If you look South-East from the ruins of Banwolseong fortress towards Mt. Namsan, you might see something a bit curious. Just across the Namcheon River in the little neighborhood of Gyo-dong is huge gold Buddha. It’s seated in the front courtyard of Nakch’eonwonsa (낙천원사), or literally “Optimistic Moon Temple.” It’s probably one of the newest temples in Gyeongju and if you’re out exploring area and got the time, it’s well worth checking out.
The big Buddha is fairly impressive up close and the temple grounds themselves are quite beautiful. They’ve got a number of statues scattered around; some by set a small lotus pond and traditional gazebo. It’s obvious the care-takers put a lot of TLC into the temple grounds. Every time I drop by, there’s something new around.
As a privately-funded temple, Nakch’eonwonsa is different from most Korean temples you’ll see. The outside of the Dharma hall is a little bit blah; just painted concrete and stain glass windows. But what’s on the inside makes up for it. The interior’s full of Buddhas of all shapes and sizes; some of them quite large. There’s a reclining Buddha, statue of Gwomsam Bosal (Boddhisatva of Mercy), large Shakamuni, Amitaba and Maitreya Buddhas and even a Tantric Bodhisattva (of the Japanese Shingon school , I believe). The walls are lined with reliefs of various Buddhist monks and saints. Feel free to go in, poke around and light some incense if you like; just remember to take your shoes off first.
This temple just opened just two years ago and it’s got an interesting back story. It’s an independent temple (not of the Jogye order), and it was founded by a by Korean-Japanese woman who has recently returned to Japan. My understanding is that this temple was built as a form of reconciliation or atonement for the Japanese occupation of Korea. The details I’m a little fuzzy about though, so if you know any more of the story, please let me know.
Part of the temple complex is Hayeonji Restaurant (하연지식당), which specializes in Korean cuisine using lotus root. I had the pleasure of finally eating here the other night. Unfortunately I forgot to bring my camera, so I’ll have to save a review for another post . Gives me a good excuse to back ;-)
Directions: Nakch’eonwon Temple is on the south side of the Namcheon River in the neighborhood of Gyo-dong, between Oreung Tombs and the bridge to Banwolseong Fortress. It’s kind of hard to miss… just look for the big gold Buddha.
View Ha Yeon Ji Restaurant (하연지식당) in a larger map