Gilsangsa: My Favourite Buddhist Temple in Northern Seoul

Gilsangsa Buddhist temple memorial to the founder

I’ve been to many Korean Buddhist temples, but none of them–with the exception of Bongeunsa in southern Seoul–have won my heart the way Gilsangsa did on my recent visit there. The temple is unique, both architecturally and in terms of its history. In fact, the land on which the temple was built was donated to a Buddhist monk in contemporary times by a woman who was the Korean equivalent of a geisha. The feminine atmosphere of the temple charmed me, as did the obvious fact that the temple was a living, breathing community of individuals. So what made my visit to the temple so special? Well, the autumn colours certainly set the stage:

Gilsangsa Buddhist temple gate in autumn

Gilsangsa Buddhist temple building and trees

Behind the lush foliage lies a relatively modest prayer hall with a paint colour scheme resembling a number of Japanese temples I’ve been to, in addition to Bogwangsa, blogged in the previous post:

Gilsangsa's autumn colours

The hall shown below is quiet, dignified, and yet capable of keeping the mind’s interest:

Gilsangsa Buddhist temple main prayer hall cropped version

Some of the touches didn’t really seem very traditionally-Korean but they certainly do feel very modernly-Korean, if I can put it so clumsily. The following scene certainly fits right in Korea today, and if it weren’t in this temple, it could easily be found in Samcheongdong or Bukcheon:

Gilsangsa Buddhist temple small brick arch

Yet not all is so different. The more customary bright blues and greens one usually sees in Korean temples can be found on the bell tower:

Gilsangsa Buddhist temple bronze bell 2

Gilsangsa Buddhist temple bronze bell

The tiles on this roof, with the trees in the background, took my breath away:

Gilsangsa Buddhist temple building tiled roof in black and white

Sadly, the founder of the temple had just recently passed away, and was being commemorated in services at the temple during my visit. Here is an outside memorial to him:

Gilsangsa Buddhist temple memorial to the founder

Not all the buildings were open to the public, of course. This one was private…

Gilsangsa Buddhist temple rear building

…while these, I understand, are residences for the monks:

Gilsangsa Buddhist Temple quarters of the monks

There were also a number of very modern meditation huts, though these are not shown. Meanwhile, I was quite intrigued by the statuette of the Bodhisattva shown below. It reminds me of some of the contemporary stone iconography of Mary:

Gilsangsa Buddhist Temple Bodhisattva statuette

I also saw another brick kiln, not shown, and close by this–a serendipitously-found middle-aged woman’s visor. It’s my closing image, and with it I hope to pay homage to the history and community of the temple:

Gilsangsa visor

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