The main hall at Gwaneumam Hermitage at Tongdosa Temple.
Hello Again Everyone!!
Much like Biroam Hermitage, Gwaneumam Hermitage is named after a Buddhist Bodhisattva. Gwaneumam Hermitage is named after the Bodhisattva of Compassion: Gwanseeum-bosal. The hermitage is actually the newest hermitage directly associated with Tongdosa Temple. Gwaneumam Hermitage was built 30 years ago. Originally, the land where the hermitage was built was used by a married Buddhist priest and his family. But the land was bought for building the hermitage. The one key feature of this hermitage, and it stands out when you visit it, is a five storied sari stupa. Purportedly, according to the Tongdosa Temple website, the stupa at Gwaneumam Hermitage houses the partial remains of the Historical Buddha. These remains were from Myanmar (Burma). It’s a remarkable history for a hermitage that almost seems underwhelming.
As you first approach the hermitage from a dirt road, you’ll first realize that the land where the hermitage now resides must have be a former rice paddy. The only reason I say this is because the hermitage is surrounded by rice paddies in all directions. Entering through the opening in the walled off hermitage compound, and by the black dragon heads that stand on each edge of the opening, you’ll enter into a non-descript hermitage courtyard.
To the left is the compact main hall with the beautiful pagoda with the purported remains of the Buddha inside. The paintings around the main hall are Buddhist themed in nature. Stepping inside the main hall, you’ll see a large, red canopy hovering over top of the main altar. Underneath this elaborate canopy are a triad of statues. Sitting in centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). To the right of this altar is a large guardian mural.
As for the rest of the hermitage grounds, there’s the monks’ dorms, a visitors centre, and the hermitage’s kitchen. To the right of these buildings is a unique pagoda and a monk statue, as well as a pavilion that overlooks a beautiful garden. The pagoda strangely has rounded edges, instead of the typical sharp stone lines of a more traditional Korean pagoda. Also, the hobbitesque monk statue sports a stone straw hat. To the right of this monk statue is a wooden/straw pavilion for monks to meditate as they look over the beautiful garden that lays out in front of it.
HOW TO GET THERE: Gwaneumam Hermitage is a bit tricky to find. It’s not on the Tongdosa Temple grounds; instead, it lies in the neighbouring hills and fields. With your back to the main gate at Tongdosa Temple, head straight for about 200 metres. Turn left at the first major road. This road will head straight, beside the Tongdosa Temple parking lot, for about 300 metres. By this point, you may be able to see the top of the main hall. As the road forks, head left around a curved road for about 200 metres. You’ll then see a handful of taller apartments. Head down the back alley behind one of these apartments for about 100 metres. Hang a right at the edge of these apartments for another 100 metres, by then you’ll be able to see both the hermitage sign as well as the hermitage and rice paddies that surround Gwaneumam Hermitage. Unlike all the other hermitages that take up residence on the Tongdosa Temple grounds, Gwaneumam Hermitage is free to enter.
OVERALL RATING: 2.5/10. Unless you’re a die hard temple/hermitage adventurer like me, I wouldn’t recommend visiting this hermitage. However, if it’s true that the hermitage does house the partial remains of the Buddha, then this hermitage would obviously be rated a bit higher. But at this time it doesn’t seem all that clear if they do or don’t. The highlight of this hermitage is the beautifully painted compact main hall, purported stupa that houses the partial remains of the Buddha, as well as the atypically shaped pagoda and the hobbitesque monk statue. The garden is also a nice place to take pictures and gather your breath before finding your way back to the bus stop or the Tongdosa Temple gate.
The drive up to Gwaneumam Hermitage.
The lotus field at the hermitage.
One of the hermitage’s walls with a decorative dragon adorning the entry to Gwaneumam Hermitage.
The five tier pagoda out in front of the hermitage’s main hall.
One of the aged haetae in front of the pagoda.
One of the panels of protective guardians that adorns the base of the five tier pagoda.
A look through the entry of the main hall at Gwaneumam Hermitage.
One of the murals that adorns the main hall.
The main altar inside the main hall. Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) is joined by a standing Jijang-bosal and a standing statue of Gwanseeum-bosal.
An up close of the guardian mural that hangs inside the main hall.
A better look at the elaborate main altar inside the main hall.
The hermitage’s stone artwork and relaxing hut.