Seonsuam Hermitage – 선수암 (Yesan, Chungcheongnam-do)

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A look inside the well-populated interior of the Gwaneeum-jeon at Seonsuam Hermitage.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Just to the south-west of the temple courtyard at Sudeoksa Temple is Seonsuam Hermitage. Directly associated with the famed Sudeoksa Temple, Seonsuam Hermitage is built for Korean Buddhist nuns.

When you first approach Seonsuam Hermitage, just before the Sacheonwangmun Gate at Sudeoksa Temple, you’ll notice a miniature Dabo-tap pagoda from Bulguksa Temple halfway up the path. Nestled under towering trees, the pagoda is an exact replica of the stone monument, but just a quarter of its size.

Finally entering the hermitage’s courtyard, you’ll notice the large main hall to your right with the nuns’ quarters off to the left. The main hall itself is adorned with a dual set of murals around its exterior walls. The ones on top are vibrant Palsang-do murals dedicated to the eight scenes from the Buddha’s life, while the second set are various murals from the various stages of life. The latticework on the front door to this hall are beautiful flower blossoms in full bloom. Strangely, but caringly, there is a large umbrella to shield people from the sunlight while worshiping at the main entry.

Inside the hall, and sitting all alone on the main altar, is a large seated statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). The entire interior to this hall is decorated with various murals. To the right of the main altar are a set of four such murals. To the far right is the dynamic guardian mural joined to the left by an elaborate Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural. This is then joined to the left by one of the larger Sanshin (Mountain Spirit) murals you’ll find in Korea. Rounding out the set is an equally large mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).

To the left of the main altar is another collection of Buddhist murals. The first of the four to the left of Gwanseeum-bosal is a larger, multi-arm and headed mural of the Bodhisattva of Compassion. The next mural to the left is the Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) mural. Another in the set is an intricate mural dedicated to the Ten Kings of the underworld. The final mural in the set is a beautiful Gamno-do mural with various acts of misdeeds at the base of the Sweet Dew mural for the dead.

It should be said that one of the nicest Buddhist nuns (or monks for that matter), I met at Seonsuam Hermitage. Her name was Nama, for Namaste. She took the time to explain some of the details behind each painting. Also, she gave me a beautiful wooden dancheong piece of artwork. If your Korean is good enough, and she’s around, take the time to talk to this beautiful soul.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Seonsuam Hermitage, you’ll first need to get to Sudeoksa Temple. There are a variety of ways that you can get to Sudeoksa Temple. From Seoul, you’ll need to get to the Nambu Bus Terminal and board a direct bus to Sudeoksa Temple. The bus ride lasts about two and half hours and should cost about 8,000 won. From anywhere else in the country, you’ll first need to get to the Yesan Intercity Bus Terminal. From there, you can take a rural bus to Sudeoksa Temple. Here is a list of potential buses that you can take: Bus #553 (8:20), Bus #547 (9:40), Bus #558 (10:50, 17:35), Bus #551 (12:00, 15:00), Bus #557 (13:20), Bus #549 (14:00), Bus #555 (15:55), Bus #556 (19:15). These buses will take about an hour and forty minutes to get to the temple.

Once at Sudeoksa Temple, make your way towards the main temple courtyard. Just before the Sacheonwangmun Gate, hang a left and head towards Seonsuam Hermitage. It’s about 100 metres up the pathway.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10. There is a beautiful collection of Buddhist and shaman artwork inside the Gwaneum-jeon main hall at Seonsuam Hermitage. Also, and if you’re lucky enough to meet her, Nama can help explain some of the finer points of the hermitage and Korean Buddhism as a whole. So if you’re visiting the neighbouring Sudeoksa Temple, drop by Seonsuam Hermitage along the way.

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The miniature Dabo-tap pagoda at Seonsuam Hermitage.

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The main hall at the hermitage.

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Some of the beautiful latticework adorning the main hall.

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One of the life cycle pieces of artwork on the exterior walls of the main hall.

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Which is joined above by some vibrant Palsang-do murals.

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The guardian mural inside the main hall.

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Joined by the Sanshin mural.

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The Jijang-bosal mural to the right of the main altar.

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Gwanseeum-bosal sitting in the middle of the main hall.

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A mural of the Bodhisattva of Compassion to the left of the main altar.

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Joined by Dokseong.

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As well as the Ten Kings of the Underworld.

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The final painting in the collection is this Gamno-do mural.

4 thoughts on “Seonsuam Hermitage – 선수암 (Yesan, Chungcheongnam-do)

  1. Hi Dale,
    The panel of lattice work at the main hall is lovely. I think the big flowers are a sort of water iris. The clusters of three small blossoms at the interstices are plum blossoms (because of their five petals), more often associated with Confucian institutions because they are considered to be symbols of courage and hope being the first to bravely stand against the dangers of winter.

    • It is beautiful, but it’s not a main temple. Also, there is only one building that a visitor can enjoy at Seonsuam Hermitage. So for all these factors, it only rates a 5 out of 10. If it were bigger and it was a main temple, it would rate a lot higher, in my humble opinion.

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