Hongjeam Hermitage – 홍제암 (Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The beautiful view from the Sanshin-gak at Hongjeam Hermitage near Haeinsa Temple in Gayasan National Park.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Having recently revisited Haeinsa Temple, and Hongjeam Hermitage, as well, I thought I would do a re-write of the hermitage. I don’t usually do such a thing, but I think I might have understated the hermitage’s beauty because I overlooked half of what it had to offer. So with that in mind, this is the re-written article on Hongjeam Hermitage.

Hongjeam Hermitage was first built in 1608 for High Priest Samyeong by King Seonje. The King did this in appreciation for the Buddhist priest’s contribution in defending the country from the Japanese during the Imjin Invasion of 1592 by raising a Buddhist monk army. The famous priest would spend the remaining years of his life at Hongjeam Hermitage. And when he died a stupa and stele were made in 1610. The biography of the great priest is written on his stele. Stupidly, the stele was damaged by the Japanese police chief in Hapcheon during Japanese colonial rule in 1943. Fortunately, it was repaired in 1958. In total, the hermitage has been rebuilt seven times throughout the years; the most recent being 1979, when the hermitage was completely dismantled under the patronage of then president, Bak Chung Hee.

You first approach Hongjeam Hermitage from the east after passing by the Iljumun Gate at Haeinsa Temple. The first thing to welcome you at the hermitage are a row of stupas and steles. Of the nine stupas and steles, it’s the turtle based stele in the centre that belongs to the warrior monk, Samyeong-daesa. You’ll easily be able to identify it, because the body of the stele has been broken in the middle into four pieces. Amazingly, it was able to be repaired. To the right rear of these stone monuments, and lying on the hillside that overlooks Haeinsa Temple, is an courtyard memorial for those that fought in the Imjin War (1592-98).

When you approach the hermitage grounds either through the side or main entrance, you’ll be welcomed by a collection of buildings. The ones to the far left are the monks’ facilities like the kitchen and dorms; as to the right, there stands the main hall at Hongjeam Hermitage. Stepping inside the elevated main hall, you’ll first notice the elaborate main altar that houses seven statues. Sitting in the centre is a large golden statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on his immediate right and left by Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha) and Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). Rounding out the five larger statues are a pair of book-ending statues dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power and Wisdom for Amita-bul). The interior walls are lined with elaborate Palsang-do murals. Also, there hangs a painting that depicts three Dongjin-bosal (The Bodhisattva that Protects the Buddha’s Teachings) images.

To the left of the main hall is a tucked away Myeongbu-jeon Hall. Immediately upon entering this hall, you’ll notice a diminutive statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) on the main altar with a colourful altar mural backing this Bodhisattva. Hanging over top of the entry, and slightly to the right, is a Gamno-do mural. But the most interesting pair of murals hang to the left of the main altar. The first is an older guardian painting, while the other is an equally older looking mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).

Now, this is where Hongjeam Hermitage gets interesting. If you exit the first hermitage compound to the left rear, you’ll come out on the other side next to a rolling stream and a large cabbage patch field. It’s to the rear of the cabbage patch and the building that backs this produce that you’ll come to an amazing Sanshin-gak. Resting inside this shaman shrine hall is a statue and painting dedicated to the Mountain Spirit. But what sets this apart from the hundreds of other Sanshin murals I’ve seen in Korea is that this Sanshin appears to be a Bodhisattva. In this painting and statue, the spiritual roots of Korea are blended between Shamanism and Buddhism. To the left of the Sanshin-gak are two encased rows of Nahan statues. In addition, and among the rocks that pop out from the ground, are a pair of granite statues dedicate to Jijang-bosal to the left and Yaksayore-bul to the right.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Hongjeam Hermitage, you’ll first have to get to Haeinsa Temple. And to get to Haeinsa Temple from Busan, you’ll first have to get to Seobu Bus Terminal. The easiest way to get to Seobu is from Sasang subway stop, which is #227 on the second line. Once you get to the Hapcheon Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll have to get on another bus for Haeinsa Temple, which is about 4,000 won. From where the bus lets you off, you’ll have to find the trail that leads up to Haeinsa Temple for about a kilometre, which starts to the left of the temple museum. From the Iljumun Gate, which is the first gate at Haeinsa Temple, you’ll have to continue left as you face this gate. Head towards the parking lots on your left and cross the narrow stone bridge where you’ll catch your first glimpse of the monk cemetery at Hongjeam Hermitage. In total, it’s about 300 metres from the Iljumun Gate at Haeinsa Temple to get to Hongjeam Hermitage.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10. While initially underrating this hermitage the first go around, I won’t make the same mistake the second time around. Hongjeam Hermitage is the eternal resting place to one of Korea’s most famous monks: Samyeong-daesa. In addition to such a unique claim, it also houses Korea’s most unique images of Sanshin. Finally, Hongjeam Hermitage is beautifully situated in Gayasan National Park next to the famed Haeinsa Temple.

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The entry at Hongjeam Hermitage.

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The fall colours at Gayasan National Park.

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The entrance marker welcoming you to Hongjeam Hermitage.

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The shrine dedicated to the Imjin War dead at Hongjeam Hermitage.

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Another look with Haeinsa Temple and the colourful mountains framing the shrine.

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The collection of stupas and steles at Hongjeam Hermitage.

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The stele dedicated to the famed warrior monk, Samyeong-daesa.

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The hermitage grounds as you approach the entrance gate.

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A closer look around the hermitage grounds and the main hall.

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The amazing view from the hermitage courtyard.

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The wooden corridor just outside the main hall’s entrance.

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The main altar inside the hermitage’s main hall.

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The Dongjin-bosal mural to the right rear of the hall.

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Just one of the beautiful murals that adorns the interior walls of the main hall at Hongjeam Hermitage.

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As well as this all-white incarnation of Gwanseeum-bosal.

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To the left of the main hall is this shrine hall dedicated to Jijang-bosal.

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The large Gamno-do mural near the entry of the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.

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An aged Sanshin mural hangs inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.

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The cabbage patch to the left rear of the main hermitage compound.

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The Sanshin-gak at Hongjeam Hermitage.

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With this spectacular statue and painting of a Bodhisattva-like image of Sanshin.

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The ceiling to the Sanshin-gak.

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The rows of Nahan statues at the hermitage.

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They’re fronted by these two beautiful stone statues of Jijang-bosal and Yaksayore-bul.

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