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.

Picture 152
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.

6 thoughts on “Geukrakam Hermitage – 극락암 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

  1. A Geungnak-jeon (극락전, 極樂殿, Extreme Bliss Hall or Paradise Hall) is a building in a larger temple dedicated to Amita-bul (阿彌陀佛, Amitabha the Buddha of Western Paradise) that enshrines his image along with related Bodhisattvas, and replicates his Western Paradise. This hermitage is claiming by its name to be that, on a larger scale. The special hall you saw many people praying at (with silence sign) was the famous Geungnak-jeon of this Geungnak-am…

  2. The Sanshin painting is new since i was last there 15 years ago… The Bodhisattva headdress he is wearing is quite notable!

    By the way, this is David Mason of http://www.san-shin.org — trying to comment here using my Google ID — dunno why it says “unknown”…

  3. Also, by the way, that’s not a “shaman shrine hall”, it’s a Myeongbu-jeon (funeral hall). Those aren’t Chilseong paintings (there would be 7 of them! and depicted differently) — those are the Ten Judgement Kings of Hell. Sanshin is just in there because they don’t have a separate Sanshin-gak or Samseong-gak…

  4. As a follow up to our discussion from before, it looks like I might have been right for once 🙂 The hall is not a Myeongbu-jeon hall; but instead, it’s a Susaejeon Hall dedicated to Chilseong. And the paintings inside depict the Seven Stars individually, with one more depicting the Pole Star. So in total, there are eight murals inside of this hall. Also, the painting that sits upon the altar in fact depicts Chilseong. He is holding a golden wheel, and Wolgwang and Ilgwang are standing at his sides.

  5. Wow, great info. Those are then the weirdest Chilseong set of paintings i’ve ever seen — and it’s very rare to have the Seven Stars & Pole Star in individual paintings — so, once again you’ve found something truly unique among Korean temples! So strange that a Myeongbu-jeon triad of statues would be in front of them — but this hermitage seems to be into iconoclasm. And with the Bodhisattva hat on that Sanshin — fantastic stuff! Great discoveries, Dale… I will have to re-visit all the Tongdo-sa hermitages m’self, inspired by this!

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