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Guinsa nestled into the valley in the Sobaek Mountains
Korean name
Hangul 구인사
Hanja 救仁寺
Revised Romanization Guinsa
McCune–Reischauer Kuinsa

Coordinates: 37°01′52″N 128°28′48″E / 37.0310021°N 128.4799147°E / 37.0310021; 128.4799147 Guinsa, (Temple of Salvation and Kindness) in the Yeonhwa area of the Sobaek Mountains located near Danyang in Chungcheongbuk-do, South Korea, is the headquarters of the Cheontae school of Korean Buddhism. Guinsa is the administrative center of over 140 sub-temples and hermitages of the Cheontae sect.[1]

Although the architecture of Guinsa follows that of many other Buddhist temples in Korea, it is also markedly different in that the structures are several stories tall, instead of the typical one or two stories that structures in many other Korean temples have. This may be due to the restraints of the valley in which it is located and to modern construction techniques, but it creates a visual experience that is both beautiful and unique from what one sees at other temples.

Up to 10,000 monks can live here at any one point while the kitchen can serve food for twice that number when needed.[2] The ubiquitous black slate roof tiles found commonly on Korean temples is occasionally replaced by orange glazed tiles reminding one of those seen on the roofs of Beijing's Forbidden City. Some buildings resemble the Potala Palace in Lhasa with their use of height and vertical lines.[3]

The temple maintains and operates a large farm system covering over 60,000 pyeong/198 sq KM/0.689295 sq MI and provides much of the food prepared and consumed at the the temple. Guinsa operates Geumgang University near Wonsan, between Nonsan and Daejeon. [4]



Unlike many of Korea's temples, Guinsa is fairly new, dating only back to 1945. The temple is strikingly located, squeezed into a narrow valley surrounded on all sides by mountains, and its location was decreed by head monk Sangwol Wongak's (上月圓覺) interpretation of the Lotus Sutra.

Guinsa halls fill the valley below

The original temple was burned down during the Korean War, but the reconstruction of the first building was completed in 1966 and the complex, which now incorporates over 50 buildings, is still expanding.[4]

In 1967 the Cheontae school is reestablished at Guinsa and registered with the Korean government as the Cheontae Order. Master Sangwol assumes his position position as the First Patriarch of the Order.[4]

The 5-Story Dharma Law Hall (5층대법당 Ocheung Daebeoptang) is completed and becomes the largest building of its kind on Korea.[4]

1982 brings the establishment Geumgang Buddhist College at the Geumgang Institute.[4]


Early History

Early history leading to the establishment of Guinsa:[4]

Cheontae Sect Logo
  • 581~597 A.D. - Master Yeongwang of the Silla Dynasty studies the "Sublime Contemplation of the Lotus" under Master Zhiyi in China later returning to Silla to teach the Cheontae Doctrine.
  • 730 A.D. - Silla monks Peopyung, Ieung and Sunyeong study the Cheontae teaching under Grand Master Chwagye Hyeonrang and return to Korea to transmit the Cheontae doctrine.
  • 1097 A.D. - The Cheontae school of Korea is founded by National Master Daegak Guksa at Gukcheonsa (temple).
  • 1424 A.D. - The Cheontae school is consolidated into the Zen (Seon) school as part of the Yi Dynasty's anti- Buddhist policy. This resulted in the Cheontae teachings being merged with folk Buddhism.
  • 1855 A.D. - Layman Weolchang Kim Taehyeon writes "Seonhak Lumun (Gateway to Zen), an exposition of Cheontae meditation practices, to help preserve the Cheontae traditions.


Notable structures include:

Daejosajeon (대조사전) or Great Teacher Hall near the top of the valley.
  • The Great Teacher Hall (대조사전 Daejosajeon), a shrine erected in the memory of Sangwol Wongak, a large statue of whom can be found inside.
  • The Four Heavenly Kings Gate (사천왕문 Sacheonwangmun) is a two story stone structure, containing statues of the Four Heavenly Kings, marking the start of the temple complex.
  • The 5-Story Dharma Law Hall (5층대법당 Ocheung Daebeoptang), also referred to as the 5-story Grand Dharma Hall, completed in 1980 is reputedly one of the largest temple buildings in Korea, and like so many of the other buildings on the temple complex, is elaborate in both terms of painting and structural design. The first and second floors contain meditation halls for the monks. The third and forth floors have shrine rooms for devotees wishing to offer prayer. The fifth floor contains the huge Dharma Hall housing a large gilded altar of the main Buddha Shakyamuni, Supreme Budda of the present, flanked by his attendants. On the left sits Avalokitesvara, Bodhisattva of Compassion, and on the right sits Mahasthamaprapta, Bodhisattva of wisdom. A unique Thangka behind the Buddhas is a painted raised wood carving.[4]
  • The Cafeteria Hall (향적당 Hyangjeokdang) contains the huge kitchen and large temple cafetria.
  • The Three Story Stone Pagoda (Samcheung Seoktap), located in front of the main sanctuary is a reliquary housing the sarira of the Buddha brought back from the monastery of the Jetavana in India. Three elephants support the base of the pagoda and these strong, intelligent animals symbolize the Buddha's Dharma.[4]



  1. ^ "Explore Korea - Essence of Culture and Tourism" p202
  2. ^ Paxton, Norbert "Korea" p343
  3. ^ Paxton, Norbert "Korea" p343&344
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Chon Un Dok "Guinsa"

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Temple buildings featuring the Cheontae logo
Temple buildings featuring the Cheontae logo

Guinsa (구인사, 救仁寺), also Kuinsa, is a large, remote temple complex in North Chungcheong, South Korea.

Detail of temple roof supports
Detail of temple roof supports

Guinsa is the headquarters of the Cheontae (천태) [1] school of Buddhism, the Korean version of China's Tiantai teachings. Once the largest and most powerful of Korea's 18 school, Cheontae gradually lost popularity over the years and disappeared entirely for some time, but was re-established in 1945 by Sangwol Wongak and now commands a respectable two million followers.

The temple is strikingly located, squeezed into a narrow valley surrounded on all sides by mountains. Unlikely many of Korea's temples, Guinsa is fairly new, being founded by Sangwol Wongak in 1945 as the head temple of his reborn sect. But this is partly what makes it so dazzling: unlike the musty National Treasures with fading colors and peeling edges locked away in glass cabinets at other temples, everything at Guinsa is shiny and new. The original was burned down during the Korean War, but the reconstruction of the first building was completed in 1966 and they've been expanding ever since.


A syncretic school that holds the Lotus Sutra as the peak of the Buddha's teachings, Cheontae posits the following mindbending truths:

  • All things are empty and without essential reality.
  • All things have a provisional reality.
  • All things are both absolutely unreal and provisionally real at once.

According to Cheontae, all experiences in the sensory world are in fact expressions of Buddhist law (Dharma), and thus contain the key to enlightenment. This explains the ostentateous altars and the colorful details of Cheontae temples, so far from the austere aesthetic of the competing Seon (Zen) school.


Guinsa is well-placed to take full advantage of Korea's seasons, with warm temperatures in summer (moderated a little by the altitude) and heavy snow in winter, and is open all year round. However, the most popular time of year to visit is autumn (September-November), when the mountainsides burst into dramatic fall colors. The Cheontae website [2] has picture galleries for all four seasons.

Map of the complex
Map of the complex

The only way of getting to Guinsa is by bus or private car. The nearest major towns, both on the rail network, are Danyang, just 30 minutes away by express bus (departures hourly, W2600), and Jecheon (one hour). There are also direct buses from Seoul's eastern Dong-Seoul terminal (3:30, W15,200), which stop at Danyang along the way, as well as a few direct buses from Busan (5 hours). There are also morning buses from Cheongju at 7:30am and 10:10am (4:30).

Get around

Guinsa can only be covered on foot, and it's quite a hike uphill from the bus terminal to the top. The area is large and it's best to arrive early and reserve at least a few hours for exploring the complex.

Signage or other information in English is basically non-existent, but there's a handy map displayed just prior to the first gate (and reproduced here), the numbers in the listings below refer to this. The Cheontae site also has an interactive map [3], but in Korean only.


The complex consists of over 50 buildings, most of them built in modern style from concrete, but with opulent decoration. The following listing selects some of the more interesting ones, in order from bottom to top.

One of the Four Heavenly Guardians
One of the Four Heavenly Guardians
Great Teacher Hall
Great Teacher Hall
  • The bus terminal is housed in a temple-style building at the bottom of the valley. Head up the hill from here to reach the temple itself.
  • Four Heavenly Kings Gate (사천왕문 Sacheonwangmun, 34). This gate marks the start of the temple proper. Climb up to the second story for a peek at the statues of the four heavenly kings inside.
  • Storehouse Hall (인광당 Ingwangdang, 38). Despite its impressive size, just a storehouse. Do check out the gift shop on the lower level.
  • 5-Story Law Hall (5층대법당 Ocheung Daebeoptang, 30). Clamber up to the top floor to see the truly impressive gilded main altar of the Buddha Shakyamuni flanked by his attendants. No photos inside.
  • Cross under (or over) the bridges to reach the central courtyard, and check out the huge clay pots located on seemingly every available surface: these are the temple's storehouses of kimchi.
  • Cafeteria Hall (향적당 Hyangjeokdang, 11). This is where the contents of the pots are served up for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but for now, take the dark passageway just to the right and keep climbing those stairs.
  • The next building, the most gigantic of the lot, is still under construction as of July 2009. Stairways lead past it both on the left and the right sides.
  • Great Teacher Hall (대조사전 Daejosajeon, 2). A shrine erected in the memory of Sangwol Wongak, a large statue of whom can be found inside.


A trail leads off from the right side of the Great Teacher Hall and heads uphill for a fairly strenuous 20 minutes, all on concrete steps though. At the top of the trail and the hill you will find the immaculately tended grave of Sangwol Wongak, and welcome supplies of cold drinking water. If you're in the mood for some serious hiking, the trail continues onward into Sobaeksan National Park all the way up to the 1389m peak of Mt. Shinseonbong.

The temple runs religious services and lectures, but you'll need to brush up on your Korean theology to get much out of them. Visitors can also participate in all sorts of activities for helping upkeep the temple, ranging from washing dishes to hoeing rice fields or preparing kimchi, but (once again) they are not set up to handle English speakers, so you'll need to get a Korean friend to tag along.


The gift shop (building 38) retails all sorts of interesting Buddhist paraphernalia, including a vast assortment of prayer beads, inkbrush paintings and spiffy stickers with the hypnotic Cheontae logo on them. There's also a post office and ATM in building 37 just across from the gift shop.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner
Breakfast, lunch and dinner

A huge cafeteria (building 11) on grounds, with the capacity to serve 10,000, dishes out three simple vegetarian meals of rice, kimchi and soup daily. All meals are free and visitors are welcome, but food is only available at set times. Lunch service starts at 11:30 AM and ends at 1:30 PM; if you arrive late and find the main entrance on the right side closed, you can circle around to the left side and try your luck at the kitchen. Donations are welcome but not expected.

The other option at the temple itself is the restaurant on the second floor of the bus terminal building. Alternatively, walk downhill to the tourist village, where you can find a whole slew of restaurants.


Tea, coffee and soft drinks are available from vending machines throughout the site, as is fresh water. In fact, most pilgrims start their visit by symbolically washing their hands and rinsing their mouths at the fountain next to the first gate.

Nightlife is rather more limited, as good Buddhists don't drink alcohol — but evidently somebody does, as you'll see boxes of empty Jinro soju bottles here and there.


There are large dormitories on site to accommodate pilgrims. They are large heated rooms where everyone sleeps on the floor in a similar fashion to a jjimjilbang. Lay visitors can also stay in them, as long as they register their name in the reception, which is located in the same building as the post office. With luck, you'll be talking to someone who speaks English. Inquire locally or give the temple a call at +82-43-420-3544 (hopefully in Korean). Most visitors, however, choose to stay in nearby Danyang, which has a much wider range of accommodation.

If you miss the last bus, you can find a collection of yeogwan, yeoinsuk and minbak in the tourist village a few minutes downhill from the bus terminal.


There are public telephones at the post office.

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