Unbuam Hermitage – 운부암 (Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

The Wontong-jeon main hall at Unbuam Hermitage in Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Unbuam Hermitage is one of several hermitages directly associated with the famed Eunhaesa Temple. Both Eunhaesa Temple and Unbuam Hermitage are located on the eastern slopes of Mt. Palgongsan (1,192m) in Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

After arriving at Eunhaesa Temple, make your way past the temple grounds and head northwest. You’ll need to head in this direction for about 3.5 km. The hike is pretty flat the entire way. When you do finally arrive at Unbuam Hermitage, you’ll notice two large artificial ponds out in front of the main hermitage grounds. While the one to the right is rather non-descript, the pond to the left has a towering stone statue of the Bodhidharma standing in the centre of the muddy water.

Between both of the ponds, you’ll find an unpainted Bulimun Gate (The Gate of Non-Duality). Up a set of uneven stone stairs, you’ll see the large Boje-ru Pavilion straight in front of you. This gate shields people from seeing directly into the hermitage courtyard. You’ll need to pass under the Boje-ru Pavilion, and up the set of stairs at its centre to finally gain entry to the main hermitage courtyard.

As you step into Unbuam Hermitage’s courtyard, you’ll find that the main hall is book-ended by two long buildings. The building to the left is the visitors’ centre and kitchen, while the long unpainted building to your right is the monks’ quarters. And standing all alone in the middle of the hermitage courtyard is a diminutive three story stone pagoda.

Past the smaller sized pagoda, you’ll see the rather stout Wontong-jeon main hall at Unbuam Hermitage. The exterior walls to the main hall are adorned with fading murals. If you look closely up at the eaves, you’ll notice some of the fading floral patterns that were once a bit more vibrant. As for the main hall itself, and seated all alone on the main altar in a glass enclosure, is a statue of Gwanseeum-bosal. This highly ornate statue is Korean Treasure #514. If you look closely at this early Joseon Period (1392-1910) masterpiece, you’ll notice the flames, flowers and birds of paradise decorating the crown. This gilt bronze statue stands one metre in height. As for the rest of the main hall, you’ll find a guardian mural and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) mural hanging on the far right wall.

To the left rear of the Wontong-jeon main hall, you’ll find a brand new Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. This hall, which will become apparent soon, is highly original in a few ways. First, there are three rooms housed inside the Samseong-gak. But instead of being divided into rooms dedicated to various shaman deities like at Beomeosa Temple, this shaman shrine hall has rooms to the left and right dedicated to those that want to pray alone.

As for the central room inside the Samseong-gak, you’ll find three paintings housed inside it. Typically, the Chilseong (The Seven Stars) painting hangs in the centre of the triad of shaman paintings. But inside this hall, the Chilseong painting hangs on the left wall, while the Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) painting hangs on the right wall. And taking centre stage inside the Samseong-gak is one of the most original Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) murals I have seen in all of Korea. Sitting front and centre is a seated image of Sanshin. And he’s joined by his companion, a tiger, to the left. But what sets this painting apart are the five painted images of monks in the mural. In the back row appear the images of Uisang-daesa (625-702) to the left and Wonhyo-daesa (617-686) to the right. As for the front row, and in the centre, appears Gyeongheo-seonsa (1849-1912). And he’s joined on either side by Seongcheol-seonsa (1912-1993) and Jinje-seonsa. The only guess that I have as to why they all appear in the Sanshin mural is that all five might have appeared alongside Sanshin to the head monk at Unbuam Hermitage in a dream.

And the reason why I think this might be true is that to the rear of the Wontong-jeon main hall and past the vegetable garden at Unbuam Hermitage, you’ll find what looks to be an abandoned building over a bit of a ridge. Without any sign board indicating what might be housed inside, you’ll have to take a look for yourself. And when you do, you’ll find a beautiful modern painting of yet another Sanshin.

Entrance fee to Eunhaesa Temple, where Unbuam Hermitage is located, is 3,000 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: You can either catch a bus from Hayang or Yeongcheon bus station. The bus ride will cost you about 2,000 won. It’s probably easier to get to Yeongcheon bus station. The bus to Eunhaesa Temple, from Yeongcheon, leaves 8 times a day and it takes about 45 minutes. The first bus leaves at 6:20 a.m. and the last bus leaves at 8:00 p.m. And from Eunhaesa Temple, you’ll need to continue to walk west of the temple, and to the north, towards Unbuam Hermitage. The walk takes about 3.5 km.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10. While not as large as the neighbouring Eunhaesa Temple, Unbuam Hermitage is packed with originality. There’s both the Bodhidharma statue, the slender Bulimun Gate, and the Boje-ru Pavilion that first welcome you to the hermitage. But that’s just for starters, because housed inside the main hall is an amazing gilt bronze statue of Gwanseeum-bosal that just so happens to be Korean Treasure #514. And last, but certainly not least, is the highly original Sanshin and monk mural housed inside the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.

As you first approach Unbuam Hermitage.

The entry to Unbuam Hermitage with the Bodhidharma off in the distance.

The pond with the Bodhidharma statue in the centre.

The Bulimun Gate that welcomes you to the main hermitage grounds.

A look through the Bulimun Gate towards the Boje-ru Pavilion.

A better look at the all-natural Boje-ru Pavilion.

The view as you first step inside the hermitage courtyard.

A look inside the Boje-ru Pavilion.

The compact entrance to one of the monks’ quarters.

The Bodhidharma guiding you towards the hermitage kitchen.

A look up at the Wontong-jeon Hall at Unbuam Hermitage.

A look through the front door of the Wontong-jeon Hall.

Korean Treasure #514, Gwanseeum-bosal.

The newly built Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall at the hermitage.

One of the prayer rooms inside the Samseong-gak.

The amazing, and highly original, Sanshin mural at Unbuam Hermitage.

Who is joined by Dokseong to the right.

The tile work and fading floral patterns that adorn the Wontong-jeon main hall.

The seemingly abandoned Sanshin-gak to the rear of the hermitage grounds.

Housed inside is this beautiful second Sanshin mural at the hermitage.

One final look from the hermitage courtyard.

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