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Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Namo Palbeon Daebosal, Part XIX: Chilbulsa, Hadong, Southern Gyeongsang


Chilbulsa (Hanja: 七佛寺; English: The Temple of Seven Buddhas) is located at an altitude of 800 meters, just below Rabbit Peak (Tokkibong; 1,533 meters above sea level) on Mount Jiri, and is about 20 ri (ri is a traditional measurement of distance; one ri is about 0.393 kilometers) north of Ssanggyesa Temple. The current address for this temple is 528 Beomwang Drive/Beomwang-gil, Beomwang-ri 1605-beonji, Hwagae-myeon, Hadong County, Southern Gyeongsang Province. This temple is worth to visit after spending your curfew in Hwagae Market. 
 
According to a legend, the seven princes of King Suro of Geumgwan Gaya a.k.a Kim Suro set out to follow the Great Monk Okbo in order to enter the Buddhist priesthood. They built Unsangwon on Mount Jiri and after six years of practice, they attained priesthood and built Chilburam Hermitage. Okbo-go of Silla is said to have studied the geomungo (traditional Korean stringed instrument) for 50 years at Unsangwon of Chilbulsa Temple, leaving behind about 30 pieces of music.

The temple is situated 800 metres in elevation, and according to geomancy, it has one of the most auspicious locations in all of Korea. Unfortunately, most of the temple was burned to the ground during the Korean War (1950~1953). More recently, in 1984, Chilbulsa Temple was both renovated and restored to its present-day appearance.

When you first approach the temple grounds, you'll first pass by a large budo to your right as well as a stately Iljumun Gate. A little further along, you'll come to the temple's parking lot, and the base of a long set of stairs. The front facade of Chilbulsa Temple is rather stately with the conference hall and the bell pavilion looking out on the world.

Passing under the conference hall, you'll catch your first glimpse of the golden altar inside the main hall, as you enter the temple courtyard. To your far right are the monks' living quarters, kitchen, and office. And to your left is the historic Ajabang Hall. This hall dates back to King Hyogong (887-912). It was named this because of the shape of its floor plan. A cross-shaped central walking floor is raised above ㄷ/digeut-shaped platforms at each end of the hall for meditation. Each of the platforms are half a metre above the floor and heated by the Korean ondol system. And behind you, from where you came, you can see the compact bell pavilion and the conference hall that is illustrated with some stunning murals.

Straight ahead is the main hall at Chilbulsa Temple. Surrounding the exterior of this main hall are both the Palsang-do murals which depict the eight stages in the Historical Buddha's life, as well as the Shimu-do (Ox-Herding) murals. Both sets are beautifully executed, while uniquely, the Palsang-do murals possesses two additional murals to make it a set of ten instead of the standard eight. Additionally, there are two beautiful murals of both Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) near the side entrances to the main hall. As for the interior of the main hall, and sitting on the main altar, is an amazingly ornate golden altar piece fronted by a triad of statues. In the centre sits Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). And he's flanked by Munsu-bosal and Bohyun-bosal on either side of him. This main altar sits under a large red canopy and intricate illustrations throughout the depths of the main hall. Another amazing feature to the main hall is the golden altar to the right of the main one. Posed all in gold are the seven Buddhas that the temple is named after: the seven sons of King Suro. Finally, and to the left of the main altar, is another golden mural; this time, a guardian sculpture.

The final hall of any interest at Chilbulsa Temple is the Gwaneeum-jeon Hall to the right of the main hall. Sitting on the main altar inside of this hall is a beautiful statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). She's backed by an equally beautiful red mural with various Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Nahan, and guardians populating the mural. And to the left of the main altar is another red mural, this time, a guardian mural.