|Samjeong-bong Shilsang-sa 삼정봉 실상사
one of the Gusan-seonjeong Zen Temples
in the Upper-North / Samjeong-bong / Sector of Jiri-san
Shilsang-sa is one of Jiri-san's twelve great ancient traditional temples, sited directly north
of Samjeong-bong, peak of a long major ridge running straight north from Jiri-san's main
ridgeline, in Namwon City Sannae-myeon District's eastern side (close to the border with
Hamyang County's Macheon-myeon). It remains as one of Korea’s most venerable
temples devoted to Seon [Chan, Zen, Meditation-based] Buddhism, one of the nation’s
The Monk Hongcheok traveled to Tang-Dynasty China together with Monk Do-eui in the early 800s, and
both returned after becoming certified as enlightened in the newly-fashionable Seon Lineages. Upon his
return, Hongcheok was named Guksa [National Master] by the king of Shilla, and in 828 he established
the “Shilsang-sanmun” [True-Nature Mountain-Gate], one of the “Gusan-seonmun” [Nine Mountains
Meditational Gates] temples. (Master Do-eui similarly built Bolim-sa at Jangheung Gaji-san, another of
Master Hongcheok spread the seon teachings widely after building this temple, which he reportedly sited
here on the northern tip of the Jiri Mountains according to a geomantic theory he intuited, that if a major
temple was not constructed there, the spiritual/earth-energy of Korea would flow over to Japan. Master
Hongcheok’s portrait is still enshrined in the Bogwang-jeon Hall, along with the Beobjong Scripture he
brought from China and a portrait of later Master Sucheol. Shilsang-sa was renovated and expanded by
royal order in the early 900s according the advice of geomantic master Doseon-daesa.
The temple was destroyed and looted in 1597 during the “Jeongyu-jaeran” battle of the Imjin War, but then
slowly rebuilt. The Geuknak-jeon Hall was rebuilt in 1684; it enshrines a unique statue of Amita Buddha.
The Yaksa-jeon Hall contains a late-Shilla Iron Medicinal-Buddha, damaged by robbers to steal its interior
treasures, which have been lost. The other existing buildings are the Myeongbo-jeon, Chilseong-gak,
Seonrisudo-won and Nu-gak.
Shilsang-sa was burned down again by Japanese soldiers fighting the Korean resistance in the early
20th century. During the Japan’s colonial rule the Abbot was interrogated due to a rumor that ringing this
temple’s bell would cause damage to Japan itself. The temple was re-constructed to its present form in
the 1970s. It is now famous for generating & hosting a "Green-Movement" organic-farming meditative
statue, cast around 800 CE.
The San-shin painting of Shilsang-sa, as of 1990, was unexceptional -- neither
artistically skillful nor symbolically interesting. The girl dongja offers three
peaches while the boy fans the tea-water furnace; the tea-cup up front is
over-sized. The pair of white cranes up top is a pleasant & dignified touch.
A nice essay at: http://english.ohmynews.com/, "Embraced Warmly By the Mountain Slopes"
by citizen reporter Park Do-on 2004-09-11, includes the following lines:
The dictionary defines the Korean term "Shilsang" as "that of everything as it is, the true nature of things as
they really are." If so, does that make Shilsang Temple the "Zen temple that reveals in detail the true nature of
Rev. Dobeop, whom I met in Shilsang Temple's mediation hall, says, "Only when we search for life's truths and
solve that problem can we free ourselves from anxiety." They say, however, that even Zen masters who have
spent their entire lives meditating cannot find "life's truths" or "true nature of life," so how was an everyday
person like myself, with my "five desires and seven emotions," going to learn the true nature of life within a
short period of time?
The mantra below is one I like; if I repeat it when I'm ill at ease, I soon grow peaceful:
Life is a snatch of drifting cloud appearing
Death is a snatch of drifting cloud disappearing
As a passing cloud originally has no real substance
The coming and going of life and death is like that.
This summer, I followed my wife to the "Four Seasons of Ecological Farming Experience Summer Camp," run
by the Indramang Life Community. Indramang, or "Indra's Net," refers to the Buddhist philosophy that all
phenomena exist only interdependently on other phenomena, and the movement is one that seeks an
alternative means of living through returning to the soil and ecological awareness....
The following is what is written at the entrance of Silsang Temple:
"Rev. Heungcheok first founded the temple, which faces the Jiri Mountains' Cheonhwang Peak, in the third
year of King Heungdeok of the Unified Silla Period. In the late Silla period, a number of sects of the Zen
school, which emphasized meditation over scholastic learning, set up temples on famous mountains across
the country; Shilsang Temple was one of them.
The temple was burnt down in Toyotomi Hideyoshi's second invasion of Korea in 1597, and rebuilt during the
reign of Joseon's King Sukjong (1674-1720) as a 36-building complex. Another fire struck in the reign of King
Gojong (1863-1907), and it was restored as the smaller complex it is currently.
As many outstanding monks were sent to Shilsang Temple, its prestige within Korean Zen Buddhism rose
greatly. Within its precincts, there remain many cultural treasures that speak of the temple's historical
significance and character, including the Baekjang Hermitage 3-storied stone pagoda, which has been
designated a National Treasure.
The mountain ridges that gracefully descend from Cheonhwang Peak like an East Asian folding screen softly
embrace and protect the temple as if there were the mercy of the Buddha. The clean, clear water of the
Banseon Ravine, which originate from the Jiri Mountains, meanders down next to the temple, as if to wash
away the anxiety of this mundane world..."
... we listened to Dobeop's dharma lecture. His speech was a good one; I regret not having brought a tape
recorder or note pad. I'm 60 and I understand whatever is said to me, but on the other hand, my memory is
starting to slip. Of the many things the Zen master said, however, two things still remain with me:
"People say that feces and urine are dirty, but who made them?" and
"If you try to solve life's fundamental problems with economic logic,
all you do is create more places to fight."
His words were good ones, but as the trip back home would be long,
we furtively slipped out of Shilsang Temple and started our way back north.
San-shin painting of Yaksa-am
Hermitage, a short healthy hike up
behind Shilsang-sa, in 1990
|Further in this Section -- the Upper-
North / Samjeong-bong area of Jiri-san:
Yaksu-am, Geumdae-am, Anguk-am,
Seojin-am and Baekjang-am Hermitages
Western Macheon-myeon District:
Yeongwon-sa and Godam-sa
Sambul-sa, Munsu-am, Sangmuju-am and Dosol-am
Other Shrines in the Area
San-shin stands holding sprigs of bullocho, with long white eyebrows,
moustache and beard, wearing a handsome cabbage-leaf-style Daoist
"cloud-cap" in Shilsang-sa's Shin-jung painting -- standing next to a striking
warrior-guardian with tiger-skin hat-mantle... I used this in my book.
Shilsang-sa has recently become
known as inspirational center of
modern Korea's "back-to-the-land" or
"return to farms" movement, called
귀농운동 Guinong-undong, which
combines values and issues of urban-
stress-relief, frugality, ecological
concern, Buddhist spirituality and
traditional national culture.