Guinsa Temple’s Grand Buildings in Danyang, Korea
Guinsa (구인사) is the headquarters of the Cheontae school of Buddhism located just outside of Danyang, South Korea and has to be one of the most interesting Buddhist temples on the peninsula.
Cheontae is the Korean version of China’s Tiantai teachings which were brought to Korea and firmly established during the time of Uicheon, a Korean Buddhist monk who was the son of Emperor Munjong of Goryeo, between 1055 and 1101. It had a major impact on Goryeo Buddhism, but then lost popularity and disappeared for some time in Korea before being re-established in 1945 by Sangwol Wongak and has about two million followers in Korea today.
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The original buildings were burnt down during the Korean war and were rebuilt in 1966. It has been expanding ever since up into the Seoback Mountains. Being so new, this temple complex is bright and shiny and really quite large. There are over 50 buildings to walk around. The buildings stand quite tall at 3 and 4 stories, unlike other older temple buildings in Korea that are only 1 or 2 stories tall. That is one reason this temple is really stunning to behold.
The only way to get to Guinsa is by bus or a private car from Danyang taking about 30 minutes. You’ll be dropped off at the bottom of a mountain, which is quite a hike up to see everything, but well worth it in the end. To truly see the temple requires a rather continuous hike so be prepared as it can seem quite daunting at times. The views all the way up are spectacular and worth it though so put on those hiking shoes, bring a camera and be prepared to huff and puff and stand in awe.
The first building to go through is the Four Heavenly Kings Gate.
Once inside there are impressively decorated buildings all over the place. There is the Storehouse Hall, 5-Story Law Hall, Cafeteria Hall and the Great Teacher Hall a memorial to Sangwol Wongak, among many more. The cafeteria offers up three free meals a day with lunch starting at 11:30 and ending at 1:30. The simple meal is made up of rice, kimchi and soup and visitors are welcome to help in the upkeep of the temple by washing dishes, hoeing rice fields or preparing kimchi, as many of the women were doing the day we were there. Unfortunately, they aren’t set up for English visitors very well, so it would be best to take a Korean friend if you wish to volunteer. Even without translation assistance though, most people will probably understand what you want to do if you hold out your hands and try to sit down to help so feel free to partake.
While so many of the temples in Korea can seem monotonous at times to the untrained eye with the same basic color scheme, architecture and symbols, this temple truly stands out with its sheer height.
The temple is built sloping up the mountain so that is requires a true hike in order to actually see the whole temple. Most temples require a hike to them, but then the temple itself is all at one elevation. This is one unique aspect of this grandiose temple.
The Cheontae Doctrine holds the Lotus Sutra of Buddhists teachings in highest esteem. They believe that all things are empty and without essential reality, that all things have a provisional reality, and that all things are absolutely unreal and provisionally real both at once. One of the most interesting parts of this temple, aside from the way it is built going up up up into the mountains rather than all at the same height and platform, are the rather horrific paintings. Most temples in Korea that I’ve been to seem to showcase calming artistic works. While they may have a hidden truth or explain some gruesome reality, they never look it, however at Guinsa, the paintings hid nothing.
If you’ll be headed to the area and want to know where to stay, check out the Yeongju Hotel for some comfortable accommodation or the Ecopia Pension to get more of an outdoorsy adventure while you’re in the area.
충천북도 단양군 영춘면 백자리 132-1
132-1 Baekja-ri Yungchoon-myeon Danyang-gun Chungcheongbuk-do, Korea
To get to Danyang two train lines are available from Cheongnyangni station. There are the Mugunghwa services which run every hour or two and take about 3 hours and 15 minutes and two Saemaeul expresses daily that shave off thirty minutes and take 2 hours and 45 minutes. There are also buses available from Express Bus Terminal or Dong Seoul Bus Terminal. While in Danyang another site to see would be the Gosu Caves if there’s time.