Banyaam Hermitage – 반야암 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

Picture 441The picturesque main hall, Banyabo-jeon, at Banyaam Hermitage at Tongdosa Temple

Hello Again Everyone!!

After visiting Seokbulsa Temple, and after dropping off the in-laws, my wife and I decided to visit one of the last hermitages we had yet to visit at the Tongdosa Temple complex: Banyaam Hermitage (반야암). Well actually, I’m lying a bit when I say that we haven’t visited Banyaam Hermitage before. We last visited Banyaam Hermitage in the winter of 2006. But we both figured that the hermitage would look a whole lot better during the summertime.  So off we went to Banyaam Hermitage!

Banyaam Hermitage is the merging of two words into one. “Banya” in Sanskrit is prajna. Prajna means wisdom or enlightenment, while “am” means hermitage. And these two words together mean wisdom or enlightenment hermitage. Banyaam Hermitage is a smaller sized hermitage at Tongdosa Temple.  It was built by monk Ji-an in 1999. Banyaam Hermitage is beautifully situated surrounded by a vibrant forest and towering mountains.  And the tablet that hangs at the main hall was written by the founding monk, Ji-an.

As you first approach the temple, you’ll first be greeted by a lion based stone lantern and a sign, written in Chinese characters, that reads Banyaam Hermitage. To the right is a serenely placed meditation pavilion next to a quiet stream. You can get to the other side of the stream by taking the hanging bridge. From either side of the banks, you can take some beautiful pictures of the stream, mountains, or lush forest around you. Walking your way up from the stream, you’ll notice three main buildings at the hermitage: the monk dorm, the main hall, and the study hall. The monk dorm isn’t all that aesthetically pleasing with the concrete base that surrounds it; however, there are a couple cute paintings of children monks playing on the exterior of the building.  To the right of the main hall is a non-descript study hall.  But making up for all this lack of appeal is the beautiful main hall and the beautifully manicured grounds at the hermitage. As you approach Banyabo-jeon, the main hall at the hermitage, you’ll see a beautiful lotus pond with a dharma playing on the rocks under a tree.  Next to the dancing dharma are several beautiful lotus pots containing some of the most colourful purple, pink, and white lotuses in all of Korea. Up the stone stairs, you’ll be greeted by a Chinese charactered tablet that adorns the entrance of the main hall. The exterior of the hall has the customary Palsang-do paintings of the Buddha’s earthly life, as well as paintings depicting the rearing of a child by his mother (which I’ve only seen at Biroam Hermitage). What really stood out about the exterior of this hermitage, as I walked around it, were the beautifully coloured and detailed dragon heads that protrude out from the depths of the main hall walls.  Behind the main hall, and on a ridge, is a newer looking pagoda.

Inside the main hall, you’ll be greeted by a triad of a Buddha and Bodhisattvas: Amita-bul (The Buddha of Infinite Light), Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion), and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). All three are beautifully rendered, with an accompanying four-tiered crystal lotus statue to the right. The ceiling and beams of the main hall are painted with ornate likenesses of dragons, phoenixes, and cranes. One of the more impressive features of the interior of the main hall are paintings of the Dharma, Buddha, and saints. And all these paintings are joined with Korean writing giving the names of the associated Dharma, Buddha, or saint. So if you can read Korean, you can know who exactly all those individuals are at all the other temples and hermitages you visit. There are also the accompanying tails, of the former heads of the dragons, protruding into the interior of the main hall. Lastly, there is a really descriptive guardian painting centred by Dongjin-bosal. You can identify him because he wears a helmet with wings on it.  He’s the protector of the Buddha’s teachings. And that’s why he’s almost always situated inside the main hall of a hermitage or temple.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll have to get to Yangsan; and more specifically, Tongdosa Temple. To get to Tongdosa Temple, you can take an intercity bus from Busan, Eonyang or Ulsan. Specifically from Busan, you can take a bus or subway to Nopo-dong intercity bus terminal. There, you can get a ticket for Tongdosa Temple. It leaves every 20 minutes.  Once you arrive in Yangsan, and facing the very small bus terminal, you should walk left and then turn right at the first corner.  The temple entrance is past the numerous restaurants and shops.  Walk up a 1.5 km path, sprinkled with ancient graffiti, and you will eventually arrive at the outskirts of the temple grounds.  Admission for adults is 3,000 won. From Tongdosa Temple, you’ll have to continue up the main road for another 700 metres until you come to a fork in the road.  Instead of heading straight, turn right and continue heading in that direction for 1.2 kilometres.  There are a cluster of hermitages. Find the sign that reads Banyaam Hermitage -반야암- and continue heading to the right in that direction until you arrive at the hermitage.

View 반야암 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING:  6/10. Banyaam Hermitage is rated slightly higher than the neighbouring Seochukam Hermitage simply because of the beautiful stream and meditation pavilion as well as the colourful main hall. Otherwise, it’s situated near the same towering moutains and lush forest. The highlights of this hermitage are the lotus ponds and pots, the named saints on the eaves of the interior of the main hall, as well as the four-tiered crystal lotus statue to the right of the triad of Amita-bul and the Bodhisattvas. If you have the time, and you’re visiting a couple of the hermitages at Tongdosa Temple, I would definitely rate Banyaam Hermitage as one of the more beautiful hermitages in the area.

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The road that leads into Banyaam Hermitage, and the beautiful view that awaits you!
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The lion-based stone lantern is the first thing to greet you as you approach the hermitage.
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The study hall at the hermitage.
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And the child-like monks that adorn the exterior of this hall.
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A view of the main hall with the monks dorms off in the distance, and the towering mountains framing them all.
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A view up at Banyabo-jeon, the colourful main hall at the hermitage.
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A better look at the intricate exterior of the main hall and the name tablet written by the founding monk, Ji-an.
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A unique mural on the exterior of the main hall. I’ve only ever seen it at the neighbouring Biroam Hermitage. In it the child is being raised by his mother.
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Off the child goes into the world leaving his mother behind.
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Only to return later when they’re both older.
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A beautiful view of Korean nature at its finest!
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The main altar inside Banyabo-jeon. In the centre is Amita-bul (The Buddha of Infinite Light). On his left is Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), and on the right is Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). This triad is very common in Korean main halls.
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What is not as common is this beautiful four-tiered crystal lotus statue.
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Up in the eaves were paintings of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and saints. On the left is the Dharma, and on the right is Hyega Daesa (A saint whose job it is to make you laugh).
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An ornately painted twin pair of dragons, painted on the beams of the main hall, with red pearls near their mouths.
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And an equally beautiful phoenix that is painted on a beam inside the main hall.
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Just outside the main hall, on the well manicured grounds, is a lotus pond with a dancing Dharma under the shade of a tree.
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 Next to this lotus pond were several potted lotus flowers. They were some of the most beautiful flowers I’ve ever seen in my life!
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 Another with a yellow sunset inside.
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The meditative pavilion that sits next to a quiet stream.
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The suspended bridge that spans the stream.
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A different look at the beautiful stream.
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One last look up the wandering stream as it makes its way down the valley.

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