A look inside the cave that houses the 8th century Amita-bul statue at Mitaam Hermitage.
Hello Again Everyone!!
While out on a Sunday drive, I decided to finally visit the last of the major temples or hermitages listed on the Yangsan city website: Mitaam Hermitage (미타암). For various reasons, the most notable being the distance from where I live, I had yet to visit. And it almost seems as though I saved one of the best for last.
Mitaam Hermitage is named after Amita-bul, the Buddha of the Western Paradise. It was first constructed in 647, during the final year of the famous Queen Seondeok’s reign, by the equally famous monk Wonhyo-daesa. The hermitage was later expanded in 921 by the priest Jijong. Finally, in 1238, the hermitage was further repaired by the priest Jungjin. Of note, the hermitage appears in the Samguk Yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms). In this famous text, it is stated that three monks were disciplining themselves in the aesthetic meditation and ascended to the Western Paradise.
The hermitage sits high above the city of Yangsan on the eastern slopes of the Cheonseongsan mountain range. Mitaam Hermitage is also referred to as the “Third Seokguram” for the natural grotto that houses a statue of Amita-bul that dates back to the late 8th century.
As you approach the hermitage up a long, steep, and wandering road, you’ll finally come to a trail that leads you up to the hermitage. The views from this 500 metre stretch of trail of the neighbouring valley, mountain peaks, and Yangsan, are gorgeous, so take a couple of pictures as you attempt to recover your breath. Finally, when you arrive at the ledge where the hermitage rests precariously upon, you’ll be greeted by the gift shop to your immediate right and a coffee stand to your left. Passing by both of these non-descript buildings, you’ll pass by a row of monks’ dorms that are extremely compact.
Straight ahead, you’ll finally see the gorgeous main hall. The paintings that adorn the outside walls of the main hall are rather simple paintings of the Nahan. Uniquely, there are wooden tablets placed under these paintings on the right side of the main hall. The lattice work at the front of the main hall are second to none, as are the Nathwi paintings below the latticework. Inside, the main hall is ornately decorated and designed with multiple large canopies that surround the multiple statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas that rest on the altar. The left wall has a beautiful older looking painting of Jijang-bosal, and the right wall has the guardian painting. The triad that sits on the main altar is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) in the centre. He is flanked by Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power), as well as Moonsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom). And sitting upon his own altar, and to the right of the triad, is a statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). And next to him is an older looking statue of Seokgamoni-bul with an even older looking mural behind him. To the far left is a statue of Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul). And the farthest statue to the left is a black-haired Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). All of these statues are surrounded by beautiful canopies that are adorned with flying Biseon, dragon’s and floating flowers. The most interesting piece of artwork inside the main hall is a gorgeous painting of the founding monk, Wonhyo-daesa. It is perhaps the most original and beautiful paintings of this monk that I’ve seen in all of Korea.
Further up the path, you’ll pass by the hermitage’s kitchen, as well as an extremely compact bell pavilion. Along this path, you’ll be headed towards an indoor pavilion that houses both the entrances to the Samseong-gak shrine hall dedicated to the three most popular shaman deities in Korea, as well as the entrance to the cave that houses the millennium old statue of Amita-bul. Along the way, again, you’ll see some of the most picturesque views of the Korean landscape from this vantage point.
Finally, inside the indoor pavilion, you’ll see the Samseong-gak shrine hall entrance straight ahead, while the cave entrance is to your immediate left. Inside, the paintings of the three shaman deities, San shin, Dokseong, and Chilseong, are rather common in their design. The three metre wide entrance to the cave that houses the Amita-bul statue is rather unassuming. However, one look inside reveals a beautiful stone sculpture of the Buddha of the Western Paradise. He is surrounded by rows of tiny jade Buddha statues. And he is immediately flanked by two newer looking Bodhisattva statues. While not nearly as impressive as the artificial stone cave at Seokguram Hermitage in Gyeongju, the one at Mitaam Hermitage is beautiful in its own right.
HOW TO GET THERE: You can get to Mitaam Hermitage in one of two ways. First, you can catch a bus to Yangsan Intercity Bus Terminal and catch city bus #2000. The bus ride will take you about 40 minutes, and you’ll have to get off at Jujin Village in Soju-dong. Either that, or you can catch city buses # 247 or 301 from the Busan City Bus Terminal in Nopo-dong. You’ll then have to get off at Jangheung. Wherever it is you get off, the sign markers leading you to the hermitage are well placed. But either way, make sure you pack your hiking boots because the hike up the side of Cheonseongsan is a long one.
View 미타암 in a larger map
OVERALL RATING: 8/10. While a bit out of the way, Mitaam Hermitage more than makes up for it with what it offers the visiting temple adventurer. Of course the highlight to this hermitage is the stunning and ancient cave statue of Amita-bul, but this hermitage also has a lot more to offer like the beautiful painting of Wonhyo-daesa, the ornate interior of the main hall, as well as the amazing view of the Korean landscape down below. Without a doubt, Mitaam Hermitage is an amazing hermitage to visit.