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Sowonsa Temple is located in the eastern part of Busan in Gijang-gun. Specifically, Sowonsa Temple is located below the beautiful peak of Mt. Hambaksan (339 m). Sowonsa Temple was first founded during the 1980’s, and it was built upon the spot where the famed monk Wonhyo-daesa (617-686 A.D.) once purportedly prayed. The name of the temple, Sowonsa Temple, means “Wish Temple,” in English. Also, it’s claimed that if you pray at Sowonsa Temple, you’ll have one of your wishes come true.
When you first approach Sowonsa Temple, your eyes will instantly be met by a world of colour and Buddhist iconography. First up are two rows on either side of the entry path leading up to the Cheonwangmun Gate of the twelve Zodiac Generals. Each of the twelve stone statues stand about two metres in height, and they are finely sculpted. The Cheonwangmun Gate, uniquely, is a two story structure. The first floor of this entry gate houses four smaller sized statue versions of the Four Heavenly Kings. On the second story is the Jong-ru (Bell Pavilion). And crowning the entire structure is a golden statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) that stands about three metres in height.
After passing through the Cheonwangmun Gate, and greeting you on the other side, is a white jade statue of Podae-hwasang (The Hempen Bag). Five small white jade children are crawling over the portly figure of Podae-hwasang. And backing this statue is an equally beautiful white jade Buddha triad.
To the right of this cluster of statues, and still in the lower temple courtyard, you’ll see a small stone bridge spanning an equally small koi pond filled with these colourful fish. Over the bridge, you’ll find a small Yongwang-dang Hall dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King). To the right of the Yongwang-dang Hall is a small shrine dedicated to an all-white Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). And there’s another wall shrine in this part of Sowonsa Temple that has hundreds of tiny golden Buddha statuettes on it.
To the left of this collection of shrines and shrine hall, you’ll make your way up to the main temple courtyard at Sowonsa Teple. Up this long partially enclosed entrance way, you’ll encounter three elevated stone statues dedicated to the idea of “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” These three statues take the form of three childlike Buddhas, which are meant to embody the Buddhist idea of not dwelling on bad thoughts. First up is the “speak no evil” statue, followed by the “hear no evil” statue, and the last being the “see no evil” statue in the set. At the end of the pathway, as you steadily climb the stairs on your way up towards the main temple courtyard, you’ll find another statue Podae-hwasang; this time, however, as a stone statue.
Straight ahead of you, and up a long set of stone stairs, is the elevated Daeung-jeon Hall. In front of the Daeung-jeon Hall is an amazing eleven-story stone pagoda. The pagoda is beautifully adorned with various Bicheon (Flying Heavenly Deities), Buddhas, and Boddhisattvas. To the right of the eleven-story pagoda, and still in the grassy part of the main temple courtyard, is a two-story building. The first floor of this building is the Myeongbu-jeon Hall. It houses various statues of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). And in front of this first story entrance is an outdoor shrine with three large statues of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) in the centre. This statue is joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal and Jijang-bosal. And there are six statues (three on either side), that lead up to the three larger statues. On the second floor of this building is the temple’s Gwaneum-jeon Hall. This shrine hall is filled with hundreds of golden statues of Gwanseeum-bosal. And the main altar of the Gwaneum-jeon Hall is occupied by a standing image of the Bodhisattva of Compassion with its thousand hands and eleven faces.
Next to the Gwaneum-jeon Hall, and before you get to the Daeung-jeon Hall, is a small shrine hall dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). Stepping inside the Chilseong-gak Hall, you’ll see a shrine hall filled with golden statues, and a rather plain main altar mural dedicated to the Seven Stars.
Back at the Daeung-jeon Hall, the exterior walls to the main hall are adorned with the Palsang-do (The Eight Scenes from the Buddha’s Life Murals). And the front latticework is adorned with beautiful wooden floral patterns. As for the interior of the Daeung-jeon Hall, you’ll see three large seated statues on the main altar centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). Seokgamoni-bul is then joined on either side of the main altar by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). To the right of this main altar triad is an equally large mural dedicated Chilseong (The Seven Stars). And to the left of the main altar triad is a mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) with an accompanying memorial shrine for the dead. Perhaps the most unique feature of the interior of the Daeung-jeon Hall is the large golden statue dedicated to Dongjin-bosal (The Bodhisattva that Protects the Buddha’s Teachings) in front of the Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural).
Up another set of stairs, this time a metal set, is the self-professed world famous Sanshin-gak Hall at Sowonsa Temple. In fact, there’s a sign leading up to the Sanshin-gak Hall that says as much, in Korean, stating that the temple has the largest Sanshin shrine in all of Asia (they don’t). At the bend in the metal stairs, and past the yellow wooden pavilion, is a large open hall. This area houses both the Sanshin-gak Hall and the Dokseong-gak Hall. The first of the two, and in an artificial cave, is the Sanshin-gak Hall. A large statue of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) sits in front of a smaller painting of the same shaman deity. To the right of the Sanshin-gak Hall is a more traditional Dokseong-gak Hall. A smaller statue of Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) fronts a larger painting of this very same shaman deity.
To the rear of the Sowonsa Temple grounds is an artificial pond. There is a deck that looks out onto the pond, and there’s also a five metre tall statue dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal to the rear of this artificial pond. The perimetre of the pond is lined with two metre tall statues of Buddhas, as well as a few benches along the way so that you can enjoy the view.
Another area that a visitor can explore at Sowonsa Temple is the mini-golf-like outdoor shrine that has seven yellow oval shrines with various Buddhas like Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) and Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy), as well as Chilseong (The Seven Stars) crowning the tops of the shrines’ spires. Up above this area is a small shrine that hovers over top of this peculiar outdoor shrine that houses sari (crystallized remains) of unknown origins. And to the right of this outdoor shrine is a display case that houses statues of the sixteen Nahan (The Disciples of the Historical Buddha).
And just as you’re about to leave is an area that houses more statues of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas like Gwanseeum-bosal and Birojana-bul. The central triad of the group is centred by Amita-bul and joined on either side by Jijang-bosal and another of Gwanseeum-bosal.
Admission to the temple is free. And if you want to see a video of this temple, check out my Youtube video of Sowonsa Temple.
How To Get There
In Busan, you’ll need to get off at the Beomeosa subway stop, which is stop #133, on the first line. After going out exit #2, you’ll see a bus that says “Sowonsa – 소원사” on it. This bus only leaves from the Beomeosa subway stop at 10 a.m., and it arrives at Sowonsa Temple a half hour later at 10:30 a.m. It’s unclear as to when this bus returns to the Beomeosa subway stop, but my guess would be when they have enough passengers to return to this part of Busan.
Overall Rating: 8/10
This temple packs a lot into such a small space. Beautiful iconography is spread throughout the grounds like the statue of Gwanseeum-bosal housed inside the Gwaneum-jeon Hall, the statue of Dongjin-bosal inside the Daeung-jeon Hall, the ornate eleven-story stone pagoda, the bizarre yellow mini-golf outdoor shrine, and the white jade statue of Podae-hwasang. Added to this is the koi pond at the entry of Sowonsa Temple, and the artificial pond to the rear of the temple grounds. Perhaps this contemporary temple isn’t for everyone with its garish colours; but if you can get past a bit of the temple’s gaudiness, at times, you’ll be well rewarded with this little known Busan temple.