Yongjangsa-ji Temple Site – 용장사지 (Gyeongju)
Temple Site History
Yongjangsa-ji Temple Site is located up the Yongjanggol Valley in Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do. The valley, which is named after the former temple, is the longest and deepest of the valleys on Mt. Namsan. The exact date of the temple is unknown. However, and because of archaeological evidence, we know that Yongjangsa Temple must have existed during the early Unified Silla (668-935 A.D.). We also know that it existed until at least the 15th century because it was where the scholar and poet Kim Si-seup (1435-1493) lived and wrote the Geumo Sinhwa, or “The New Stories of the Golden Turtle” in English.
As for Kim Si-seup, he was one of the saengyuksin, who was one of the six people who, after Danjong of Joseon (r. 1452-1455) lost his throne to King Sejo of Joseon (r. 1455-1468), refused government service in protest. Instead of becoming a government official, he became a Buddhist monk at the age of twenty-one. It was during his journeys as a monk, and as recorded in the Donggyeongjapgi, a passage there states, “…a shrine of Maewoldang [Kim Si-seup’s pen name] is located in the eastern hill on the south side of Mt. Geumo [the former name of Mt. Namsan]. That place is the old site of Yongjangsa, and where Kim Si-seup stayed.” It’s believed that Kim Si-seup wrote Geumo Sinhwa at Yongjangsa Temple from 1465-1470, when Kim was between the ages of thirty-one and thirty-six. The Geumo Sinhwa is a collection of five short stories written in Chinese characters. The collection was Korea’s first collection of short stories. The short stories take the form of fantasy about people experiencing supernatural events.
During Japanese Colonial rule (1910-1945), archaeological evidence was discovered on the temple site with the inscription of Yongjangsa Temple on it. This helped to definitively identify the name of the temple. Currently, the clearings where Yongjangsa Temple once stood occupy some seventy metres from east to west and forty metres from north to south.
In total, the Yongjangsa-ji Temple Site is home to three Korean Treasures. These Korean Treasures are the Three-Story Stone Pagoda in Yongjangsagol Valley of Namsan Mountain, which is Korean Treasure #186; the Stone Seated Buddha in Yongjangsagol Valley of Namsan Mountain, which is Korean Treasure #187; and the Rock-Carved Seated Buddha at Yongjangsa Temple Site in Namsan Mountain, which is Korean Treasure #913.
Temple Site Legend
In addition to the historical significance associated with Yongjangsa Temple and Kim Si-seup, the temple was also home to another famous monk. According to the Samguk Yusa, or Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms in English, the monk Taehyeon, who also just so happened to be the founder of the Yuga-jong sect, lived at Yongjangsa Temple. It was his regular practice to walk around a sixteen foot tall stone statue dedicated to Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) in the courtyard of the temple. And the statue of Mireuk-bul would always turn its head to face Taehyeon. This is the very same Stone Seated Buddha in Yongjangsagol Valley of Namsan Mountain that still stands on the temple site grounds to this day.
The Samguk Yusa goes on to detail Taehyeon’s study of the Yuga-jong teachings by the monk. It states, “The doctrines of the Yuga-jong [Consciousness-Only sect] were difficult to understand that a famous Tang poet and other Chinese scholars gave up its study, saying that they were unable to follow the labyrinth of its reasoning. But Taehyeon, by his superhuman wisdom and intelligence, easily mastered it, and soon his mind was enlightened concerning its obscurities, enabling him to perceive what was wicked and corrupt in the light of its revelations. For this reason, all his juniors in the East [Korea] followed his teachings and many scholars in the Middle Kingdom [China] took him as a model.”
The Samguk Yusa goes on to say about Taehyeon, but not about Yongjangsa Temple, that “When rain did not fall as usual…King Gyeongdeok summoned Taehyeon to the inner palace to chant the Geumwang-gyeong [Golden Light Sutra] and to pray for rain. As he was chanting the scripture and offering sacrifices to the Buddha one day, he uncovered his wooden bowl so that it could be filled with water for purification. But the King’s servant was late in bringing the water, and a palace official rebuked him. The servant excused himself, saying ‘The palace well is drained to the bottom and I had to go to a spring deep in the mountains.’
“When Taehyeon heard this, he raised the burning censer in his hands, and fresh, cool water leaped from the palace well seventy feet into the sky in a solid jet like the flagpole at a temple, to the amazement of the King and the palace officials. From that time the well was known as Geumwang-jeong [The Well of Golden Light].”
Temple Site Layout
You first make your way to the Yongjangsa-ji Temple Site up the Yongjanggol Valley. The first seven hundred metres of the journey skirt the side of the deep valley. You’ll then cross over a wooden bridge. It’s here that the trail becomes nearly vertical for the next four hundred metres. Eventually, you’ll arrive at the first ridge that houses Yongjangsa-ji Temple Site. To the left, where the trail forks, you’ll find a stone wall where former parts of the temple once stood. Now, however, you’ll find older earthen tombs.
Back at where the trail forks, and now headed towards the right, you’ll find another clearing where Yongjangsa Temple once stood. Here, and looking up, you’ll finally see the Three-Story Stone Pagoda in Yongjangsagol Valley of Namsan Mountain a further thirty metres up the mountainside. It’s also in this area that you’ll see two pieces of a former stone pagoda. You’ll also get a beautiful view down at the valley that you just hiked.
Now climbing a set of stairs, you’ll come face-to-face with the stunning Stone Seated Buddha in Yongjangsagol Valley of Namsan Mountain. This mid-8th century statue believed to be dedicated to Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) is missing its head. Uniquely, the statue has a small body when compared to the ringed pedestal that it sits upon. The pedestal almost looks like a three-story pagoda. The top level of the pedestal has lotus relief patterns on it. As for the statue, it resembles that of a monk. The robe covers both the shoulders, and it hangs down to the upper part of the pedestal.
Looking up, and past the stone image of Mireuk-bul, you’ll see the Three-Story Stone Pagoda in Yongjangsagol Valley of Namsan Mountain. But before climbing the stairs that will lead you up to this pagoda, you’ll find the Rock-Carved Seated Buddha at Yongjangsa Temple Site in Namsan Mountain to the rear of the Stone Seated Buddha in Yongjangsagol Valley of Namsan Mountain. This rock carving is an image of a seated Buddha. It appears on the face of a rock cliff. This carving is believed to date back to some time between 977 to 1022 A.D. The Buddha appears with curly hair and a gentle smile. The right hand is placed upon its knee, and its fingertips point down towards the ground. Additionally, there is an inscription of ten Chinese characters that are now illegible. Overall, the stone relief is well-preserved.
Finally mounting the steep, side-winding stairs, you’ll finally arrive at the top of this part of the mountain where the picturesque Three-Story Stone Pagoda in Yongjangsagol Valley of Namsan Mountain stands. The three-story pagoda was first constructed during Unified Silla (668-935 A.D.). The base of the pagoda is two-layered with the lower layer made from natural rock. The four corners of each body-stone turns upwards. Unfortunately, the finial is missing from the top of the pagoda. In 1922, the three-story pagoda was rebuilt; however, the sari reliquary inside has long since gone missing. Rather interestingly, the entire mountain looks as though it supports the entirety of the pagoda, as it looks out towards the western part of Mt. Namsan and the city of Gyeongju.
How To Get There
From the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal, the easiest way to get to Yongjangsa-ji Temple Site is by taxi. When you get into the taxi, you’ll need to ask the driver to take you to “Yongjang Juchajang – 용장주차장” (which is a parking lot for the valley). The taxi ride will take you about ten minutes, and it’ll cost you about 10,000 won (one way). From where the taxi drops you off, you’ll need to walk about nine hundred metres towards Mt. Namsan and the entry of the Yongjanggyegok Valley. Having passed by several stores and houses, you’ll next pass through this part of the Gyeongju National Park system at Mt. Namsan; and more specifically, the Yongjanggol Valley. From the entry of the valley, you’ll need to walk about one kilometre down the long valley. Finally, you’ll find the Seoljang-gyo Bridge to your left. Across this bridge, and up a steep climb, you’ll make your way towards the Yongjangsa-ji Temple Site for an additional four hundred metres.
Overall Rating: 8/10
The views alone from this part of Mt. Namsan make the journey up towards the Yongjangsa-ji Temple Site well worth the trip; but when you add the three Korean Treasures into the mix at the Yongjangsa-ji Temple Site, you’ll have more than enough reason to visit this southern part of Gyeongju. The headless Mireuk-bul statue is stunning. And it’s joined by the picturesque three-story pagoda above it. Added all together, and Yongjangsa Temple, when it still operated, must have been one amazing place to have visited. Even still, as a temple site, it’s still a pretty special place to see.