Hello Again Everyone!!
For whatever reason, I had never had a huge urge to visit Wonhyoam Hermitage here in Yangsan. Perhaps it was the distance, and perhaps it was knowing I would have to climb another mountain to get to it. But whatever the reason, I had yet to visit it. Like Golgulsa Temple in Gyeongju, Wonhyoam Hermitage was a very pleasant surprise.
Wonhyoam Hermitage (원효암), like the identically named hermitage in Busan, is named after the Silla monk Wonhyo-daesa, who helped popularize Buddhism throughout the Korean peninsula. The hermitage dates back to the Silla dynasty, and it’s located 900 metres up on Chunseoungsan Mountain. If you’ve been to both the Wonhyoam Hermitages in Yangsan and Busan, you’ll know that Wonhyo-daesa really enjoyed isolated hermitages to study. Interestingly, the hermitage has an fascinating story attached to its very long history. In the summer of 1991, a thunderstorm without rain erupted around the hermitage for two hours. A fireball from this storm struck at Saja-bong ( Lion Peak), which is east of Wonhyoam Hermitage. As a result of this strike, a blackened figured was discovered on the rocks by hikers the next day. The image that was formed by the strike looked like the image of the Buddha. And after the abbot of Tongdosa Temple, Wolha, saw the image he called it “Cheonwang Yaksa Yeorae,” which in English translates as Heavenly Light Yaksayore-bul, after the Buddha of Medicine. It was named this because Yaksayore-bul resides in the East, which is where the strike of lightning hit near the hermitage.
When you first approach the hermitage, after making the long way up the eight kilometer military/hermitage road, you’ll see some of the most beautiful views in all of Yangsan, and perhaps Gyeongsangnam-do. You can take some breath-taking views from these heights, so take your time and enjoy the view. Walking down the road, you’ll notice a beautiful bell pavilion to the right of you. And to the left, where there’s a bend in the trail, there’s a little rock outcropping. Be careful when you step out onto this outcropping, because one wrong step and you’re rolling down the wrong side of a mountain. However, once you’ve safely made your way out onto the rock outcropping, the valley that the south part of Yangsan is situated in reveals itself before your very eyes.
Continuing towards the hermitage grounds, you’ll first see a brightly coloured green roof that sits upon the main hall. Immediately to your right is the hermitage office. And trust me, the office workers will look shocked to see a foreigner so high up the mountain. Inside the main hall is a triad of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) in the middle, and to his left sits Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to his right. There is an amazing wooden guardian sculpture on the left wall with a uniquely designed, and multi-armed, Dongjin-bosal (The Bodhisattva that Protects the Buddha’s Teachings) in the centre. Around the main hall are some uniquely painted ox-herding murals. Well hidden, and behind the main hall, is a hall dedicated to the three Shamin gods and Yongwang, the King of the Sea. Along the main altar for the Samseong-gak (The Three Stars Hall) are equally beautiful wooden sculptures dedicated to the three Shaman gods: Chilseong (The Seven Stars), San shin (The Mountain god), and Dokseong (The Recluse). In an adjoining room, intermingled with the mountain’s rocks, is a hall dedicated to Yongwang.
To the left of the main hall are the monk’s dorms and study halls. And to the right of the main hall, and up the embankment, is the beautiful bell pavilion with intricate woodwork and paintings. Interestingly, there’s a set of 108 stairs that leads up to Cheonwang Yaksa Yeorae. Under a canopy, the altar looks to the south with the blackened Buddha figure sitting on the altar.
On a personal note, as I was ready to leave, the junior head monk at the hermitage invited me for a cup of coffee that lasted 30 minutes. It was an amazing experience with his broken English and my broken Korean talking about life and faith.
HOW TO GET THERE: Like most smaller hermitages or temples in smaller towns, this hermitage is a bit of a chore to get to and find. You can take bus number 12 or 12-1 towards Tongdosa Temple. You’ll have to get off at Daeseok village. This area is around the more famous Hongryongsa Temple. The hermitage has a shuttle bus that ventures up the 8 kilometre road. The shuttle bus can be found out in front of the Wonhyoam Hermitage shop. And the bus leaves four times a day at 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m., and 1 p.m.
View 원효암 in a larger map
OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10. This temple has a better view than Baekunam Hermitage near Tongdosa Temple, and more beautiful buildings than the Wonhyoam Hermitage near Beomeosa Temple. And for these two reasons this hermitage rates slightly higher than the two aforementioned hermitages. Wonhyoam Hermitage has a beautiful bell pavilion and Samseong-gak hall. Couple this with the spectacular views of Yangsan below and the blackened Buddha figure from the lightning storm, and you’ll know why this hermitage is rated as high as it is.