Yeon-gok-sa is one of Jiri-san's great ancient traditional temples, sited directly south of Samdo-bong, the peak
where the borders of North Jeolla, South Jeolla and South Gyeongsang Provinces all meet (it's in front of the great
Banya-bong). It is claimed by some to have been founded in 543 by Master Yeon-gi-josa (he founded nearby
Hwaeom-sa in 544), but archaeologists think that it was probably founded near the end of the Unified Shilla
Dynasty (9th Century). It is said to have been renovated by the great Geomancy and Meditation Master
Doseon-guksa; he may actually have been this temple's founder.
It was renowned as an excellent Suseondo-ryang [Practicing Way of Meditation Site] from the 900s thru the 1500s.
It was burned down and looted during the Japanese Imjin invasion, and then rebuilt, but destroyed again by
Japanese soldiers fighting the Korean Resistance in the early 20th Cen. Tragically leveled yet again during the
Korean War by South Korean soldiers fighting communist partisans, it was finally re-constructed starting in 1981 --
it's now humble and quiet, far from its former splendor...
The Beob-dang or Main Hall
|The newly-built Samseong-gak [Three Sages Shrine] -- a modern temple building,
which certainly did not exist in the original complex.
The excellent modern San-shin painting now in that shrine, quite unusually featuring two
tigers -- perhaps a male-female couple for harmony and fertility. Two white cranes cavort
on the left of the main figure holding a handicrafted leaf-style fan. The girl dongja holds a
golden bottle (presumably of medicinal wine) while the boy dongja carries in a natural
gourd (ditto) -- an interesting yin-yang parallelism of the crafted and the natural...
The excellent modern Chil-seong and Dok-seong icons that accompany that San-shin.
As usual, a boy dongja prepares green tea for his enligtened master.
|the location of the "Northern Stupa", a steep climb uphill above the temple.
The "Northern Stupa", with Guardian figures carved on its octagonal shrine-stone.
It was probably carved in the early Goryeo Dynasty (10th century), but which great
monk's cremains it honors remains unknown.
This excellent San-shin painting was enshrined in
the Main Hall when I made my second visit here
in 1998 -- the above Samseong-gak had not yet
been built. It is elaborate and skillfully-detailed;
the modern-realistic tiger's gaze is intense.
It has two unique features -- the prominent gold
base of his royal crown, and the "flying scarf" on
his shoulders (usually seen on a dongja
attendant; rarely for a recent San-shin icon, no
dongja is shown).
|A square Lotus Pond with a round Island in it is a classical feature in
front of the new Abbot's Residence, in the temple's foreground.
The Chil-seong painting is actually quite unusual and
interesting, featuring the Ok-hwang-sangje or Jade
Emperor of Heaven (supreme Daoist deity) front-and-
center with a bizarre double-star crown (above-left); ministers and behind him with differing
prayer-mudras. The seven earthly officials reflecting the seven stars are depicted like San-
shins (above and right) -- one holds a white-crane-feather-fan, one holds a bullocho sprig,
and another performs a Buddhist mudra while wearing a full-length Daoist-style cowl. I don't
think that the artist intended that we think these holy gentlemen are San-shins -- he was
probably playfully mixing the usual motifs around. I've never seen one quite like this before...