Geukrakam Hermitage – 극락암 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The beautiful lotus pond at Geurakam Hermitage.

Hello Again Everyone!!

As part of the five hermitage adventure my wife and I did a couple weeks back, we decided to include a hermitage we had yet to visit: Geukrakam Hermitage (극락암). It was the third of five temples, and the day was already getting long, but including Geukrakam Hermitage was ultimately a good hermitage to have included on our little mini-adventure.

Geukrakam Hermitage is 1.5 kilometres northwest of Tongdosa Temple. It is well known because the monk Gyeongbong, who was a religious dignitary, lived here. It was built in 1344, but no one knows who originally built it. And as a hermitage, Geukrakam Hermitage is much bigger than any other hermitage at Tongdosa Temple. At the entrance gate of the hermitage there is a pond. The pond is famous because you can see the reflection of Mount Yeongchui on the surface of the pond; which is comparable to the beautiful harmony of the bridge and the pond together.

When you first approach the hermitage grounds, you’ll first notice the imposing Mount Yeongchui around you. As you draw closer to the hermitage one of the very first things to greet you, besides the parking lot, is a beautiful bridge that spans the width of an equally beautiful lotus pond. This bridge is reminiscent of a bridge at Tongdosa Temple. When my wife and I visited, the lotus flowers were fully in bloom.  And for a pond that almost looks as though there is no water, but only the greenery of the lotus, you can imagine just how many beautiful lotus flowers there were. After passing by the lotus pond to your left, you’ll notice the kitchen to your right. Continuing through the Bulimun gate at the hermitage, there’s a beautiful open pavilion to your left. To your right, in a grassy open courtyard, are two plainly painted buildings. The view from the open courtyard and pavilion of the valley and surrounding mountains are some of the best in the Tongdosa Temple grounds. A four tiered water fountain sits to the right of the large main hall.  However, the main hall, even though it’s large in size, is plainly built, and the interior of the building is completely underwhelming with only one small-sized Buddha as an altar piece. The one redeeming aspect of the main hall are the massively sized, and finely painted, ox-herding murals. However, to the rear and left of the main hall are two more impressive and intriguing structures.

To the rear of the main hall is a beautifully built shrine hall pavilion. There were numerous people praying there, with a large sign (written in Korean) asking for silence.  So be on your best of behavior when visiting this shrine hall.  Inside of this hall is a statue of Dokseong (The Recluse). The exterior of this hall is also decorated with six simplistic paintings of Dokseong.

To the left of the main hall is the Susaejeon Hall (The Hall for Caring for Human’s Longevity and Fortune). Inside of this older looking hall are eight beautiful murals that depict the Seven Stars (Chilseong) and the Pole Star. Sitting on the altar inside this hall are equally beautiful statues of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion), and an apparent Jijang Bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). On the far right side of the wall, in the corner, is a beautiful painting of San shin (The Mountain Spirit). Be careful when entering this hall, as you can only enter through the left door, and not the one that is deceptively open.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll have to get to Yangsan; and more specifically, Tongdosa Temple. To get to Tongdosa Temple, you can take an intercity bus from Busan, Eonyang or Ulsan. Specifically from Busan, you can take a bus or subway to Nopo-dong intercity bus terminal. There, you can get a ticket for Tongdosa Temple. It leaves every 20 minutes.  Once you arrive in Yangsan, and facing the very small bus terminal, you should walk left and then turn right at the first corner.  The temple entrance is past the numerous restaurants and shops.  Walk up a 1.5 km path, sprinkled with ancient graffiti, and you will eventually arrive at the outskirts of the temple grounds.  Admission for adults is 3,000 Won. From Tongdosa Temple, you’ll have to continue up the main road for another 700 metres until you come to a fork in the road.  Instead of heading straight ahead, turn right and continue heading that direction for 1.4 kilometres.  There are a cluster of hermitages that are well marked.  Follow the signs that read 극락암.

View 극락암 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING:  5/10. The highlight of this hermitage, by far, is the beautiful lotus pond that you first see when approaching Geukrakam Hermitage.  Other highlights are the colourful Susaejeon Hall and the paintings of the Chilseong (Seven Stars), as well as the religiously significant shrine hall at the rear of the massively built main hall. If you have the time, and you want to explore all the hermitages at Tongdosa Temple, make sure to check out the hermitage.  However, if you’re short on time, and can only see the very best of what Tongdosa Temple, and its hermitages have to offer, Geukrakam Hermitage can be saved for another time.

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The walk up to the hermitage grounds.
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The first look up at the stairs to the beautiful bridge at the hermitage.
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The beautiful bridge, and the equally beautiful lotus pond.
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One more look at the pond, bridge, and the neighbouring tree.
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The look at the open pavilion with the main hall in the background.
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The plainly painted buildings in the grassy open courtyard.
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A better look at the open pavilion with the Buli-mun gate.
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The four-tiered water fountain.
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Just one of the large ox-herding murals on the main hall at Geukrakam Hermitage.
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The walk behind the main hall that leads up to the shrine hall.
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The shrine hall with a quiet sign out in front of it.
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A walk across the wooden floor at the main hall.
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The Susaejeon Hall (The Hall for Caring for Human’s Longevity and Fortune) at the hermitage.
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The centre pieces inside the Susaejeon Hall. In the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), with Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) on the left, and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) on the right.
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The colourful interior of the Susaejeon Hall.
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A better look at one of the Seven Stars paintings.
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A painting of San shin (The Mountain Spirit).
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And one last look at the beautiful bridge and lotus pond.

Baekunam Hermitage – 백운암 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The gorgeously mountainous view from Baekunam Hermitage.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Baekunam Hermitage is one of the last hermitages I had yet to visit near Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do. And the reason it’s taken me so long to visit this hermitage, unlike all the others, is that it’s 1.2 kilometres up the side of Mt. Chiseosan. But with Wonhyoam Hermitage giving me confidence to climb, I thought I would try this hard to get to hermitage, as well.

Baekunam Hermitage (백운암), which means White Cloud Hermitage in English, dates back to 892 during the Silla Dynasty. It was later enlarged in 1970. This hermitage, because of its remote location, is well-known for a monk’s devotional practices. There are many stories of past monks attaining great virtue and spiritual awakening at this hermitage. This hermitage is also famous for the beautiful scenery. In fact, this hermitage is known as one of the eight most beautiful depictions of scenery on the Tongdosa Temple grounds alongside Anyangam Hermitage and Jajangam Hermitage. Another thing this temple is well known for is the mineral water, called Golden Water (Yak-su, in Korea), that pours forth from the mountain.

The hike up the side of Mt. Chiseosan is a long and arduous one and isn’t for the faint of heart. If you approach the hermitage around 10:30 in the morning, you’ll hear the monk’s voice echoing through the forest like a guide leading you to Baekunam Hermitage. But be careful as you climb the zigzagging trail, because it doesn’t always have the surest of places to plant your feet with the rolling rocks and tree roots.

When you finally get to the ledge that houses Baekunam Hermitage, the first thing to greet you is a bench, bathroom, and water fountain. Catch your breath and take advantage of all three because it’s been a long climb. A little further up the mountain, and to the right, is the hermitage kitchen. When I arrived, they were already preparing lunch. A bit further past the kitchen is the main hall. This compact main hall, and the hermitage itself, are reminiscent of the neighbouring Jajangam Hermitage. The hermitage is precariously perched on the ledge of Mt. Chiseosan. The main hall is situated on a narrow courtyard. The views of the valley below from the courtyard, and the multiple hermitages that surround Tongdosa Temple, can be seen from this vantage point. Take your time and take some of the most amazing pictures of the Korean countryside. On a clear day, the view can be breath-taking. Inside the main hall are uniquely painted murals that are quite beautiful. Sitting in the centre of the altar inside the main hall is a diminutive statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). Behind him is a highly original painting of himself with rays of white light shooting forth from his head. Sharing the altar is a larger sized Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) to his right. Equally as original to Amita-bul’s painting that stands behind him, is a painting of Jijang-bosal surrounded by gold and the Ten Kings of the Underworld. To the left of Jijang-bosal, and something that I’ve never seen before inside a main hall, are statues of the Nahan (The Disciples of the Historical Buddha). To the far right, and next to Amita-bul, is yet another highly original painting. This time, the cartoonesque guardian painting appears with a crowning three-sided head with light emanating from it at the top with a serenely smiling Dongjin-bosal (The Bodhisattva Protector of the Buddha’s Teachings). The exterior of the main hall is void of murals. However, it does have a beautifully written wooden name plate just above the main doors for the main hall.

Next to the main hall is a shrine hall I’ve never seen in all of my time traveling to Korean temples. The entire hall is dedicated to Yongwang, the King of the Sea. Now, I’ve seen individual paintings of Yongwang inside the Samseong-gak Hall, like at Donghaksa Temple, but I’ve never seen an individual shrine hall dedicated to this god. The exterior of this, much like the main hall, is unadorned with murals. However, there is a cute three frog water fountain with a baby Buddha beside it. Inside this shrine hall is a seated granite statue of Yongwang surrounded by walls of jade lotus flowers. Uniquely, Yongwang is seated on top of a tank filled with mountain water that cycles through it.

Behind both the main hall and the Yongwang shrine hall is the Samseong-gak shrine hall dedicated to the three Shaman deities: Chilseong (The Seven Stars), Dokseong (The Recluse), and San shin (The Mountain spirit). Again, the exterior of the hall is unadorned with murals; however, the interior of the hall more than makes up for the naked exterior of the hall. Much like the paintings in the main hall, the Samseong-gak has unique and beautiful paintings dedicated to the three Shaman gods. In the centre of the altar is a statue of Chilseong with a painting of him at his back. To the left is an angry looking painting of San shin. And to the right is a statue of Dokseong with a painting of him at his back.

Across the bamboo bridge, and only after being invited by a nice monk, I walked over to see the monk’s dorms. Much like the main hall courtyard, the dorm area of the hermitage has beautiful views of the valley below. Up on the hill, overlooking the entire hermitage is the residence of the head-monk at Baekunam Hermitage.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll have to get to Yangsan; and more specifically, Tongdosa Temple. To get to Tongdosa Temple, you can take an intercity bus from Busan, Eonyang or Ulsan. Specifically from Busan, you can take a bus or subway to Nopo-dong intercity bus terminal. There, you can get a ticket for Tongdosa Temple. It leaves every 20 minutes.  Once you arrive in Yangsan, and facing the very small bus terminal, you should walk left and then turn right at the first corner.  The temple entrance is past the numerous restaurants and shops.  Walk up a 1.5 km path, sprinkled with ancient graffiti, and you will eventually arrive at the outskirts of the temple grounds.  Admission for adults is 3,000Won. From Tongdosa Temple, you’ll have to continue up the main road for another 700 metres until you come to a fork in the road.  Instead of heading straight ahead, turn right and continue heading in that direction for 2.5 kilometres.  The road forks to the left and right: left to Jajangam Hermitage and right to Baekunam Hermitage. Follow the fork that heads right.  And when the road forks once: the left to Gukrakam Hermitage, the right to Biroam Hermitage, follow the 1.2 kilometres up the trail that leads straight ahead to your final destination of Baekunam Hermitage.

OVERALL RATING:  6/10. Much like the neighbouring Biroam Hermitage, Baekunam Hermitage has some of the most spectacular views of the Tongdosa Temple valley. However, because Baekunam Hermitage is a bit further up the mountain, the views are a little bit more impressive. In the same vein, the buildings at Baekunam Hermitage aren’t quite as nice or elaborate as the buildings at Biroam Hermitage. As a result, the two are a wash, and equal in comparison. Finally, you’ll need a lot of energy and to be careful when climbing to this hermitage, but the trip is worth it!

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The start of the long walk up to the hermitage.
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A sign that the hermitage is that way.
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Tiny blue flowers that lined the trail on the way up to Baekunam Hermitage.
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The bathroom, which is the first sign that you’ve arrived at the hermitage.
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A first look down at the valley below.
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The main hall at Baekunam Hermitage.
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When I arrived, the morning prayer was going on. In the centre is a smaller sized Amita-bul statue. To the left is Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), and to the right is a beautiful guardian painting.
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A better look at the amazing guardian painting.
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A view of the compact courtyard with an older looking stone lantern in its midst.
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A view from the courtyard down at the Tongdosa Temple valley below.
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The unpainted shrine hall dedicated to Yongwang, the King of the Sea. Behind this hall is Samseong-gak, which is dedicated to the Shaman gods.
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Inside the hall sits Yongwang. He’s sitting on a pool of mineral water that the hermitage is famous for.
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A look inside the Samseong-gak shrine hall that sits just behind the shrine hall dedicated to Yongwang. In the centre is Chilseong (The Seven Stars), to the left is San shin (The Mountain god), and to the right is Dokseong (The Recluse).
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A look at the hermitage kitchen that you pass by as you approach the main hall.
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A look past the main hall and the shrine hall dedicated to Yongwang.
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A look towards the monk dorms. In front of the shrine hall dedicated to Yongwang is a multi-statued frog water fountain with a baby Buddha at the centre.
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A better look at the cute baby Buddha.
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To the right is the monks’ dorms. Perched on the hill is the dorm for the hermitage’s head monk.
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A look at the hermitage’s halls that are perched ever-so precariously on the side of the mountain’s rock face.
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And finally, a view of the beautiful valley below. It’s probably the main reason that you killed yourself to get to the hermitage. And the journey is definitely worth it!
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A look straight ahead at the valley with Yangsan city off to the left.
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One last look with the valley and paper lantern in full view.

Banyaam Hermitage – 반야암 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

Picture 441The picturesque main hall, Banyabo-jeon, at Banyaam Hermitage at Tongdosa Temple

Hello Again Everyone!!

After visiting Seokbulsa Temple, and after dropping off the in-laws, my wife and I decided to visit one of the last hermitages we had yet to visit at the Tongdosa Temple complex: Banyaam Hermitage (반야암). Well actually, I’m lying a bit when I say that we haven’t visited Banyaam Hermitage before. We last visited Banyaam Hermitage in the winter of 2006. But we both figured that the hermitage would look a whole lot better during the summertime.  So off we went to Banyaam Hermitage!

Banyaam Hermitage is the merging of two words into one. “Banya” in Sanskrit is prajna. Prajna means wisdom or enlightenment, while “am” means hermitage. And these two words together mean wisdom or enlightenment hermitage. Banyaam Hermitage is a smaller sized hermitage at Tongdosa Temple.  It was built by monk Ji-an in 1999. Banyaam Hermitage is beautifully situated surrounded by a vibrant forest and towering mountains.  And the tablet that hangs at the main hall was written by the founding monk, Ji-an.

As you first approach the temple, you’ll first be greeted by a lion based stone lantern and a sign, written in Chinese characters, that reads Banyaam Hermitage. To the right is a serenely placed meditation pavilion next to a quiet stream. You can get to the other side of the stream by taking the hanging bridge. From either side of the banks, you can take some beautiful pictures of the stream, mountains, or lush forest around you. Walking your way up from the stream, you’ll notice three main buildings at the hermitage: the monk dorm, the main hall, and the study hall. The monk dorm isn’t all that aesthetically pleasing with the concrete base that surrounds it; however, there are a couple cute paintings of children monks playing on the exterior of the building.  To the right of the main hall is a non-descript study hall.  But making up for all this lack of appeal is the beautiful main hall and the beautifully manicured grounds at the hermitage. As you approach Banyabo-jeon, the main hall at the hermitage, you’ll see a beautiful lotus pond with a dharma playing on the rocks under a tree.  Next to the dancing dharma are several beautiful lotus pots containing some of the most colourful purple, pink, and white lotuses in all of Korea. Up the stone stairs, you’ll be greeted by a Chinese charactered tablet that adorns the entrance of the main hall. The exterior of the hall has the customary Palsang-do paintings of the Buddha’s earthly life, as well as paintings depicting the rearing of a child by his mother (which I’ve only seen at Biroam Hermitage). What really stood out about the exterior of this hermitage, as I walked around it, were the beautifully coloured and detailed dragon heads that protrude out from the depths of the main hall walls.  Behind the main hall, and on a ridge, is a newer looking pagoda.

Inside the main hall, you’ll be greeted by a triad of a Buddha and Bodhisattvas: Amita-bul (The Buddha of Infinite Light), Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion), and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). All three are beautifully rendered, with an accompanying four-tiered crystal lotus statue to the right. The ceiling and beams of the main hall are painted with ornate likenesses of dragons, phoenixes, and cranes. One of the more impressive features of the interior of the main hall are paintings of the Dharma, Buddha, and saints. And all these paintings are joined with Korean writing giving the names of the associated Dharma, Buddha, or saint. So if you can read Korean, you can know who exactly all those individuals are at all the other temples and hermitages you visit. There are also the accompanying tails, of the former heads of the dragons, protruding into the interior of the main hall. Lastly, there is a really descriptive guardian painting centred by Dongjin-bosal. You can identify him because he wears a helmet with wings on it.  He’s the protector of the Buddha’s teachings. And that’s why he’s almost always situated inside the main hall of a hermitage or temple.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll have to get to Yangsan; and more specifically, Tongdosa Temple. To get to Tongdosa Temple, you can take an intercity bus from Busan, Eonyang or Ulsan. Specifically from Busan, you can take a bus or subway to Nopo-dong intercity bus terminal. There, you can get a ticket for Tongdosa Temple. It leaves every 20 minutes.  Once you arrive in Yangsan, and facing the very small bus terminal, you should walk left and then turn right at the first corner.  The temple entrance is past the numerous restaurants and shops.  Walk up a 1.5 km path, sprinkled with ancient graffiti, and you will eventually arrive at the outskirts of the temple grounds.  Admission for adults is 3,000 won. From Tongdosa Temple, you’ll have to continue up the main road for another 700 metres until you come to a fork in the road.  Instead of heading straight, turn right and continue heading in that direction for 1.2 kilometres.  There are a cluster of hermitages. Find the sign that reads Banyaam Hermitage -반야암- and continue heading to the right in that direction until you arrive at the hermitage.

View 반야암 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING:  6/10. Banyaam Hermitage is rated slightly higher than the neighbouring Seochukam Hermitage simply because of the beautiful stream and meditation pavilion as well as the colourful main hall. Otherwise, it’s situated near the same towering moutains and lush forest. The highlights of this hermitage are the lotus ponds and pots, the named saints on the eaves of the interior of the main hall, as well as the four-tiered crystal lotus statue to the right of the triad of Amita-bul and the Bodhisattvas. If you have the time, and you’re visiting a couple of the hermitages at Tongdosa Temple, I would definitely rate Banyaam Hermitage as one of the more beautiful hermitages in the area.

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The road that leads into Banyaam Hermitage, and the beautiful view that awaits you!
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The lion-based stone lantern is the first thing to greet you as you approach the hermitage.
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The study hall at the hermitage.
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And the child-like monks that adorn the exterior of this hall.
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A view of the main hall with the monks dorms off in the distance, and the towering mountains framing them all.
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A view up at Banyabo-jeon, the colourful main hall at the hermitage.
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A better look at the intricate exterior of the main hall and the name tablet written by the founding monk, Ji-an.
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A unique mural on the exterior of the main hall. I’ve only ever seen it at the neighbouring Biroam Hermitage. In it the child is being raised by his mother.
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Off the child goes into the world leaving his mother behind.
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Only to return later when they’re both older.
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A beautiful view of Korean nature at its finest!
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The main altar inside Banyabo-jeon. In the centre is Amita-bul (The Buddha of Infinite Light). On his left is Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), and on the right is Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). This triad is very common in Korean main halls.
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What is not as common is this beautiful four-tiered crystal lotus statue.
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Up in the eaves were paintings of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and saints. On the left is the Dharma, and on the right is Hyega Daesa (A saint whose job it is to make you laugh).
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An ornately painted twin pair of dragons, painted on the beams of the main hall, with red pearls near their mouths.
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And an equally beautiful phoenix that is painted on a beam inside the main hall.
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Just outside the main hall, on the well manicured grounds, is a lotus pond with a dancing Dharma under the shade of a tree.
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 Next to this lotus pond were several potted lotus flowers. They were some of the most beautiful flowers I’ve ever seen in my life!
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 Another with a yellow sunset inside.
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The meditative pavilion that sits next to a quiet stream.
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The suspended bridge that spans the stream.
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A different look at the beautiful stream.
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One last look up the wandering stream as it makes its way down the valley.

Anyangam Hermitage – 안양암 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

Picture 663The foggy view from Anyangam Hermitage.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Yesterday, we weren’t planning on much after visiting Sinheungsa Temple besides visiting the in-laws. However, the visit to the in-laws quickly turned into a whirlwind temple tour.  In all, after Sinheungsa Temple, we visited three more temples and hermitages. After visiting Tongdosa Temple, we visited another smaller hermitage called Anyangam Hermitage (안양암). It’s on the Tongdosa Temple grounds, like so many other temples and hermitages in the area. I hadn’t been to Anyangam Hermitage in about seven years, and had wanted to go for some time.  So when my mother-in-law insisted we go, we went.

Anyangam Hermitage was built in 1295 by the Venerable Monk Chanin.  Like the stream beside Jajangam Hermitage, the view from Anyangam Hermitage has been designated one of the eight best scenic sights at Tongdosa Temple.

Anyangam Hermitage is an average sized hermitage for the hermitages associated with Tongdosa Temple. As you approach the hermitage, you walk down a nice mountain-side trail. The views below are amazing, as you stare down into the valley below Chiseosan Mountain. Be careful when walking, because one wrong move and you’re headed down the side of the mountain and a couple hundred metres below. Continuing along the path, you’ll be able to see the tops of the hermitage buildings just over the knoll. To the left is a gathering of rocks with various small Buddhist statues adorning it. There are even more great views of the valley below from this vantage point.  A fog was rolling in over the mountains when we were there, and it was pretty amazing. After you’ve had your fill of photo opportunities from this vantage point, head right, and towards the temple grounds. Uniquely, the hermitage is situated in a bit of a sink-hole. The mountain envelopes the hermitage, and the hermitage is nestled into a seeming hole. Down a row of stairs, you’ll have to step down to get to the hermitage. As you climb down these stairs, you’ll pass by the shrine hall dedicated to San Shin (the Mountain God). The hermitage is compactly situated, with a shrine hall to your immediate left, the monk dorms directly in front of you, and the larger sized main hall to your right. The main hall is dark and cavernous inside with a solitary Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) stoically and solitarily sitting at the altar of the main hall. To have a solitary Buddha figure on the altar of the main hall is an extremely unique feature to a temple or a hermitage. There were a couple interesting paintings adorning the inside of the main hall, but the more amazing paintings lay on the exterior of the hall walls. The paintings depicting the life of the Buddha as well as the ox-herding murals were cartoonish. Also, there were a couple other paintings on the far side of the main hall wall that were unique to the hermitage, like cranes flying with a floating feminine figure in between them. Equally interesting, and beautiful, are the wooden flowers adorning the front doors to the main hall.  They are both colourful and vibrant.

HOW TO GET THERE:  Just like all the other hermitages associated with Tongdosa Temple, you’ll have to first take a bus to Tongdosa Temple. To get to Tongdosa from the Gyeongsangnam-do area, you can take an intercity bus from Busan, Eonyang or Ulsan. And from Busan, you can take a bus or subway to Nopo-dong intercity bus terminal. There, you can get a ticket for Tongdosa temple. It leaves every 20 minutes.  Once you arrive in Yangsan, and facing the very small bus terminal, you should walk left and then turn right at the first corner.  The temple entrance is past the numerous restaurants and shops.  Walk up a 1.5 km path, sprinkled with ancient graffiti, and you will eventually arrive at the outskirts of the temple grounds.  Once you get to the parking lot for Tongdosa Temple, keep walking up the road for cars to the left.  Follow this road for about a kilometre.  Instead of continuing to head straight, like Seounam Hermitage, you’ll hang a right. Heading uphill, you’ll first pass by Sudoam Hermitage. Anyangam Hermitage is just another 500 metres up the road.

Again, you’ll have to pay the 3,000 won entrance fee at the Tongdosa Temple entrance gate, but Anyangam Hermitage, itself, is free of charge.

View 안양암 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 6/10. Just for the views alone of the Chiseosan Mountain range above, and the valley below, this hermitage rates as highly as it does. And while the hermitage itself is rather small and compact, the paintings inside and outside of the main hall add to the depth of this hermitage’s overall score. Furthermore, the uniqueness of having a solitary Seokgamoni-bul on the altar of the main hall only adds to the uniqueness of this beautiful hermitage. If you have the time and energy, add this to the list of things to see while visiting Tongdosa Temple.

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The stone sign that directs you towards Anyangam Hermitage.
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The pebbled path that leads you towards the hermitage.
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Over the rocky knoll is a first look at Anyangam Hermitage.
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And a great view down into the Chiseosan Mountain range and the valley down below.
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Another lookout over the valley below. On top of the large rocks some people have left Buddhist statues and souvenirs.
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A row of baby monks keeping each other company with their backs to the valley and mountains.
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A look up at the shrine hall dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain god).
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A look at the hermitage grounds as you descend down the stairs.
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A better look at one of the prayer halls at the hermitage.
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And the beautiful bell that hangs from its rooftop.
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A look at another prayer hall and the main hall at Anyangam Hermitage.
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A guardian painting inside the main hall.
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The solitary Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) all by his lonesome on the altar in the main hall.
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A statue of Jijang Bosal (The Boddhisattva of the Afterlife) with mural at her back.
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A painting with personality.
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Outside the main hall are these beautiful paintings. These cartoonish paintings of the Buddha’s life are second-to-none.
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Ladies trying to seduce the Buddha. If you look closely at the mirror that the Buddha is holding, you’ll see a demons face, instead of the faces of the beautiful women seductively staring at him.
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A painting filled with meaning. It’s just a meaning I don’t understand!
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One of the more beautiful paintings of a Biseon that I’ve seen adorning the exterior of a main hall.
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As are these ornamental flowers that adorn the front doors of the main hall.

Biroam Hermitage -비로암 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

Picture 029The monk dorm with the shrine hall on the right.  In the background is the beautiful Chiseosan Mountains with a heavy fog sweeping over them.

Hello Again Everyone!

Trying to round out all the hermitages we hadn’t visited yet at Tongdosa Temple, my wife and I decided to visit Biroam Hermitage (비로암). We had visited it before our marriage in 2005 with my mom and my wife’s mom.  It was a great memory, and it was great visiting the hermitage once more. So after a nice lunch with the in-laws, we hopped in the trusty KIA Pride and headed over to Tongdosa Temple.  And like most hermitages at Tongdosa Temple, Biroam Hermitage did not disappoint.

Biroam (Biro Hermitage) is named after Birojana-bul, the Buddha of Infinite Cosmic Light. The hermitage itself dates back to 1345.  It was founded by the Great Master Yeongsuk during the first year of King Chungmok. The hermitage itself is one of the furthest away from Tongdosa Temple on the grounds. It’s a long, but beautiful, hike up the side of Mt.Chiseosan.

As you approach the hermitage, you’ll first be greeted by a unique guardian gate.  Usually, the guardian gate contains four statues of the Heavenly Kings; however, at Biroam, there are painted images of the Heavenly Kings inside, on the walls, of the gate. Passing through this gate, you’ll get beautiful views of the valley below where Tongdosa Temple, and numerous other hermitages, reside. To your right, you’ll get your first few looks of the hermitage buildings over the low-lying hedges. You’ll pass through Buli-mun, the gate of non-duality, to gain entrance to the main hermitage grounds. Straight ahead is the beautiful main hall at the temple.  With colourful paintings of Biseon  (flying Angels playing music and offering fruit) as well as ox-herding murals adorning the exterior of the hall, there are equally beautiful paintings on the inside.  The main altar piece at the hermitage, and the namesake of the hermitage, is a statue of Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Infinite Cosmic Light). To this Buddha’s right is Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).  One of the interior paintings is an older looking Yeongsan Assembly painting with numerous gods, monks, and others accompanying the Buddha.  Also, there are a couple monk paintings as well as a painting of a phoenix and dragons adorning the roof beams in the main hall.  To the immediate right of the main hall is a non-descript visitors’ centre, which neither hurts nor helps the hermitage aesthetically. Continuing to the left is a shrine hall dedicated to a Buddha, as well as San Shin and Chilseong (The Seven Stars of the Big Dipper). Around the exterior of the shrine hall are unique paintings about a mother rearing a child from birth to adolescence. On the lower level of the main courtyard is a beautiful pond neighboured by the monk dormitory.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll have to get to Yangsan; and more specifically, Tongdosa Temple. To get to Tongdosa Temple, you can take an intercity bus from Busan, Eonyang or Ulsan. Specifically from Busan, you can take a bus or subway to Nopo-dong intercity bus terminal. There, you can get a ticket for Tongdosa temple. It leaves every 20 minutes.  Once you arrive in Yangsan, and facing the very small bus terminal, you should walk left and then turn right at the first corner.  The temple entrance is past the numerous restaurants and shops.  Walk up a 1.5 km path, sprinkled with ancient graffiti, and you will eventually arrive at the outskirts of the temple grounds.  Admission for adults is 3,000 won. From Tongdosa Temple, you’ll have to continue up the main road for another 700 metres until you come to a fork in the road.  Instead of heading straight ahead, turn right and continue heading that direction for two kilometres.  The road forks to the left and right: left to Jajangam Hermitage and right to Biroam Hermitage. Follow the fork that heads right.  And when the road forks once more to the left and right, the left to Gukrakam Hermitage, and the right continues towards your final destination of Biroam Hermitage.


View 비로암 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING:  6/10. It’s a long journey to get to the hermitage, but the hermitage and the views of the valley below are well worth the journey. The unique Heavenly Kings entrance gate is a nice little introduction to the rest of the temple.  And once you pass through the second gate at the temple, the beautifully painted main hall dedicated to Biro Bul and shrine hall are a nice addition to an already beautiful hermitage.  Finally, the proximity of the neighbouring mountains, as well as the beautiful little man-made pond at the hermitage, and Biroam Hermitage is a hermitage well worth a visit if you’re in the area for an overnight stay.

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Somewhere up there in Chiseosan Mountain is Biroam Hermitage.
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The sights that welcome you to the hermitage.
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A look through the Heavenly Kings Gate at Biroam Hermitage.
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One of the four Heavenly Kings that protects the hermitage from evil spirits.
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A beautiful painting of a dragon on the ceiling of the Heavenly Kings Gate.
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The well-groomed path that leads up to the main courtyard at the hermitage.
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A look through Buli-mun gate at the main hall at Biroam Hermitage.
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A look across the main hall.
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A beautiful ornamental bell adorning the main hall with the neighbouring mountains in the background.
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Two Biseon adorning the main hall while playing instruments.
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A look at the main altar piece at the hermitage, and the namesake of Biroam Hermitage: Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Infinite Cosmic Light).
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And the accompanying Jijang Bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
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The beautiful, and full, Yeongsan Assembly painting at Biroam Hermitage.
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The beams inside the main hall are adorned by both a phoenix and a dragon.
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A view of the main hall to the left, centred by the shrine hall, and the monk dorms even further left.  All three buildings are surrounded by beautifully manicured grounds at the hermitage.
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A better look at the colourful shrine hall.
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A centred Buddha, with the accompanying Sanshin, Dokseong, and Chilseong.
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 A breath-takingly beautiful dragon that adorns the shrine hall at Biroam Hermitage.
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One of the murals on the shrine hall.  Uniquely, the paintings depict the nurturing of a baby to adolescence. In this painting, the father is returning home from a day at work with the mother breast-feeding the baby.
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And in this painting from the series of baby to adolescence murals, the child is being bathed by his mother.
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And finally, the beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and valleys that neighbour Biroam Hermitage.

Jajangam Hermitage – 자장암 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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A painting depicting monk Jajang drilling a hole with his finger into the face of a mountain to create a home for the golden frog that lives at Jajangam Hermitage.

Hello Again Everyone!!!

We had been to Jajangam Hermitage back in 2004, and we hadn’t been back since. So going to Jajangam Hermitage was an obvious choice to add to the list of hermitages around Tongdosa Temple.

Jajangam Hermitage (Jajang Hermitage) predates the building of Tongdosa Temple, which was built in 646 A.D. The hermitage was once only a hut that was built beneath a stone cliff for the founder of Tongdosa Temple, monk Jajang, to pray.  The hermitage gets its name from the monk, and creator of Tongdosa Temple, Jajang. And between 1987 and 1993 three new buildings were built upon the rock cliff.  These temple buildings are Gamwonsil, Geumwadang, and Chwihyun-ru. There is also a statue of a four metre tall Ma-ae Buddha engraved into the rock.  Most interesting of all is the golden frog that lives behind the main temple hall.  As the story goes, Jajang drilled a hole into the rock face with his finger so that the golden frog could make it a home.  Presently, there is a finger sized hole called Geumwagong, which literally translates as “golden frog hole” where the frog now lives. It is said that the golden frog, named Geumhwa-bosal (Golden Frog Bodhisattva), only shows itself to people with strong belief.

As you approach Jajangam Hermitage, you’ll notice a stream, Jajangdongcheon,  to the right of the road that leads up to the hermitage.  This stream is considered one of the eight most beautiful places to see on the Tongdosa Temple grounds. There are a couple narrow paths that lead down to the base of the stream.  Be careful as you try to get closer because there is an elevated concrete barrier that divides the forest from the stream. However, the effort to get to it is well worth a try.  The stream flows gently, but there are a couple areas that you can get some beautiful pictures of the surrounding mountains and rolling stream together. Once you’ve had your fill of these beautiful sights, trek back up to the road that leads you to Jajangam Hermitage. To the left is an uneven, and sometimes steep, set of stairs that lead you up to the hermitage.  Interestingly, as you approach the hermitage, you’ll notice a unique O shaped granite piece that acts as a gate that allows you entry into the Jajangam Hermitage.  I can honestly say that I’ve never seen anything remotely close to its design or placement at any other temple or hermitage. As you pass through the O shaped granite entrance gate, you’ll notice buildings to the right of you and buildings to the left of you perched precariously on the side of the rock face. The buildings to the right of you are the kitchen and visitor centre.  The more important buildings, at least for temple travelers, are to the left of you.  Through a weathered brown entrance gate, you’ll make your way to the main courtyard at the temple.  The courtyard couldn’t be any more than 10 metres by 4 metres wide, but it packs a whole lot of historical and beautiful things into one small space. Straight ahead is the monk dorm at the hermitage.  Beside this is the main hall with statues of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), Biro Bul (The Buddha of Infinite Cosmic Light), and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) acting as the main altar pieces.  Interestingly, there is a large rock that protrudes from the main hall floor.  I guess it was just too big to move when they were originally building the main hall.  Around the main hall are some beautiful paintings.  Unlike most main halls it has no paintings of the Buddha’s life nor does it have any ox-herding murals.  Instead, there is an extremely unique painting on the right hand side, as you head towards Geumwadang (“Golden Frog Room”). The painting is of monk Jajang creating a hole for the golden frog with his finger.  Behind the main hall is in fact the hole where the golden frog resides.  And it’s really just a finger-sized hole, which is just the right size for a golden frog, I guess.

To the right of the main hall and the residence of the golden frog is the 4 metre tall stone carving of the Buddha with two accompanying Bodhisattvas to both the right and left of the Buddha.  The sculpture dates back to 1896.To the far right are two shrine halls, one dedicated to a Buddha with gold painted Bodhisattvas, and the other with a painting dedicated to San Shin as well as a painting of the founding monk of Tongdosa Temple, Jajang.

To learn more about Jajangam Hermitage, please follow the link.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll have to get to Yangsan; and more specifically, Tongdosa Temple. To get to Tongdosa Temple, you can take an intercity bus from Busan, Eonyang or Ulsan. Specifically from Busan, you can take a bus or subway to Nopo-dong intercity bus terminal. There, you can get a ticket for Tongdosa temple. It leaves every 20 minutes.  Once you arrive in Yangsan, and facing the very small bus terminal, you should walk left and then turn right at the first corner.  The temple entrance is past the numerous restaurants and shops.  Walk up a 1.5 km path, sprinkled with ancient graffiti, and you will eventually arrive at the outskirts of the temple grounds.  Admission for adults is 3,000 won. From Tongdosa Temple, you’ll have to continue up the main road for another 700 metres until you come to a fork in the road.  Instead of heading straight ahead, turn right and continue heading that direction for one kilometre.  There are a cluster of hermitages. Find the sign that reads Jajangam Hermitage (자장암) and continue heading in that direction until you arrive at the hermitage.

View 자장암 in a larger map

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One of the signs, on the left, that leads you to Jajangam Hermitage.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10. Jajangam Hermitage is extremely important to Buddhist history in Korea.  For that reason alone, it is worth such a high rating.  But adding the story of the golden frog and the beautiful views of the valley and mountains that surround the hermitage, and you’ll better understand why Jajangam Hermitage is rated so highly.  Out of all the hermitages at Tongdosa Temple, Jajangam Hermitage ranks as a top three hermitage.  So even though it’s a bit harder to get to, it is well worth the time and effort.

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A rock at the entrance of Jajangam Hermitage filled with graffitti.
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The view from the concrete barrier of the mountains above and the stream, Jajangdongcheon, below.
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A better look at the stream and the mountains at Jajangam Hermitage.
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And one last gorgeous look.
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The path that leads up to the O ringed granite entrance at the hermitage.
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The weathered gate that welcomes you to the main courtyard at Jajangam Hermitage.
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A better look at the compact courtyard at Jajangam Hermitage with a smaller sized three-tiered pagoda with the main hall to the immediate right and the monk dorm straight ahead.

Picture 097The door residence which is at the very edge of a cliff and the courtyard.Picture 110And a better look at the main courtyard at the hermitage. Morning prayers were ongoing when we arrived.Picture 105

On the left is the monk conducting the service. And both on the inside and out is the large rock that still inhabits the mountainside at Jajangam Hermitage’s main hall.
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The view from the main hall down on the valley below and the mountains above.
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The sign is on the right side of the main hall and it reads Geumwadang (Golden Frog Room).
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 As you walk to the rear of the main hall you’ll encounter this painting that is unique to the hermitage alone. In this upclose picture, you can see monk Jajang, the founder of Tongdosa Temple, drilling a hole with his finger into the mountain face for the golden frog.
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Up above is the painting of this beautiful Biseon (flying angel) carrying a plate of fruits.
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And finally, the Golden Frog Room.  The pin-hole, which also acts as the frog’s residence, is to the left of the woman on the right.  The woman on the left, on the other hand, was with her less-than stable husband.  The two made for quite the pair.  But that’s a completely different story all together as they chanted and fist-pumped the air in incoherent Korean.
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To the right of the main hall is this delicate 4 metre tall Buddha sculpture that dates back to 1896.
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The accompanying Boddhisattva to the left of the Buddha.
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Further right of the Buddha sculpture are two shrine halls. The one to the left was dedicated to a Buddha, and the one to the right houses a painting of San Shin (The Mountain God) as well as a painting of monk Jajang.
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The hall to the left that houses the Buddha.
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Also housed in this hall are two beautiful golden paintings of Bodhisattvas. Picture 074
Inside the shrine hall to the right are the beautiful paintings of San Shin, Dokseong, and the founding monk of Tongdosa Temple, monk Jajang.
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And one last look out on the neighbouring valley and mountains from Jajangam Hermitage.

Seounam Hermitage – 서운암 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

Picture 487A view of Seounam Hermitage with Gochujang (red pepper paste) and Ganjang (soy bean sauce) jars surrounding it.

Hello Again Everyone!!

The last stop on our Tongdosa Temple hermitage tour was Seounam Hermitage (서운암). It had been nearly 8 years since I last visited Seounam Hermitage in 2003.  In fact, it was one of the first places my wife and I went when we were first dating.  So it has a lot of sentimentality attached to it for the two of us. And very little has changed with the hermitage, unlike at Okryeonam Hermitage. It was nice to be back at a place that holds so many good memories for us.

As you approach the hermitage, you’ll first have to pass by the hermitage parking lot, which is usually quite packed. To your immediate right is the main compound where all the hermitage buildings are situated.  Unfortunately, these buildings are off limits.  But you can still take a few nice pictures from a distance.  However, what makes Seounam Hermitage noteworthy, strangely, aren’t the temple structures.  Instead, what makes Seounam Hermitage memorable are the beautiful views of the Korean landscape and the massive amounts of Gochujang (red pepper paste) and Ganjang (soy bean sauce) earthen jars that greet you just as soon as you pass by the hermitage buildings. When we visited this time, there was a Korean photography club out taking pictures of these ornamental jars and the neighbouring valley. As we passed by the jars to the left, we made our way up the winding hermitage road that leads to monk dorms up on the hill.  As we walked up this elevated road, we walked by a maintenance tent with an impromptu zoo that houses a solitary guest: a beautiful peacock. At first, the peacock ignored us, that is, until my in-laws kept saying you’re beautiful (in Korean), which allowed for some up-close pictures of the peacock. Instead of walking all the way up the hill until the monk dorms, since we were tired after already viewing three other temples/hermitages, we veered right towards the top of a hill that overlooks the small valley below.  My wife told me that this valley is extremely colourful in the springtime, and since it’s only now entering into the first few days of spring, we were only able to see the budding beauty of the flowers and trees below. Fortunately, there were many more great views of the valley besides the flowering trees and flowers, like the wandering rabbit that came right up to us. Strangely, at least strange in comparison to other temples, the main feature of this hermitage isn’t its buildings or artwork; but instead, the views of a beautiful Korean landscape and wildlife.

HOW TO GET THERE:  Just like Okryeonam Hermitage, Samyeongam Hermitage, and Baekryeonjeongsa Temple, you’ll have to first take a bus to Tongdosa Temple. To get to Tongdosa from the Gyeongsangnam-do area, you can take an intercity bus from Busan, Eonyang or Ulsan. And from Busan, you can take a bus or subway to Nopo-dong intercity bus terminal. There, you can get a ticket for Tongdosa temple. It leaves every 20 minutes.  Once you arrive in Yangsan, and facing the very small bus terminal, you should walk left and then turn right at the first corner.  The temple entrance is past the numerous restaurants and shops.  Walk up a 1.5 km path, sprinkled with ancient graffiti, and you will eventually arrive at the outskirts of the temple grounds.  Once you get to the parking lot for Tongdosa Temple, keep walking up the road for cars to the left.  Follow this road for about a kilometre.  The road will fork to the right or straight.  Follow the road that leads straight, and keep heading straight (unlike the three previous Buddhist structures that veer slightly to the right). Continue up this road for about a kilometres and follow the signs as you go; either that, or you’ll just simply find the hermitage because that’s where this road ends and where the hermitage begins.

And just like Okryeonam Hermitage, Samyeongam Hermitage, and Baekryeonjeongsa Temple, the admission to Seounam  is free to get into; however, you’ll have to pay the 3,000 won entrance fee at the Tongdosa Temple entrance gate.  But that 3,000 won sure does pay for a lot, like being able to see Tongdosa Temple, and any other hermitage your time and effort will allow you to see.

View 서운암 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 4.5/10. Just like Baekryeonjeongsa Temple rates four point five out of ten, so does Seounam Hermitage, but for two completely different reasons.  While Baekryeonjeongsa Temple gets the rating it does for its temple buildings, Seounam Hermitage gets the rating it does for the beautiful outdoor adornment (the Korean traditional jars) and the beautiful views of the Korean landscape and wildlife. So often you’ll hear that all Korean temples/hermitages look the same, but if you want to see something a bit different from a Buddhist temple or hermitage, Seounam is certainly the place to visit.

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A view of the temple compound at Seounam Hermitage from the parking lot.
Picture 503At better look at more of the buildings at the hermitage.
Picture 473The first field of Gochujang (red pepper paste) and Ganjang (soy bean sauce) in earthen jars nestled beside the hermitage compound.
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And a view of the second field.
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One last look at both fields with the hermitage in the background, just before we made our climb.
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The monk dorms that sit on top of the hill above.
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The beautiful peacock that is housed  in the supply tent at Seounam Hermitage.
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The wild rabbit that we came across when cresting the neighbouring hill.
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A better look at it as it approached us for food.
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The beautiful valley below that was just beginning to bud in preparation for spring.
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Another view of the beautiful Korean landscape.
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An evergreen standing solitarily on the hill with the monk dorm in the background.
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Just one more look at the beautiful valley below us.
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A glimpse of the trail that was to lead us back home.
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A better look at the cherry blossoms that were in bloom.
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Yep, spring is just around the corner!!

Baekryeonjeongsa Temple – 백련정사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The uniquely situated main hall at Baekryeonjeongsa Temple

Hello Again Everyone!!

In this posting, we’ll be covering another of the beautiful religious structures inside the Tongdosa Temple grounds.  This one’s a bit different, as it isn’t a hermitage, it’s a temple.  The vast majority of religious structures on the Tongdosa Temple grounds are hermitages.  I was really surprised when I came across Baekryeonjeongsa Temple (백련정사).

As you approach Baekryeongsa Temple, up the temple driveway, you’ll notice a Korean poem inscribed on a standing slab of stone. It’s just one of the more unique features to this temple. Continuing up the driveway that leads up to the temple, you’ll pass by a tiled fence with mud as mortar.  Up the stone staircase, you’ll initially pass by the visitors centre to your left.  Once you enter the temple’s pebbled courtyard, your first surprise awaits you.  You’ll quickly notice that there’s no main hall where it should be on the lower level.  Instead, all that’s awaiting you on the lower level are the monk’s dorm, study hall, and visitor’s centre.  You have to look up on the hill to see the main hall perched up above, as though guarding the rest of the temple grounds from something unseen.  After taking a couple pictures around the lower level, the family and I made our way up the stone staircase to get to the landing where the main hall at Baekryeonjeongsa Temple is situated. From this vantage point, there are a lot of beautiful pictures to be taken of the lower courtyard below, like the ancient and towering trees scattered throughout the lower courtyard, and the cherry blossoms that were just beginning to bloom.  It’s a nice sign because it means spring is just around the corner and the warmer weather with it. As for the main hall itself, it stood solitarily on its perch without either a shrine hall or bell pavilion. So when I say the temple is unique, it’s unique in a couple of ways.  First, you enter through the monk’s living quarters, only to make your way up to the main hall on the hill without any other buildings to keep it company. With that being said, the exterior of the main hall at Baekryeonjangsa Temple has a fair bit to offer the temple adventurer.  The theme of the temple building is roosters, and there are numerous blue and red roosters adorning the temple.  Additionally, there are several unique paintings adorning the exterior of the building, several I’ve never seen before at any other temple. These types of paintings are the reasons I love going out to new temples.  Honestly, no two temples are the same, and it takes a keen eye to spot the differences; however, if you’re patient enough, you’ll spot them.

HOW TO GET THERE:  Just like Okryeonam Hermitage and Samyeongam Hermitage, you’ll have to first take a bus to Tongdosa Temple. To get to Tongdosa from the Gyeongsangnam-do area, you can take an intercity bus from Busan, Eonyang or Ulsan. And from Busan, you can take a bus or subway to Nopo-dong intercity bus terminal. There, you can get a ticket for Tongdosa temple. It leaves every 20 minutes.  Once you arrive in Yangsan, and facing the very small bus terminal, you should walk left and then turn right at the first corner.  The temple entrance is past the numerous restaurants and shops.  Walk up a 1.5 km path, sprinkled with ancient graffiti, and you’ll eventually arrive at the outskirts of the temple grounds.  Once you get to the parking lot for Tongdosa Temple, keep walking up the road for cars to the left.  Follow this road for about a kilometre.  The road will fork to the right or straight.  Follow the road that leads straight. Continue up this road for another two kilometres and follow the signs as you go because there is more than one hermitage back there. In this case, you’re looking for a sign that will read, in Korean, Baekryeonjeongsa Temple. It’s in the same proximal area as the other two listed hermitages.

Again, like Okryeonam Hermitage and Samyeongam Hermitage, Baekryeonjeongsa Temple is free to get into; however, you’ll have to pay the 3,000 won entrance fee at the Tongdosa Temple Entrance gate.  But that 3,000 won sure does pay for a lot, like being able to see Tongdosa Temple, and any other hermitage your time and effort will allow you to see.

View 백련암 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 4.5/10. While the temple is well manicured, unique in its set up, and has some beautifully unique paintings to see, it doesn’t quite stack up to the hermitages that neighbour it. So if you drive a car, I would suggest quickly stopping by to see it; otherwise, I wouldn’t if you were short on time.  Both Okryeonam Hermitage and Samyeongam Hermitage are far more worth the effort to be seen.

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Your first look at Baekryeonjeongsa Temple as you approach the complex.
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The standing stone slab with a Korean poem adorning it.
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The tile and mud mortared fence that leads you towards the temple.
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 The pebble courtyard and slabs of stone with the monk’s dorm in the background.
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One, of four buildings, in the lower courtyard at the temple.
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The entrance to the trail that leads up to the main hall at Baekyeonjeongsa Temple.
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One of the many beautiful views on the way up with spring clearly just around the corner!
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A haunting picture, if I do say so myself.
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Another look at the main hall as we approached.
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The front doors on the main hall at Baekyeonjeongsa Temple.
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The phoenixed theme at the temple.
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I’ve never seen a painting resembling this one before. Any suggestions on what it might symbolize would greatly be appreciated.
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One of the most unique paintings I’ve ever see adorning a temple. Obviously, the man is attempting to reach for something sweet, with the rats chewing away at the roots that hold him, with snakes ready to pounce if he were to slip.  Highly symbolic!
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A better look at what I previously described.
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The eternal struggle between war and peace.
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One last look at the temple courtyard before we were off to our fourth and final temple/hermitage of the day. More to come…

Samyeongam Hermitage – 사 명암 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The gorgeously serene coy pond at Samyeongam Hermitage

Hello Again Everyone!!

Continuing on our tour of hermitages around Tongdosa Temple, this posting will be about Samyeongam Hermitage (사 명암).  Samyeongam Hermitage is one of the largest hermitages I’ve ever visited, and probably the largest of the hermitages associated with Tongdosa Temple. As you approach Samyeongam Hermitage, the first thing you’ll notice is the beautiful pond that is located out in front of the main hermitage courtyard. A gorgeous granite bridge spans the length of this coy pond. Scattered all around the rim of the pond are assorted Buddhist statues. And like two sentinels, the twin bell pavilions hang out over the pond from the depths of the elevated main courtyard above. Greeting you, as you climb the staircase that leads up to the main courtyard at the hermitage, is an intricately designed brown Buddha statue (probably Gwanseeum-bosal). Once you make your way up the stairs, you’ll be introduced to the main courtyard by a low standing Iljumun (First Gate). As you pass through Iljumun, you’ll first see the main hall directly in front of you.  The main hall has extremely rare paintings adorning its exterior.  Because it’s a hermitage for monks studying Buddhism, the paintings are of childlike monks, symbolic of the spiritual maturation process within the Buddhist faith. To the left is the monk study hall.  To the immediate right of the main hall is a shrine hall with ancient trees standing out front of it like two protective guards. Surprisingly, there was a well hidden shrine hall directly behind the main hall up a steep set of stairs. To the far right are a handful of buildings that are the monks’ dorms, and they’re off limits to the public. Of note, you can get some great pictures of both the pond, and the valley below, from the elevated main courtyard.

HOW TO GET THERE:  Much like Okryeonam Hermitage, to get to Samyeongam Hermitage, you’ll first have to make your way to Tongdosa Temple.  To get to Tongdosa from the Gyeongsangnam-do area, you can take an intercity bus from Busan, Eonyang or Ulsan. And from Busan, you can take a bus or subway to Nopo-dong intercity bus terminal. There, you can get a ticket for Tongdosa Temple. It leaves every 20 minutes.  Once you arrive in Yangsan, and facing the very small bus terminal, you should walk left and then turn right at the first corner.  The temple entrance is past the numerous restaurants and shops.  Walk up a 1.5 km path, sprinkled with ancient graffiti, and you will eventually arrive at the outskirts of the temple grounds.  Once you get to the parking lot for Tongdosa Temple, keep walking up the road for cars to the left.  Follow this road for about a kilometre.  The road will fork to the right or straight.  Follow the road that leads straight. Continue up this road for another two kilometres and follow the signs as you go because there is more than one hermitage back there. As you near Samyeongam Hermitage, you’ll come to a point where the road forks. Whereas the road that leads to Okryeonam Hermitage splits to the left, the road that leads to Samyeongam Hermitage heads right.  There is a large stone standing on its edge that reads the hermitage name in Korean: 사 명암.

For the Story Of…Samyeongam Hermitage.

Like Okryeonam Hermitage, admission to Samyeongam Hermitage is free; however, you’ll have to pay the modest 3,000 Won entrance fee to Tongdosa Temple to gain access to the rest of the grounds.

View 사명암 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING:  7/10. The coy pond at Samyeongam Hermitage is beautiful. And this unique aspect of this hermitage slightly outweighs the smaller uniqueness of the neighbouring Okryeonam Hermitage. For this reason, Samyeongam Hermitage rates slightly higher than Okryeonam Hermitage. Besides the coy pond, there are other highlights at this hermitage, like the ancient trees that act as sentries for a shrine hall.  Also, the lower standing Iljumun gate nicely frames the main hall as you ascend the stairs at Samyeongam Hermitage.  Much like Okryeonam Hermitage, Samyeongam Hermitage has a lot to offer the temple adventurer; and to top it off, it’s one of the easier hermitages to get to at Tongdosa Temple.

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On the left is the stone marker that shows the way to Samyeongam Hermitage.
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A view of Samyeongam Hermitage.
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A view of the coy pond from the granite bridge that spans its depths.
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And one, of the two, bell pavilions that hangs over the coy pond.
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And the other bell pavilion and the Iljumun gate at the hermitage.
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Just one of the many statues that sits on the banks of the pond. This one was the most beautiful.
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The brown Buddha statue that welcomes you to the hermitage that is perhaps Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).
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A unique perspective as one ascends the stone staircase.
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A view through Iljumun gate.
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The main hall that is uniquely adorned with childlike paintings of monks.
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The shrine hall with ancient trees as guards to the building.
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The main altar inside the main hall. Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) is in the centre, with Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) to the left, and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the right.
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A better look at Amita-bul.
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An intricate guardian painting inside the main hall.
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Just one of the many unique paintings that adorns the exterior of the main hall.  In this painting, there are childlike monks dancing around and wearing traditional masks.
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Another of the childlike monk paintings.  If you look close enough, you’ll notice one of the monks on the far left is painting the Korean flag.
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And another of the childlike monks, making, what looks to be a snowman. I’ve never seen a painting at any other temple or hermitage that even closely resemble this one.
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 The shrine hall that is hidden behind the main hall.  The entire hermitage complex is surrounded by a bamboo forest.
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The well hidden shrine hall directly behind the main hall at the hermitage.
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A gorgeous pool of water with a stone lotus spout in the foreground.  In the background is one of the monk dorms at the hermitage.
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One last look at the coy pond, as we descend the hermitage stairs.

Okryeonam Hermitage – 옥련암 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The uniquely designed and decorated main hall at Okryeonam Hermitage 

Hello Again Everyone!!

Recently, my wife, in-laws and I all jumped in my wife and I’s new car and headed over to Tongdosa Temple to visit a few of the hermitages that are situated all around the grounds of Tongdosa Temple.  The first on our list was Okryeonam Hermitage (옥련암). It’s had a lot of renovations and add-ons since I was last there in the spring of 2007.

When you first approach the hermitage, you’ll notice three newly built/molded pagodas.  In fact, the pagodas are so new, that only one is completely done with a stone altar piece and cobble-stone around the pagoda. As you continue towards the hermitage, you’ll notice a life-size stone sculpture of Podae-hwasang welcoming you to Okryeonam Hermitage. Continuing up the increasingly elevated road that leads to the hermitage, you’ll notice fields of vegetables that help sustain the monk population with sustenance. In the distance, you’ll finally be able to spot the courtyard of the hermitage. To the left and right of the main stairs that lead up to the elevated courtyard, are a visitor’s centre and retreat hall.  These are newer looking buildings with beautiful landscaping and stone sculptures surrounding them.  Just before you climb the staircase to the upper courtyard at the hermitage, you’ll be able to see a unique pagoda made of temple roofing tiles.

Up the short staircase, and past two fiercely carved lion sculptures, are the main hall, shrine hall, and monk dormitory. The shrine hall, to the left, houses the figure of San shin and Dokseong.  Uniquely, this shrine hall also houses Jijang-bosal, Amita-bul, and Gwanseheum-bosal. Around this hall, there are beautifully painted pastoral paintings and ox-herding murals. To the right of the main hall is the monk dormitory.  The most unique structure at the hermitage is the main hall.  There was a religious ceremony going on when we visited, so we couldn’t go inside; however, the outside of the main hall more than made up for the inability to go inside. One of the most unique features on the exterior of the main hall is that the name of the hall, which is situated above the main doors at the main hall, are almost always written in Chinese characters.  But at Okryeonam’s main hall, the name is written in Korean:  Keun  Bit Eui Jeeb (“House of Big Light”). In fact, the paintings surrounding the exterior of the main hall, which represent the different life stages of the Historical Buddha, are also written in Korean, which is another rare feature to any Korean temple/hermitage. One more unique feature to the temple, and probably the most unique feature of the temple, is the gable area of the main hall, just below the roof.  Accompanying the usual paintings of gods and monks, there were also wooden statues of gods and monks.   In the courtyard, as you’re leaving, take your time to look at the wooden sculptures with human faces that are smiling at you.

HOW TO GET THERE:  To get to Okryeonam Hermitage, you’ll first have to get to Tongdosa Temple.  And to get to Tongdosa Temple you can take an intercity bus from Busan, Eonyang or Ulsan. Specifically from Busan, you can take a bus or subway to Nopo-dong intercity bus terminal. There, you can get a ticket for Tongdosa Temple. It leaves every 20 minutes.  Once you arrive in Yangsan, and facing the very small bus terminal, you should walk left and then turn right at the first corner.  The temple entrance is past the numerous restaurants and shops.  Walk up a 1.5 km path, sprinkled with ancient graffiti, and you will eventually arrive at the outskirts of the temple grounds.  Once you get to the parking lot for Tongdosa Temple, keep walking up the road for cars to the left.  Follow this road for about a kilometre.  The road will fork to the right or go straight.  Follow the road that leads straight. Continue up this road for another two kilometres and follow the signs as you go because there is more than one hermitage back there.

Admission to Okryeonam Hermitage is free; however, to get into the grounds, you’ll have to pay 3,000 won at the Tongdosa Temple entrance gate.

View 옥련암 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING:  6.5/10. There are a lot of unique features to this hermitage.  As soon as you approach the hermitage, you’ll be greeted by the uniquely molded pagodas, much like at Haedong Yonggungsa, that are just being completed. The other more unique features at this hermitage are littered throughout the exterior of the main hall, like the Korean name plate for the main hall, the Korean writing for the story of the Historical Buddha, and the wooden sculptures of gods and monks spread out along the main hall’s gables. If you’re going to visit any of the hermitages located at Tongdosa Temple, Okryeonam Hermitage is one of the better ones to visit.  Also, it’s one of the easier and more accessible hermitages to locate throughout the Tongdosa Temple grounds.

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The newly molded pagodas that welcome you to the hermitage.
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The pagodas and Podae-hwasang together welcome you to Okryeonam.
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The beautiful manicured grounds and conference hall at the hermitage.
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The tiled pagoda just below the elevated courtyard at Okryeonam Hermitage.
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The uniquely designed and decorated main hall.
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This is the first, of three, comical wooden sculptures in the main courtyard.
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A view of the courtyard at Okryeonam Heritage.  On the left is the main hall, and on the right is the monk dormitory.
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The shrine hall with a rare blend of hall guests.
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First is Jijang Bosal, the Bodhisattva of the Afterlife.
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Adorning the altar are Amita Bul (The Celestial Buddha), and Gwanseheum Bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).
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And the shaministic god: Dokseong.
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Up high, just below the roof, is this charismatic painting.
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The unique name inscription above the main doors at the main hall.  It’s unique because the words are written in Korean and not in Chinese chracters.  The Korean words read Keun Bit Eui Jeeb: The House of Big Light.
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Another unique thing about the main hall at Okryeonam Hermitage.  Again, the writing accompanying the paintings about the life of the Historical Buddha are written in Korean and not in Chinese characters.
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The wooden sculptures of gods and saints all along gable of the main hall at the hermitage.
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And just before we left, a comical good-bye from the second wooden sculpture in the main courtyard at Okryeonam Hermitage.