Hello Again Everyone!
Trying to round out all the hermitages we hadn’t visited yet at Tongdosa Temple, my wife and I decided to visit Biroam Hermitage (비로암). We had visited it before our marriage in 2005 with my mom and my wife’s mom. It was a great memory, and it was great visiting the hermitage once more. So after a nice lunch with the in-laws, we hopped in the trusty KIA Pride and headed over to Tongdosa Temple. And like most hermitages at Tongdosa Temple, Biroam Hermitage did not disappoint.
Biroam (Biro Hermitage) is named after Birojana-bul, the Buddha of Infinite Cosmic Light. The hermitage itself dates back to 1345. It was founded by the Great Master Yeongsuk during the first year of King Chungmok. The hermitage itself is one of the furthest away from Tongdosa Temple on the grounds. It’s a long, but beautiful, hike up the side of Mt.Chiseosan.
As you approach the hermitage, you’ll first be greeted by a unique guardian gate. Usually, the guardian gate contains four statues of the Heavenly Kings; however, at Biroam, there are painted images of the Heavenly Kings inside, on the walls, of the gate. Passing through this gate, you’ll get beautiful views of the valley below where Tongdosa Temple, and numerous other hermitages, reside. To your right, you’ll get your first few looks of the hermitage buildings over the low-lying hedges. You’ll pass through Buli-mun, the gate of non-duality, to gain entrance to the main hermitage grounds. Straight ahead is the beautiful main hall at the temple. With colourful paintings of Biseon (flying Angels playing music and offering fruit) as well as ox-herding murals adorning the exterior of the hall, there are equally beautiful paintings on the inside. The main altar piece at the hermitage, and the namesake of the hermitage, is a statue of Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Infinite Cosmic Light). To this Buddha’s right is Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). One of the interior paintings is an older looking Yeongsan Assembly painting with numerous gods, monks, and others accompanying the Buddha. Also, there are a couple monk paintings as well as a painting of a phoenix and dragons adorning the roof beams in the main hall. To the immediate right of the main hall is a non-descript visitors’ centre, which neither hurts nor helps the hermitage aesthetically. Continuing to the left is a shrine hall dedicated to a Buddha, as well as San Shin and Chilseong (The Seven Stars of the Big Dipper). Around the exterior of the shrine hall are unique paintings about a mother rearing a child from birth to adolescence. On the lower level of the main courtyard is a beautiful pond neighboured by the monk dormitory.
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 ahead, turn right and continue heading that direction for two kilometres. The road forks to the left and right: left to Jajangam Hermitage and right to Biroam Hermitage. Follow the fork that heads right. And when the road forks once more to the left and right, the left to Gukrakam Hermitage, and the right continues towards your final destination of Biroam Hermitage.
View 비로암 in a larger map
OVERALL RATING: 6/10. It’s a long journey to get to the hermitage, but the hermitage and the views of the valley below are well worth the journey. The unique Heavenly Kings entrance gate is a nice little introduction to the rest of the temple. And once you pass through the second gate at the temple, the beautifully painted main hall dedicated to Biro Bul and shrine hall are a nice addition to an already beautiful hermitage. Finally, the proximity of the neighbouring mountains, as well as the beautiful little man-made pond at the hermitage, and Biroam Hermitage is a hermitage well worth a visit if you’re in the area for an overnight stay.