Seonjisa Temple is located in the western part of Gimhae, Gyeongsangnam-do to the south of Mt. Gyeongunsan (377.2 m). Seonjisa Temple was officially registered as a temple with the Korean government in 2007. The name of Seonjisa Temple is in reference to the local town, Seonji. It is also the name of a local pond called Seonji, as well. Before 2007, it’s believed by some that there had been a temple on the Seonjisa Temple grounds until it fell into disrepair and disappeared altogether. For nearly thirty years, this temple was nothing more than a tent that the head monk lived in. Two lay women, or “bosal” in Korean,” donated a lot of money to have Seonjisa Temple built. Specifically, Seonjisa Temple was built for the worship of Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha). The idea for this design came to the head monk after he had seen the five hundred Nahan of Gongjuksa Temple in China, which is located in Unnamseong. With this in mind, the name of the main hall at Seonjisa Temple is that of a Yeongsan-jeon Hall for the worship of Nahan.
Finally, and according to the head monk at Seonjisa Temple, the goal of the temple is to make people in this multi-religious world of the 21st century feel comfortable at Seonjisa Temple (more on this idea later).
When you first approach Seonjisa Temple, you’ll approach it up a side road that snakes and winds its way up the foot of the mountain. Finally in the temple parking lot, and over a knoll, you’ll finally enter into the lower courtyard at Seonjisa Temple. To the left is the temple’s kitchen, and to the right are the monks’ dorms.
Straight ahead of you, and the largest shrine hall at Seonjisa Temple, is the Yeongsan-jeon (Vulture Peak Hall). The front entry doors to this hall are adorned with elfish-looking Gwimyeon (Monster Masks). There are two sets of murals that adorn the exterior walls of the Yeongsan-jeon Hall. The first set, which is the lower set of the two, are the Sibiji-shin (The Twelve Spirit Generals). Each of the twelve are simplistically painted in their own panel and surrounded by a painted circle. As for the second set, which is painted above the Sibiji-shin, are a collection of paintings dedicated to the Nahan.
But the real highlight to Seonjisa Temple is what resides inside the Seonjisa Temple. Housed inside the Yeongsan-jeon Hall at Seonjisa Temple are some five hundred statues of various figures.
These statues include such luminaries as Jangyu-hwasang (The monk brother of Queen Heo of Gaya), Wonhyo-daesa (617-686 A.D.), Uisang-daesa (625-702 A.D.), Seosan-daesa (1520-1604), and Jesus (Hyangsang-jonja – 향상존자). According to the head monk at Seonjisa Temple, Jesus is the 109th Nahan (Historical Disciple of the Buddha). And Jesus’ connection to the Nahan is through a temple in China. This temple in China is called Gongjuksa Temple in Unnamseong. Supposedly, Jesus traveled to China from the Middle East. And by way of China, and the aforementioned Chinese temple, Jesus traveled on to the Korean peninsula, and Seonjisa Temple in particular, with a Nahan. (This story was broadcast on a KBS TV program called Sponge). Jesus came to Korea to tell Koreans the message that we should live well together since the society we live in is multicultural and multi-religious.
As for the rest of the interior, and placed upon the main altar of the Yeongsan-jeon Hall, you’ll find four statues. The statue in the centre is that of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). This statue is joined on either side by Yeondeung-bul (The Past Buddha) and Mireuk-bul (The Historical Buddha). And the fourth statue to the far right on the main altar is a smaller version of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). Hanging on the far right wall is a well-populated Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural).
Up the mountainside to the right, you’ll find a small shrine hall dedicated to an Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) statue that dates back to 1605. This statue was only recently opened to the public within the past ten years, and the shrine hall that surrounds it proves just how recent of an addition it is. Backing the four hundred year old statue is a black mural of the Buddha of the Western Paradise. This black mural is also populated by the Four Heavenly Kings.
In the upper courtyard at Seonjisa Temple, and past a newly built storage area, you’ll find the temple’s Sanshin-gak Hall. Inside the Sanshin-gak Hall, you’ll find a simple, yet beautiful, mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). You also get a beautiful view of the western part of Gimhae from this vantage point, as well.
How To Get There
There are a couple of buses that go to Seonjisa Temple. You can take Bus #21 or Bus #30 to get to Seonjisa Temple. You’ll need to get off at the Dongseon-maeul stop. From this stop, you should be able to see signs that say “Seonjisa – 선지사” on them. There are numerous brown signs with the name of the temple on them. And the road that leads up to Seonjisa Temple is a dead-end. So once you start heading in the right direction, you shouldn’t get lost.
Overall Rating: 7/10
While a bit difficult to find, Seonjisa Temple is definitely worth the effort. Where else will you find a statue of Jesus at a Korean Buddhist temple? The location is beautiful. The statue of Amita-bul is beautiful. The statues inside the Yeongsan-jeon Hall, including Jesus, are masterful. And when you add the story behind the statue of Jesus, you’ll need to find the time to visit Seonjisa Temple in Gimhae, Gyeongsangnam-do.