The stunning view from Wonhyoam Hermitage in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.
Hello Again Everyone!!
I’ve been to my fair share of Wonhyoam Hermitages throughout the Korean peninsula. But the one that this Story of… will focus on is the Wonhyoam Hermitage on Mt. Cheonseongsan in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.
I had visited nearly all that Yangsan had to offer in terms of hermitages and temples, all but for the hard to reach Wonhyoam Hermitage. I had been told that you had to trek through a military base to get to the hermitage that lies 900 metres up on Mt. Cheonseongsan.
So pushing my luck one Sunday morning in 2011, I made my way towards Wonhyoam Hermitage. With a few wrong turns, I finally found the dirt road that led up to the hermitage. Fortunately, my information was wrong, because Wonhyoam Hermitage isn’t on the other side of a military base; instead, the dirt road that leads up to the hermitage skirts the military outpost. And there’s one turn, if you head in the wrong direction, that is out of bounds because it’s protected by landmines. Glad I turned left instead of right at that bend in the road.
The not-so-camera-shy junior monk and I just outside the main hall at the hermitage in 2011.
When I finally did arrive at the hermitage, I was pleasantly surprised by a hermitage filled with beautiful shrine halls and a gorgeous view of the town of Yangsan down below. But the true highlight to this hermitage was when the junior monk saw me walking around and took an interest in me. He waved me over for a quick coffee. With his broken English and my broken Korean, we were able to have a nice 30 minute discussion about Korea and Korean Buddhism. Just before I left, he got a volunteer at the hermitage to take a picture of us just outside the entrance to the hermitage’s main hall. With a warm good-bye, he invited me to come back the next time with my wife. With a smile, I promised that I would.
A year later, I finally lived up to the promise that I gave the junior monk at Wonhyoam Hermitage. With my wife, and in the spring of 2012, we made the long ascent up to the hermitage. I was a little surprised that the monk remembered me a year later; but then again, Wonhyoam Hermitage probably doesn’t have all that many expats visiting the hermitage. This time, with my wife as a translator, we discussed Korean Buddhism even further in depth. He explained to me the patient mind it took to become a Korean Buddhist monk. It was really informative. I was also able to ask him questions about Korean shamanism.
And a return visit picture of the two of us from 2012.
Once more, before we left, he got pictures of us all together. This time, however, he was the photographer. He got my wife and I to pose in front of the main hall and the bell pavilion. He also got a picture of him and I together. It was a really unique experience to have. He even showed me a picture of his previous day’s climb to the ledge where Wonhyo-daesa purportedly prayed upon when he was at the hermitage some 1300 years earlier.
It’s these encounters that I really cherish when visiting Korean temples. So many people get caught up in the daily trappings of life that they forget to stop and enjoy the experiences that life can sometimes provide. Also, some may overlook them during their time in Korea. To me, these kinds of encounters are what typify the Korean experience for me.