each other in this part of the temple grounds. To your immediate left and right, you’ll find the administrative office and monk facilities at Okcheonsa Temple. Straight ahead of you, on the other hand, is the Daeung-jeon Hall. The original Daeung-jeon Hall was destroyed during the Imjin War; however, the main hall was restored in 1657, and it’s been repaired several times since. The exterior walls to the Daeung-jeon Hall are largely unadorned. Stepping inside the Daeung-jeon Hall, you’ll find a triad of statues resting on the main altar. The central image is dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), while the accompanying statues are dedicated to Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) and Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom). To the left of the main altar is the Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural). The entire interior is filled with beautiful older murals adorning the Daeung-jeon Hall’s walls. These murals include various Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, floral, as well as, scenic murals.
To the immediate right of the Daeung-jeon Hall is the Palsang-jeon Hall. Resting on the main altar is a statue dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul. This main altar statue is then joined on either side by sixteen statues dedicated to the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha). And these sixteen statues are then joined by replicas of historic Palsang-do (The Eight Scenes from the Buddha’s Life).
To the left of the Daeung-jeon Hall, on the other hand, is the Myeongbu-jeon Hall. The Myeongbu-jeon Hall at Okcheonsa Temple is rather cavernous. The present Myeongbu-jeon Hall dates back to 1895. Much like the Daeung-jeon Hall, the Myeongbu-jeon Hall’s exterior is largely unadorned. It isn’t until you step inside the shrine hall that you see all the beauty that the Myeongbu-jeon Hall has in store for you. Like stepping inside a wooden cave, you’re first greeted by a pair of Vajra Warriors. A little further in, and you’ll notice the Siwang (The Ten Kings of the Underworld), who are joined by Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) on the main altar. All of these statues look older in appearance. The Siwang, much like the Palsang-jeon Hall, are backed by copies of the original murals.
Directly to the rear of the Daeung-jeon Hall, on the other hand, is the Nahan-jeon Hall. The exterior walls to the Nahan-jeon Hall are adorned with various murals depicting Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, while at the base of the entry doors are a pair of taegeuk. Stepping inside the Nahan-jeon Hall, you’ll find sixteen larger sized images dedicated to the Nahan, as well as a glass enclosure on the main altar. Inside this glass enclosure are a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul. And joining this central image are two statues: one dedicated to Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) and the other to Seokdeung-bul (The Past Buddha). And surrounding all of these statues are some amazing dancheong colours and wooden dragon statues up in the ceiling of the structure.
To the immediate right of the Nahan-jeon Hall is the tiny pavilion that houses the jade spring for which the temple gets its name. There is a low entry way that welcomes you to the pavilion. And mounted above the flowing spring water is a mural with three images. The central image is the Jade Emperor, while the image to the left is that of Yongwang (The Dragon King). While previously faded, it appears as though this mural has undergone a recent touch-up (like most of the temple shrine halls).
To the left of the Nahan-jeon Hall, there are a row of four smaller sized shrines and shrine halls. The first of the four is the smaller sized shrine, the Sanryeong-gak Hall, which houses a modern image of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). The somber-looking image of Sanshin is joined by a ferocious tiger. This image of was formerly housed inside the Daeung-jeon Hall, while the present shaman shrine hall was being renovated.
To the left of the Sanryeong-gak Hall is the Dokseong-gak Hall. Much like the Sanryeong-gak Hall, the Dokseong-gak Hall is a tiny shrine that houses an emaciated image of Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). And again, much like the image of Sanshin, the mural dedicated to Dokseong was formerly housed inside the Dokseong-gak Hall, while the shaman shrine hall was under renovation.
To the left rear of the Dokseong-gak Hall is the Josa-jeon Hall. Inside this larger hall are murals dedicated to prominent monks that once called Okcheonsa Temple home. And on the main altar hangs a mural, rather unsurprisingly, dedicated to Uisang-daesa. And the final temple shrine hall that visitors can explore at Okcheonsa Temple is located to the front left of the Josa-jeon Hall. This shrine hall is the Chilseong-gak Hall. This shaman shrine hall is similar in size to that of the neighbouring Josa-jeon Hall, and it houses a mural dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars).
How To Get There
While Okcheonsa Temple is a bit complicated to get to, it’s well worth the effort. First, you’ll have to catch a bus to Jinju. From the Jinju Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to board a bus bound for Okcheonsa Temple. The name of this bus is the “Goseong-haeng – 고성행.” This bus first leaves at 5:40 a.m., and it runs throughout the day at 15 minute intervals. In total, the bus trip will take you about an hour and twenty minutes, and it’ll cost you over 7,000 won. You’ll then need to get off at the “Geumgok – 금곡” stop. From this stop, you’ll then have to take a taxi the remainder of the way. You can either ride the taxi all the way, or you can get off at the Okcheonsa Temple entrance and walk the remaining 30 minutes to the temple courtyard.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10
There’s a lot to see and appreciate at Okcheonsa Temple from beginning to end starting with the militaristic Jabang-ru Pavilion at the entry of the temple grounds. Continuing on, the interior of the Daeung-jeon Hall, the Nahan-jeon Hall, and the Myeongbu-jeon Hall are all beautifully executed with their dynamic dancheong colours and dragon statues up in the ceiling of the shrine halls. Additionally, the jade spring and accompanying mural dedicated to the Jade Emperor and Yongwang, as well as the the numerous shrines dedicated to various shaman deities like Sanshin, Dokseong, and Chilseong are something to keep an eye out for, as well, at Okcheonsa Temple.