Bucheobawi/Okryongam Hermitage – 부처바위/옥룡암 (Gyeongju)

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Part of the southern face of Bucheobawi, Buddha Rock, on Mt.Namsan in Gyeongju.

 Hello Again Everyone!!

To get to the famed Bucheobawi, which is known as the Buddha Rock in English, you’ll first have to make your way alongside a country road and then up a trail next to a stream. About three hundred metres up this trail that lies beside a stream, you’ll come to Okryongam Hermitage. This site formally housed Sininsa Temple during the Unified Silla Period (668 A.D. to 935 A.D.). Presently, the grounds are occupied by the rather underwhelming Okryongam Hermitage.

When you first approach Okryongam Hermitage, you’re greeted by the main hall, which stands front and centre. The exterior walls are painted with the Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals. And the main hall is joined to the right by the monks’ dorms and to the left by the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall appears to be just as plain as the main hall until you step inside. Inside, and hanging on the main altar, are a set of shaman paintings. The first painting to greet you when you step inside is an older looking, and well populated, Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural. To the left, and blocked by an altar wall, is the Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) painting. The painting stands out for a couple reasons, but the most noticeable is the leopard like looking tiger that joins Sanshin in the painting. And the final painting of the set is the Dokseong (The Recluse) mural. This rather atypical mural is both uniquely painted and older in appearance. The only other building around the hermitage is the Gwaneum-jeon Hall that appears just before the famed Bucheobawi, Buddha Rock. This hall is rather non-descript, and in fact appears like it was once a residence for the monks before the new monks’ building was constructed.

Past the Gwaneum-jeon Hall, and further up the trail, you’ll finally come to the Bucheobawi, Buddha Rock. Without a doubt, this is one of the most impressive set of stone sculptures that you’ll see in all of Korea. The set of stone sculptures, which number thirty-four in total, date back to sometime during the Unified Silla Period. And the rock that houses all the sculptures stands an impressive ten metres in height and thirty metres in width.

When you first approach Bucheobawi, which houses images on all four of its corners, you’re first approaching the north facade. In total, the north facade reveals five unique images. Hovering over all the others is the image of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). Seokgamoni-bul sits upon a lotus pedestal under an ornate canopy. To the left and right of the Buddha are a pair of pagodas. The one to the left appears to be a nine tier wooden pagoda with wind chimes hanging off each edge of the pagoda. This wooden pagoda is assumed to be the famed pagoda that resided at Hwangnyongsa Temple, which was destroyed during the Mongolian invasion of 1238. This stone sculpted pagoda stands an impressive 3.7 metres in height on the Buddha Rock. The pagoda to the right of the Buddha is a seven tier pagoda and is similar in design to the nine tier Hwangnyongsa Temple pagoda. In total, this pagoda stands 1.53 metres in height. At the base of the northern face of the massive rock appear a pair of lions. The one to the right appears to be female, while the one to the left appears to be male. These spiritual beasts, at least in Korean Buddhism, protect the land of Buddha.

Travelling to the east side, and to the left, you’ll see the greatest collection of Buddhist images on this massive rock. The central image is Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). To the right is Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) that looks to her right at Amita-bul. Originally, a stone sculpture of Daesaeji-bosal appeared to the left of Amita-bul, but through the ages, this sculpture has weathered away. Above this Buddha and Bodhisattva images are six Apsaras. They appear to be throwing flower pedals down towards Amita-bul and Gwanseeum-bosal. And to the far left, you’ll see an image of a monk under a pair of trees. He appears to be training under a bodhi tree, as he trains his mind towards enlightenment.

On the south side, you’ll see a triad in the centre. This triad dates back to the 7th century. To the left of this image is another sculpture of a Buddha. And in front of all four of these images is either a Buddha or Nahan image. In front of these stone sculptures on the Buddha Rock is a statue that stands 1.2 metres in height. The most noticeable aspect to this statue, other than its smashed face, are the detailed ten toes on his feet. And out in front of the south side sculptures and statue is a 4.5 metre tall three tier stone pagoda that crowns the heights of the Rock Buddha sculptures.

Finally, and on the west side of Bucheobawi, are the least amount of stone sculptures on the massive rock. The large image that appears on this side of the rock appears to be a slender Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). He appears with some weeping willows to the right and a bamboo grove to the left. And above Yaksayore-bul is a large sized Biseon.

Other than the sheer number of images that appear on Bucheobawi, the beautiful grace with which they are rendered make Bucheobawi a must for any temple adventurer, or art lover, for that matter.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Bucheobawi and Okryongam Hermitage, you’ll first have to get to Gyeongju and the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal. From the terminal, you’ll have to get a taxi. The ride should last about 15 minutes, and it should cost you about 5,000 to 6,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10. While the Okryongam Hermtage appears to be negligible in comparison to Bucheobawi, the shaman paintings inside the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall shouldn’t be overlooked on your way to the Buddha Rock. However, the main reason you’ve come to the area is to see the famed Bucheobawi with its beautiful stone sculptures. And trust me, the massive rock lives up to the hype, so check it out the next time you’re in Gyeongju.

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Okryongam Hermitage as you enter the hermitage courtyard. The main hall is front and centre with the monks’ dorms to the right.
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The compact Samseong-gak shrine hall at the hermitage.
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Inside the Samseong-gak shrine hall with a look at Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) to the left and Chilseong (The Seven Stars) to the right.
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The uniquely painted and aged Dokseong (The Recluse) painting.
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The trail that leads up to Bucheobawi, with the massive rock to the left.
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A look at the ten metre tall Bucheobawi and the slender pagoda to the left.
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A look at the north façade with the Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) sculpture in the centre and the book ending pagodas on either side.
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The tall nine tier pagoda that was once housed at Hwangnyongsa Temple, but was burnt down to the ground in 1238 by Mongol invaders.
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And to the right on the north facade is this seven tier pagoda that measures one and a half metres in height.
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At the base of the three larger sculptures is this female lion.
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To the left, and on the east face of Bucheobawi, is this central sculpture of Amita-bul.
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To the right of Amita-bul is this stone sculpture of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).
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An image of one of the six Asparas.
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The south face of the Buddha Rock with a triad of Buddhas to the right and the stone statue to the left.
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A closer look at the triad.
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And a closer look at the fractured face of the stone statue.
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The sculpture of the Nahan (or Buddha) in front of the triad and stone statue.
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A better look at the slender three tier pagoda with the sun at its back.
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Yaksayore-bul, who appears on the west side of the massive rock.

Borisa Temple – 보리사 (Gyeongju)

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The serene statue of Seokgamoni-bul that dates back a thousand years at Borisa Temple in Gyeongju.

Hello Again Everyone!!

When you first approach Borisa Temple up a winding road on the north side of Mt. Namsan in Gyeongju, you’ll first be greeted by the temple’s bell pavilion. The temple itself dates back to the Silla Period (57 B.C. to 935 A.D.) in Korean history.

After passing by the bell pavilion that stands to your left, you’ll enter the temple courtyard. Straight ahead is the large sized main hall at Borisa Temple. The exterior walls are adorned with colourful Palsang-do murals that depict the eight stages of the Buddha’s life. As for the interior, and somewhat similar to the interior of Sujeongsa Temple in Ulsan, but not quite as elaborate, sits a golden main altar. In the centre of the altar sits Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s clothed in beautiful silks, and he’s joined by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) on the main altar. This triad is backed by a wonderfully elaborate golden high relief sculpture that is well populated under an equally golden canopy. And there are large sized Biseon (Flying Angels) floating around the main altar canopy. To the left of this stunning altar sits Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). In his hands he holds a long staff and golden pearl. Jijang-bosal is also wearing a beautiful golden robe, and he’s backed by a stunning mural of himself in the company of the Ten Kings of the Underworld. To the right of the main altar hangs the vibrant guardian mural, the Shinjung Taenghwa. The rest of the hall is filled with images of the Buddha in various acts of kindness and mercy.

In front of the main hall is a three tier stone pagoda, which is reminiscent of Silla design. And to the right of the main hall is the temple’s administrative building and dorms. To the left of the main hall, and situated under a large red pine, is the beautiful Samseong-gak, which is dedicated to Shaman deities. The exterior walls are wrapped in paintings of the Shinseon (The Daoist Immortals) and a white tiger. As for the interior, there are some impressive impressions of the three most popular shaman deities in Korean Buddhism. In the centre hangs the Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural that is well populated. Uniquely, there are a pair of attendants in a crystal bubble. To the right of this mural is a rather standard painting of Dokseong (The Recluse). And to the left is a pretty standard painting of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). However, what sets this painting apart are the glowing golden eyes of the tiger that joins Sanshin in the painting.

Finally, and the main reason you’ve probably come to Borisa Temple, is the Silla Period statue of Seokgamoni-bul. The statue is known as The Seated Stone Buddha Statue of Borisa Temple. The statue itself stands two and a half metres in height, and with the lotus pedestal that it sits upon, the entire statue stands an impressive 4.36 metres in height. The face of the Buddha smiles with half-closed eyes. The statue itself is backed by a beautiful floral halo that surrounds the entire statue. And on the back of this halo is the very faint image of Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha), who holds a medicine bowl in his left hand. You’ll have to look really close to see this image. Overall, this statue is really well preserved considering it’s believed to date back to the latter half of the Unified Silla Period (668 A.D to 935 A.D.).

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Borisa Temple, you’ll first have to get to Gyeongju. Once you arrive at the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal, you can get a taxi from just outside the terminal to the temple. Because the temple is relatively close to the bus terminal, the ride should only cost you about 8,000 won (give or take).

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OVERALL RATING: 8/10. The main highlight to this temple is the Unified Silla Period statue of Seokgamoni-bul with its serene smile and stunning features; however, this isn’t the only highlight to this temple. The main hall, with its golden canopy and triad of golden statues, is yet another beautiful highlight at this ancient temple. Add into the mix the fierce golden eyes of the tiger that keeps Sanshin company inside the Samseong-gak, and you have yet another great reason to visit the religious Mt. Namsan in Gyeongju.

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The winding road that leads up to the bell pavilion at Borisa Temple.
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The large main hall at the temple.
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And to the left of the main hall is the ancient statue of Seokgamoni-bul and the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.
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A closer look around the main hall reveals a set of Palsang-do murals.
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A look inside the main hall reveals this beautiful golden altar.
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To the left of the main altar is this statue and painting of Jijang-bosal.
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And to the right of the main altar is this guardian mural.
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The view to the south of the main hall at the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall and the three red pines that keep it company.
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The Chilseong mural inside the Samseong-gak shrine hall.
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And the Sanshin mural with the golden eyed tiger.
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Finally, a look at the ancient, and yet, well preserved, statue of Seokgamoni-bul.
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A closer look at the 1,000+ year old statue of the Historical Buddha.
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And an even closer look at the cracks and crevices of the statue.
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In the shadows of Mt. Namsan, the statue of Seokgamoni-bul looks out over the city of Gyeongju.
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The sites that Seokgamoni-bul stands over at Borisa Temple.
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One more look and then it was time to go.

Yet Another Mysterious Korean War Temple Case

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Yet another mysterious Korean War temple case to be solved.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Recently, I was contacted by Mrs. H, asking me if I could help her identify the place in a picture of her late father in front of a statue from the Korean War. Out of the three cases that I’ve helped people identify a place in a picture from the Korean War, this one would prove to be the most difficult because there was very little to go on.

With very little to go on in the picture, I asked Mrs. H if she could provide at least a general location of where her father might have been stationed while serving in the Korean War. All she was able to provide was that she thought her father might have been stationed in Seoul.

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The Korean War era picture from Mrs. H. Amazing!

With this as a geographic outline, I took a closer look at the picture. In the picture, you can see Mrs. H’s late father leaning up against a rather large statue of a warrior that stands about four metres in height. Based on this statue, I immediately realized that he was at a royal tomb. And since he was stationed in Seoul, I started looking at all of the 40 Joseon Royal Tombs, which are also UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The one unique feature about the statue that really helped me in search of the correct royal tomb is that the statue was perched on an elevated base. This is rather unique for a statue at a royal tomb, as they are usually placed on the grass that surrounds the royal burial mound.

And bingo, with these few clues, I was finally able to figure out where the picture was taken. It wasn’t until I looked at one of the last tombs on the list that I was able to correctly identify the Royal Tomb as the Hongyureung Royal Tomb in Gyeonggi-do Province.

The Hongyureung Royal Tomb is in fact two tombs: Hongneung Royal Tomb and Yureung Royal Tomb. The Hongyureung name is a combination of both. And both of these tombs house the final resting places of the last two rulers of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) before Japanese Colonial Rule (1910-1945). Housed at Hongneung Royal Tomb is King Gojong (1852-1919), who was the 26th Joseon King. King Gojong’s reign (r.1863-1907) was perhaps one of the most tumultuous in Korean history. Japan used Korea as a base to fight Russiafrom during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). Eventually, King Gojong abdicated his thrown to his son under Japanese pressure, and in 1919 he died suddenly at Deoksugung Palace in Seoul. Some believe he was poisoned to death by the Japanese. King Gojong is buried at this tomb with his wife, Queen Myeongseong (1851-1895). Queen Myeongseong was involved and participated in a lot of political matters along the Korean peninsula. As a result of her support for Russiato help overthrow the interference caused by the Japanese in Korean affairs, she was murdered by a group of Japanese agents in Gyeongbukgung Palaceon Oct. 8th, 1895.

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King Gojong at the age of 49.

The other tomb at Hongruyeung Royal Tombs is the Yureung Royal Tomb. This burial mound houses the remains of King Sunjong (1874-1926) and his two wives. King Sunjong (r.1907-1910) was the 27th, and final, King of the Joseon Dynasty. He assumed the throne after the abdication of the throne by his father. His reign was a brief, but bloody, reign in Korean history. After the Japanese-Korean Annexation Treaty in 1910, which brought an end to Korean rule, and ushered in one of the most brutal periods in Korean history which took place during Japanese Colonial Rule, King Sunjong was confined to Changdeokgung Palace, where he died on April 24th, 1926.

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King Sunjong, the last king of Korea.

What really gave away the identification of the tomb was the base of the statue, which I initially thought it might. In addition, the unique design of the statue’s body and face was another bit of help that aided in the identification of the tomb. Finally, the landscaping of the tomb behind the statue helped, as well, in the identification of the tomb. And with these few clues, I was able to correctly identify the location of the picture for Mrs. H.

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A contemporary picture from the Hongyureung Royal Tomb. The one with the yellow arrow pointed to it is the statue from the Korean War picture.

With all the information, and the positive identification of the Royal Tomb, I passed it along to Mrs. H. Like me, she was extremely happy with the identification. I was especially happy because I thought there would be no chance of identifying the tomb with 40 Joseon Royal tombs alone in the Seoularea, and hundreds more throughout the rest of the Korean peninsula. This truly was a needle in the haystack search, but it was a needle I was able to find with a bit of determination and a whole lot of luck.

For more information about the Joseon Royal Tombs around Seoul, you can check out the Cultural Hermitage Administration of Korea website.

 

Samneung Valley on Mt. Namsan Pt.2 – 삼릉골 (Gyeongju)

DSC_1262The view of the Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul from the neighbouring mountainside on Mt. Namsan in Gyeongju.

Hello Again Everyone!!

This is part two of the extremely impressive Samneung Valley on Mt. Namsan in Gyeongju. And the only reason, which is a first for this blog, that this entry gets two parts is that there truly is so much to talk about. So with that being said, let’s continue with Samneung Valley. The first part, if you’re interested, can be seen here.

After visiting the Two Lined-Carved Buddha Triads, and making your way back to the main trail, you’ll have to walk an additional 180 metres up to the Seated Stone Buddha. Located half-way up the hike, and perched on a mountain plateau, appears a statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) featuring the Touching the Earth mudra. This statue is placed upon a beautiful lotus pedestal. Formally, this striking statue was disfigured with the employment of haphazard cement being placed over the jaw area that had previously been damaged. Fortunately, in 2007 and 2008, this travesty was rectified. And now, the statue was returned to its former grace and serenity. It’s believed that this statue was built either in the 8th or 9th century.

Now, the final 500 metres of the hike are the steepest as you near the summit of the mountain. It’s about at this point that you should take a bit of a rest as you prepare yourself for the hardest part of the trail. But with that being said, it’s also the most beautiful part of the Samneung Valley.

Having rested, and made your way up a steep set of rock stairs, you’ll finally come to the only hermitage along the trail: Sangseonam Hermitage. Sangseonam Hermitage is a recently built hermitage that was built on the foundation of a former ancient Silla temple. When you first climb the zigzagging set of brown wooden stairs, you’ll first be greeted by the nuns’ dorms. Past the dorms, and slightly to the right, is the hermitage’s only hall. Out in front of this main hall, you’ll get a beautiful view of the Samseung Valley below and Badukbawi up above. Stepping inside this extremely compact main hall, perhaps the smallest I’ve ever been in, you’ll be greeted by walls filled with Buddhist paintings. Immediately to your left, as you enter, you’ll see a rather typical Korean Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) painting. Next to this painting is a far more vibrant Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural. Sitting on the main altar are a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). And he’s joined by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) on one side and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) on the other. Interestingly, there’s an extremely unique, and extremely feminine, statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the right of the triad. To the left of the main altar, and on the same wall, is a mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). And to the right, and on the right wall, is the Shinjung Taenghwa (the guardian mural).

To the left of the main hall, and between the nuns’ dorms, is a sign that leads you to the top of the mountain and the Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). During the winter, and unfortunate for me, this area is sectioned off. But fortunate for me, and my long legs, I was able to jump the rope that prevents access to this area. After climbing a small set of stairs, you’ll be welcomed by the large seven metre tall statue of Mireuk-bul. It faces the north with its serene features. As for its body, its right hand is spread to the front, while it’s left hand rests on its seated lap. The body isn’t as masterfully carved as its face, but this is still the crowning achievement to the valley, and it contributes to the mastery of the Silla Dynasty when it was created.

A little further up the mountain, and finally at the peak, you get beautiful views of Gyeongju below and the Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul off to the side. In fact, you can get some of the best pictures of the Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul from these heights.

The final part of this tour of the Samneung Valley is the Sangsaam Rock. Around a bit of a bend in the rocks at the peak is Sangsaam Rock that sits on a bit of a plateau. Sangsaam Rock is a bit gnarly and craggy looking, and it measures a rather large 13 metres in height and 25 metres long. This rock is said to cure love-sickness, as well as granting the wishes of women that want a baby boy. Interestingly, there’s a shrine on the east side of the rock. A stone Buddha, with its head missing, rests beside the altar. It’s less than a metre tall and a lot of the sculpture’s detailing have faded with the passage of time. But what can be seen, however faint, are a pair of hands held towards its chest, as well as monks clothing. In addition to Sangsaam Rock, the views from Badukbawi really are second to none with the jetting rocks, blue sky above, and the west side of Gyeongju down below.

For the Story of Samneung Valley.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Samneung Valley, on Mt. Namsan, you’ll first have to get to Gyeongju. Once in Gyeongju, and at the Intercity Bus Terminal, you can catch either bus #502 or #504 across from the terminal. Just make sure with the driver that they’re heading in that direction. So simply ask, “Namsan Samneung-gol,” in Korean. You can either take the bus or you can get a taxi to take you. Again, simply say, “Namsan Samneung-gol,” and the driver will do the rest. In total, the trip should cost you about 8,000 won. From where both the bus or the taxi drops you off, the large trail head opposite the parking lot for Samneung Valley should be obvious.

View Samneung Valley, Mt. Namsan, Gyeongju in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 10/10. Mt. Namsan has earned its nicknamed as the “outdoor museum.” And nowhere is this better suited than with the Samneung Valley and its multiple statues, shrines, and hermitage. In combination, it’s really hard to beat. There’s little else to say about this part of Gyeongju then to say, that unless you’ve visited Mt. Namsan, you really haven’t visited Gyeongju at all.

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The next site along the Samneung Valley is the Seated Stone Buddha.
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A different look at the Seated Stone Buddha.
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And a final, but much closer, look at the beautiful statue.
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A look up at Sangseonam Hermitage as you approach it.
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The main altar inside the main hall at Sangseonam Hermitage with Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) in the centre.
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A look at the unique statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) on the main altar.
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The feminine looking painting of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
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A look down at Sangseonam Hermitage as you continue your climb.
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The next site to greet you is the spectacular Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul.
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A closer look at the sculpture.
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And an even closer look at the face of serenity.
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A look down at Gyeongju from Badukbawi.
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A look through the trees from the peak.
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A clear view down at Gyeongju with a gorgeous blue sky up above.
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Along the ridge line of Mt. Namsan is Sangsaam Rock.
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A closer look at the altar at  Sangsaam Rock.
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And one last look before the descent.

Video: Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

Hello Again Everyone!!

This past holiday weekend, I headed over to the beautiful temple by the sea: Haedong Yonggungsa Temple. This is the fifth or sixth time that I’ve visited this Busan temple throughout the years; and by far, it was also the busiest. This temple has quickly become the most popular temple in all of Busan for obvious reasons. The scenic views of the East Sea make this temple a must see.

So follow me as I explore the beautiful Haedong Yonggungsa Temple.

Thank You

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A look at the East Sea and Haedong Yonggungsa Temple in Busan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

With the blog just turning two, and with over 100,000 visitors during that time, I just wanted to thank those visitors that continue to support my blog. Hopefully, it’s a helpful source to those that want to explore Korean Buddhism, as well as its beautiful temples and hermitages.

THANK YOU!!

Samneung Valley on Mt. Namsan Pt.1 – 삼릉골 (Gyeongju)

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The Headless Mireuk-bul Statue in Samneung Valley on Mt. Namsan in Gyeongju.

Hello Again Everyone!!

I had long wanted to visit Mt. Namsan, in Gyeongju, for many, many years, but for whatever reason never got around to it in ten years. Well, I was finally able to rectify that short-coming when I visited this past week.

The Samneung Valley, which means “Three Tombs’ Valley,” in English, is situated on the western side of Mt. Namsan. From the parking lot (which has bathroom and a visitors’ centre with maps), to the top, it’s about 1.5 kilometres, and it takes about an hour to travel. During this time, you’ll see plenty of shrines, statues, and even a hermitage, along the way. The trail starts off rather easy, and it gets more and more steep as you near the summit.

The first thing you’ll see along the way, and just 250 metres in, are three burial mounds for which the valley gets its name: Samneung Valley. Slightly to the right, and a little off the trail, you’ll see the three burial mounds fenced off through a forest of red pines. The first mound of the three houses the earthly remains of King Adalla (r. 154 A.D. to 184 A.D.) during the Silla Kingdom. During his reign, Silla continued to expand. The second burial mound belongs to King Sindeok, who reigned from 912 A.D. to 917 A.D. King Sindeok, during his reign, was constantly at war with his western neighbours. In addition, King Sindeok’s burial mound is the largest of the three with a circumference of 61 metres and a height of 5.8 metres. The final burial mound is that of King Gyeongmyeong (r. 917 A.D. to 924 A.D.), and he was the third last king of the Silla Kingdom.

Continuing up the trail, which includes a wooden boardwalk in part, and you’ll next come to the Headless Mireuk-bul Statue. From the tombs to the statue, it takes about 15 minutes, or 400 metres. This statue use to be buried in the valley, but was later placed in its present location. It stands 1.6 metres tall and is missing both its head and hands. The most impressive feature about this statue are the finely sculpted details of the monks’ clothes that he’s wearing. This statue is datable to the Unified Silla Period.

Next to this statue, and up the mountain to the left, is the Gwanseeum-bosal Image on a Rock Face. Only 50 metres away from the Headless Mireuk-bul Statue, it’s hard to miss. This image stands 1.55 metres tall and is slightly elevated off the ground. The right hand of Gwanseeum-bosal is raised, while the left is holding a bottle. And on her head, she wears a beautiful crown. What is most interesting about this statue, and through the natural colours of the stone that it’s carved from, is that its mouth is coloured red. While it isn’t exactly known when this sculpture was carved, it’s estimated to be from the Unified Silla Period.

Getting back to the main trail, and walking up it an additional 200 metres, you’ll next come to the Two Lined-Carved Buddha Triads. The triad to the left, and the one you’ll first see when you first arrive at these carvings, is four metres tall and wide. The central figure is standing on a lotus base with his right hand raised, while his left hand is placed over his stomach. The two accompanying Bodhisattvas are kneeling, appearing as though they serve the central Buddha. It appears as though these two Bodhisattva statues are holding up flowers to the Buddha. And the statue to the right is slightly larger than the one to the left with the dimensions of four metres tall and seven metres wide; however, this triad doesn’t seem to have weathered the passage of time quite as well. The central Buddha image appears to be Amita-bul based on his mudra, and he is surrounded by a halo of light, as he sits on a lotus. The two accompanying Bodhisattvas, which appear to be Gwanseeum-bosal and Daesaeji-bosal, stand firmly by Amita-bul’s side.

The second part of Samneung Valley on Mt. Namsan will appear next week.

For the Story of Samneung Valley.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Samneung Valley, on Mt. Namsan, you’ll first have to get to Gyeongju. Once in Gyeongju, and at the Intercity Bus Terminal, you can catch either bus #502 or #504 across from the terminal. Just make sure with the driver that they’re heading in that direction. So simply ask, “Namsan Samneung-gol,” in Korean. You can either take the bus or you can get a taxi to take you. Again, simply say, “Namsan Samneung-gol,” and the driver will do the rest. In total, the trip should cost you about 8,000 won. From where both the bus or the taxi drops you off, the large trail head opposite the parking lot for Samneung Valley should be obvious.

View Samneung Valley, Mt. Namsan, Gyeongju in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 10/10. Mt. Namsan has earned its nicknamed as the “outdoor museum.” And nowhere is this better suited than with the Samneung Valley and its multiple statues, shrines, and hermitage. In combination, it’s really hard to beat. There’s little else to say about this part of Gyeongju then to say, that unless you’ve visited Mt. Namsan, you really haven’t visited Gyeongju at all.

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The view from the parking lot at Samneung Valley up at Mt. Namsan.
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A look at the three tombs at the trail head for which the valley gets its name: Samneung-gol.
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And a look through a pair of twisted pines before I was off again on my hike through the valley.
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And for a small portion of the hike, you even get a bit of a boardwalk.
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The second site up the trail is the Headless Mireuk-bul Statue.
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Whether it was damaged by the Japanese or Korean Neo-Confucianists is unclear.
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To the left of the Headless Mireuk-bul Statue is this Gwanseeum-bosal Image on a Rock Face.
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A better look at Gwanseeum-bosal with a bottle in her left hand and her right hand held towards her chest.
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A closer look at the pink lipped Bodhisattva.
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The fourth site along this trail are these pair of rocks that display the Two Lined-Carved Buddha Triads. This can be a bit hard to see, but with a bit better look, you can see the masterful sculptures.
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A look to the left reveals a standing Buddha with a pair of Bodhisattvas at his side.
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A closer look at one of the flower offering Bodhisattvas. To the left of his head you can see his arms and the flowers he is offering.
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The triad of carvings to the right. In the centre is a seated Amita-bul with a pair of standing Bodhisattvas at his side.
DSC_1140A closer look at Amita-bul that sits in the centre of the triad to the right.

Chilbulam Hermitage – 칠불암 (Gyeongju)

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Bodhisattva on the Rock Face in Sinseonam on top of Chilbulam Hermitage in Gyeongju.

Hello Again Everyone!!

I had wanted to visit Chilbulam Hermitage for years. I had been waiting on my wife, in-laws, and I to go, but I had grown far too impatient to wait until the warmer weather. So just a little while back, I decided to head out on my own and discover both the natural and artistic beauty that can be found at Chilbulam Hermitage on Mt. Namsan in historic Gyeongju.

The present incarnation of Chilbulam Hermitage, or “Seven Buddhas Hermitage”, in English, dates back a mere hundred years when a nun was hunting for mushrooms in the area. It was by mere chance that she stumbled upon the pair of statues that make up the seven Buddhas statue buried in the ground. Upon discovering the statues, she built a hut on the grounds to continue her hunt for mushrooms. And in 2009, the present main hall and dorm building was built.

Chilbulam Hermitage is located on top of the Bonghwa Valley. To get to the hermitage, you’ll have to walk two kilometres up the valley. At times, the trail can be quite easy, as you walk beside a rolling stream. However, the final 500 metres of the trail can be a bit tough. As you near the hermitage, you’ll pass through a bamboo forest, as you make your way up to the temple grounds.

When you first appear in the temple courtyard, you’ll notice the newly built main hall/nuns’ dorms to your immediate left. This rather plainly painted main hall is joined to the left by the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Inside are three beautiful, but rather customary, paintings of the three shaman deities. The one exception is the seated image of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).

As there are only a couple temple buildings at the hermitage, it won’t take you long to get back to the Seven Buddhas on a Rock Face sculpture that dominates the hermitage’s courtyard. The Seven Buddhas on a Rock Face sculpture dates back to between the 7th and 8th century. This sculpture, in Korean, is referred to as the “Chilbul Maae Seokbul.” In total, there are seven images that appear over two separate stones. Four appear on the smaller rock that’s placed in front of a much larger stone. On the larger stone, there appear three Buddha and Bodhisattva images. The tallest image on the larger stone is 2.7 metres in height. This large image appears to be Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise), while the image to the right appears to be Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) because of the bottle of sweet dew that it holds in her hand. The final image in this triad, then, would be Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul). On the smaller, squarish stone, are four images. Two of the four are identifiable because of the direction they face, while the other two are left up to guess work. The image facing the east would be Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha, as well as the Buddha of the Eastern Paradise). And again, the Buddha facing the west is Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise).

To the right of the large Seven Buddhas sculpture is a trail that leads to the top of the mountain. Up this trail is the amazing Bodhisattva on the Rock Face in Sinseonam. The path up from Chilbulam Hermitage to the sculpture is, perhaps, the most treacherous I’ve been on. So make sure you have your hiking boots with you and you cautiously climb the thirty metre long trail. When you do eventually get to the top of the mountain, and you turn the extremely narrow bend in the trail, you’ll surprisingly be greeted by an image of Gwanseeum-bosal on a narrow ledge. This sculpture stands 1.4 metres in height and it dates back to the late 8th century. Physically, the Bodhisattva has flowers in her right hand and her left hand is raised. Additionally, Gwanseeum-bosal wears a large crown and a robe that loosely flows from her body. Gwanseeum-bosal is seated on a pedestal with the left foot tucked up under her, while the right is firmly planted on the ground. And the pedestal is situated on top of a cloud as Gwanseeum-bosal’s eyes are meditatively held partially open. This sculpture is, perhaps, one of the most uniquely and beautifully placed in all of Korea. It’s really hard to think of one that really surpasses it.

Admission to this temple is free. Also, you’re allowed staying at the hermitage for a small fee. Just make sure that you call ahead before staying the night at the hermitage.

HOW TO GET THERE: The easiest way, by public transportation, to get to Chilbulam Hermitage is by taking city bus #10 or #11 from the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal. However, one bus should only take you about 15 minutes, while the other bus takes 45 minutes. Ask at the tourism kiosk next to the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal which one is faster. You’ll have to get off at the Tongiljeon (통일전) stop. From this stop, you’ll have to cross the parking lot to the snack shop and Seolchuji Pond. From there, you’ll have to walk the rest of the way. There are plenty of signs that will lead you the rest of the way.

The easiest way, however, is simply by taking a taxi from the Intercity Bus Terminal. If there are a group of you, the 10,000 won fare will be almost equal to the bus fare, anyways. Simply tell the bus driver, “Namsan Chilbulam,” and they should be able to do the rest.

To learn more about Chilbulam Hermitage, check out here.

View Chilbulam Hermitage in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 9/10. Chilbulam Hermitage is beautifully situated on the side of Mt. Namsan and up Bonghwa Valley. Mixed in with the natural beauty that oozes from this part of the mountain is the artistic beauty found at this hermitage in both the Seven Buddhas sculpture in the temple courtyard and the Bodhisattva on the Rock Face in Sinseonam. Both the natural and Silla artistry are really second to none, not only in Gyeongju, but throughout the Korea peninsula.

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Part of the stream that neighbours the trail that leads up to the hermitage.
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Part of the trail.
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Part of the bamboo forest that curvingly covers the stairs that lead up to Chilbulam Hermitage.
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The strangely shaped red pine that hovers over the hermitage garden.
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The main hall/nuns’ dorms at the hermitage. Like Tongdosa Temple, it has no statues adorning its main altar. Instead, the main hall looks out onto the Seven Buddhas sculpture.
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The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall that neighbours both the main hall and the mountain peak.
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A look inside the Samseong-gak at the three shaman paintings that adorn the altar inside this hall.
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The temple courtyard at Chilbulam Hermitage.
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Finally, a look at the Seven Buddhas statue at Chilbulam Hermitage.
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And another look from the southwest corner of the statue.
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A look at Amita-bul with the towering mountain overhead.
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Near the mountain peak. This is a look down at the surrounding city of Gyeongju.
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The little ledge, and the bend in the path, that you’ll have to traverse to get to the Bodhisattva on the Rock Face in Sinseonam.
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And a look down at Chilbulam Hermitage from the mountain heights.
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Finally, a look at Bodhisattva on the Rock Face in Sinseonam and the beautiful blue skies that surround it.
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A closer look at the sculpture of Gwanseeum-bosal.
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And one last look.