Taeansa Temple – 태안사 (Gokseong, Jeollanam-do)
Taeansa Temple, which is located on Mt. Bongdusan (753.8 m), or Mt. Dongrisan (as the temple calls this mountain), in Gokseong, Jeollanam-do. And even though it’s several kilometres away from Mt. Jirisan (1915 m), the temple is still considered part of the greater Mt. Jirisan area. The name of the temple means “Grand Peace Temple,” in English. According to historical documents, Taeansa Temple was first constructed in February, 742 A.D. by three master monks. Later, Great Meditation Master Hyecheol Jeogin-seonsa (785-861 A.D.), who received Buddhist teachings from Grand Master Seodang-jijang of Tang China, returned to the Silla Kingdom. He established Dongrisanmun, which was one of the Gusan Seonmun (Seon’s Nine Original Sects). He expanded the formerly small Taeansa Temple.
Later, Doseon-guksa (826-898 A.D.), the founder of Pungsu (Korean Geomancy), learned under Master Hyecheol. Doseon-guksa achieved enlightenment at Taeansa Temple. During the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), the temple was repaired and expanded by the monk Gwangja-daesa (864-945 A.D.) in 919 A.D. The temple, at this time, housed forty buildings. It was also home to a famous statue of Yaksayeorae-bul (The Medicine Buddha, and the Buddha of the Eastern Paradise), which stood 1.4 metres in height and was made from iron.
The temple was again repaired in 1223 by the influential official Choi U. Also, Hyoryeong, the second son of King Taejong (r.1400-1418), stayed at Taeansa Temple. During his stay, he built Wandang (a temple building) and wrote the Wandang Wangi. At this time, the temple became a site of royal patronage.
Sadly, the temple was completely destroyed during the Imjin War (1592-1598) by the invading Japanese. However, not long after, it was rebuilt and restored to its former condition. During Japanese Colonization (1910-1945), Taeansa Temple became a branch temple to Hwaeomsa Temple. But once more, tragedy struck, as most of the temple buildings like the Daeung-jeon Hall were destroyed during the Korean War (1950-1953). A few of the temple structures that weren’t destroyed were the Iljumun Gate (The One Pillar Gate), the Boje-ru Pavilion, and the Neungpa-gak Bridge. Fortunately, reconstruction of the temple commenced in the 1970’s to return Taeansa Temple to its former glory. Still large parts of the temple are off-limits, as the temple is known as a quiet contemplative site for meditation. Previously, Taeansa Temple was only open once a year for Buddha’s Birthday. Now, the temple is open to the public.
In total, Taenansa Temple is home to five Korean Treasures. It also houses three additional provincial treasures.
The long valley, which stretches up a dirt road for 1.8 kilometres, is one of the most beautiful temple entries in all of Korea. The entry is especially beautiful during the fall months with the colourful foliage. You’ll know that you’re nearing the temple grounds when you encounter a large pagoda dedicated to the Korean War.
A little further up the dirt road, and you’ll notice the Neungpa-gak Bridge. This wooden bridge links the temple grounds to the hermitages that surround Taeansa Temple. This beautiful wooden bridge has a blue dragon adorning the ceiling, and this blue dragon has extra long whiskers. Neungpa-gak Bridge spans a narrow stream that flows down and through jagged rocks, creating a cascade of rolling water.
The next thing to greet you at Taeansa Temple is the elevated artificial pond at the temple. This pond is called Yeon-ji Pond, and sitting in the centre of Yeon-ji Pond is a three-story stone pagoda that’s believed to date back to the early Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). This pagoda was recently restored from the gathered remains of a pagoda that formerly stood around the stupa dedicated to the monk Gwangja-daesa. This pagoda is Jeollanam-do Cultural Material #170. Additionally, there is a stone bridge that spans the length of the pond which allows you up-close access to the ancient pagoda.
Now approaching from the south-west, you’ll be welcomed to the temple grounds by the ornate Iljumun Gate, or the “One Pillar Gate,” in English. This entry gate survived the destruction that consumed most of the temple grounds. The Iljumun Gate was first constructed at Taeansa Temple in 1683, and it underwent two repairs in 1917 and 1980. The Iljumun Gate is Jeollanam-do Tangible Cultural Heritage #83. Interestingly, there are two name plaques on the gate. One reads “Taeansan Temple of Dongrisan Mountain.” And the other reads, “Bonghwangmun Gate.”
To the east, you’ll notice the recently renovated Budowon, which houses the stele and stupas of monks that once called Taeansa Temple home. Of this collection, it’s the Stele of Buddhist Monk Gwangja (Korean Treasure #275) and the Stupa of Buddhist Monk Gwangja (Korean Treasure #274) that are most noteworthy. The stele’s body has been destroyed with only fragments of it still remaining. The base of the stele is a short-necked turtle. And the capstone of the stele is highly ornate with four snake-heads on each of the corners, either vines or clouds intertwining throughout the capstone, and a Geungnakjo (Imaginary Bird that Lives in the Buddhist Heavens) at the front and centre of the capstone. This stele was built in 950 A.D., which was five years after Gwangja-daesa died. As for the stupa, it’s well-preserved. The body of the stupa is adorned with the Four Heavenly Kings, and lotus flowers are carved onto the upper pedestal. This stupa, like the stele dedicated to Gwangja-daesa, was constructed in 950 A.D.
A little further up the path, you’ll notice the Boje-ru Pavilion to your left. This pavilion is joined by the temple’s bell pavilion, which is called a Jong-gak Pavilion, in Korean. As you enter the main temple courtyard, you’ll notice the Daeung-jeon Hall straight ahead of you. The exterior walls to this hall are adorned with Buddhist motif murals. And as you step inside the Daeung-jeon Hall, and resting on the main altar, is a triad centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). This statue is joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). The murals inside the Daeung-jeon Hall are dedicated to famous monks like the Bodhidharma. Hanging on the left wall is a mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal, and hanging on the right wall is the Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural).
To the left rear of the Daeung-jeon Hall is the newly built Samseong-gak Hall. Housed inside this shaman shrine hall are three murals dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars), Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), and Dokseong (The Lonely Spirit). Previously, there had been no Samseong-gak Hall at Taeansa Temple, which made it one of the few Jogye-jong Order temples not to have this shaman shrine hall. I guess this decision was recently reconsidered. Now, you’ll find three newly painted shaman murals with a very aggressive-looking tiger in the Sanshin mural.
To the right rear of the Daeung-jeon Hall is the Yaksa-jeon Hall, which was formerly the Cheonbul-jeon Hall (at least according to the temple map at Taeansa Temple). Except for the dancheong traditional colours, the Yaksa-jeon Hall exterior walls are unadorned. As for the interior, you’ll find a solitary statue of Yaksayeorae-bul (The Medicine Buddha, and the Buddha of the Eastern Paradise) on the main altar.
To the rear of the Yaksa-jeon Hall, and up a set of uneven stone stairs and through an entry gate, you’ll find another Budowon. Housed inside this area is the Stupa of Master Jeokin, which is Korean Treasure #273. The stupa is believed to date back to 861 A.D. This highly ornate stupa is adorned with lions around the base, the Four Heavenly Kings around the base of the stupa, and symbolic images of elephant eyes carved on each side of the middle pedestal.
How To Get There
From the Gokseong Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take a bus bound for Wondal using the Amnok bus. The bus ride will take an hour and a half, and it lasts forty-nine stops. You’ll need to get off at the Wondal Stop, which is where Taeansa Temple is located, and then walk the 2.5 km into the temple.
Overall Rating: 8/10
Taeansa Temple is scenically located deep in the mountain away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. In fact, and until recently, the temple was off-limits to visitors to preserve the tranquil meditative nature of the Taeansa Temple. In addition to its beautiful location, Taeansa Temple has a handful of treasured historic artifacts and an exquisite three-story pagoda in the centre of a large artificial pond. Taeansa Temple seems like a temple from a different century, preserving the original nature of Seon Buddhism.