Chilbulam Hermitage – 칠불암 (Gyeongju)

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Bodhisattva on the Rock Face in Sinseonam on top of Chilbulam Hermitage in Gyeongju.

Hello Again Everyone!!

I had wanted to visit Chilbulam Hermitage for years. I had been waiting on my wife, in-laws, and I to go, but I had grown far too impatient to wait until the warmer weather. So just a little while back, I decided to head out on my own and discover both the natural and artistic beauty that can be found at Chilbulam Hermitage on Mt. Namsan in historic Gyeongju.

The present incarnation of Chilbulam Hermitage, or “Seven Buddhas Hermitage”, in English, dates back a mere hundred years when a nun was hunting for mushrooms in the area. It was by mere chance that she stumbled upon the pair of statues that make up the seven Buddhas statue buried in the ground. Upon discovering the statues, she built a hut on the grounds to continue her hunt for mushrooms. And in 2009, the present main hall and dorm building was built.

Chilbulam Hermitage is located on top of the Bonghwa Valley. To get to the hermitage, you’ll have to walk two kilometres up the valley. At times, the trail can be quite easy, as you walk beside a rolling stream. However, the final 500 metres of the trail can be a bit tough. As you near the hermitage, you’ll pass through a bamboo forest, as you make your way up to the temple grounds.

When you first appear in the temple courtyard, you’ll notice the newly built main hall/nuns’ dorms to your immediate left. This rather plainly painted main hall is joined to the left by the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Inside are three beautiful, but rather customary, paintings of the three shaman deities. The one exception is the seated image of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).

As there are only a couple temple buildings at the hermitage, it won’t take you long to get back to the Seven Buddhas on a Rock Face sculpture that dominates the hermitage’s courtyard. The Seven Buddhas on a Rock Face sculpture dates back to between the 7th and 8th century. This sculpture, in Korean, is referred to as the “Chilbul Maae Seokbul.” In total, there are seven images that appear over two separate stones. Four appear on the smaller rock that’s placed in front of a much larger stone. On the larger stone, there appear three Buddha and Bodhisattva images. The tallest image on the larger stone is 2.7 metres in height. This large image appears to be Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise), while the image to the right appears to be Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) because of the bottle of sweet dew that it holds in her hand. The final image in this triad, then, would be Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul). On the smaller, squarish stone, are four images. Two of the four are identifiable because of the direction they face, while the other two are left up to guess work. The image facing the east would be Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha, as well as the Buddha of the Eastern Paradise). And again, the Buddha facing the west is Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise).

To the right of the large Seven Buddhas sculpture is a trail that leads to the top of the mountain. Up this trail is the amazing Bodhisattva on the Rock Face in Sinseonam. The path up from Chilbulam Hermitage to the sculpture is, perhaps, the most treacherous I’ve been on. So make sure you have your hiking boots with you and you cautiously climb the thirty metre long trail. When you do eventually get to the top of the mountain, and you turn the extremely narrow bend in the trail, you’ll surprisingly be greeted by an image of Gwanseeum-bosal on a narrow ledge. This sculpture stands 1.4 metres in height and it dates back to the late 8th century. Physically, the Bodhisattva has flowers in her right hand and her left hand is raised. Additionally, Gwanseeum-bosal wears a large crown and a robe that loosely flows from her body. Gwanseeum-bosal is seated on a pedestal with the left foot tucked up under her, while the right is firmly planted on the ground. And the pedestal is situated on top of a cloud as Gwanseeum-bosal’s eyes are meditatively held partially open. This sculpture is, perhaps, one of the most uniquely and beautifully placed in all of Korea. It’s really hard to think of one that really surpasses it.

Admission to this temple is free. Also, you’re allowed staying at the hermitage for a small fee. Just make sure that you call ahead before staying the night at the hermitage.

HOW TO GET THERE: The easiest way, by public transportation, to get to Chilbulam Hermitage is by taking city bus #10 or #11 from the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal. However, one bus should only take you about 15 minutes, while the other bus takes 45 minutes. Ask at the tourism kiosk next to the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal which one is faster. You’ll have to get off at the Tongiljeon (통일전) stop. From this stop, you’ll have to cross the parking lot to the snack shop and Seolchuji Pond. From there, you’ll have to walk the rest of the way. There are plenty of signs that will lead you the rest of the way.

The easiest way, however, is simply by taking a taxi from the Intercity Bus Terminal. If there are a group of you, the 10,000 won fare will be almost equal to the bus fare, anyways. Simply tell the bus driver, “Namsan Chilbulam,” and they should be able to do the rest.

To learn more about Chilbulam Hermitage, check out here.

View Chilbulam Hermitage in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 9/10. Chilbulam Hermitage is beautifully situated on the side of Mt. Namsan and up Bonghwa Valley. Mixed in with the natural beauty that oozes from this part of the mountain is the artistic beauty found at this hermitage in both the Seven Buddhas sculpture in the temple courtyard and the Bodhisattva on the Rock Face in Sinseonam. Both the natural and Silla artistry are really second to none, not only in Gyeongju, but throughout the Korea peninsula.

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Part of the stream that neighbours the trail that leads up to the hermitage.
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Part of the trail.
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Part of the bamboo forest that curvingly covers the stairs that lead up to Chilbulam Hermitage.
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The strangely shaped red pine that hovers over the hermitage garden.
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The main hall/nuns’ dorms at the hermitage. Like Tongdosa Temple, it has no statues adorning its main altar. Instead, the main hall looks out onto the Seven Buddhas sculpture.
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The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall that neighbours both the main hall and the mountain peak.
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A look inside the Samseong-gak at the three shaman paintings that adorn the altar inside this hall.
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The temple courtyard at Chilbulam Hermitage.
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Finally, a look at the Seven Buddhas statue at Chilbulam Hermitage.
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And another look from the southwest corner of the statue.
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A look at Amita-bul with the towering mountain overhead.
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Near the mountain peak. This is a look down at the surrounding city of Gyeongju.
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The little ledge, and the bend in the path, that you’ll have to traverse to get to the Bodhisattva on the Rock Face in Sinseonam.
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And a look down at Chilbulam Hermitage from the mountain heights.
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Finally, a look at Bodhisattva on the Rock Face in Sinseonam and the beautiful blue skies that surround it.
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A closer look at the sculpture of Gwanseeum-bosal.
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And one last look.

11 thoughts on “Chilbulam Hermitage – 칠불암 (Gyeongju)

  1. Pingback: Namsan: Hermitage of the Seven Buddhas | S.K. in S.K.

  2. Seeing the rock-face Bodhisattva was one of the most moving experiences of my time in Korea. Didn’t even know it was there. . . took the walk to Chilbulam, where a nun recommended that I climb round to see “a special sculpture up the mountain.” The narrow path around the rock face was pretty intimidating, and I looked down at the path then entire time. Slipped past the corner, went to the end of the short path, stopped, then wondered “Just what is supposed to be here?” When I turned round there it was. I had been so nervous, and focused on the path, that I had walked right past it. Stunning. 1200 years, right where the artist left it. More precious still in that you have to climb a mountain to see it.

      • Hello! Yes it’s been a while, but I just noticed something

        Google Maps has some “street level” pictures of Chilbulam. Zooming in on the cliff above, it looks as if the Sinseonam Bodhisattva is now under some kind of canopy shelter.

        Do you know if this is true? I have seen such canopies at different places around Gyeonjgu.

        I feel divided about such things. I am glad someone cares enough to see that these sculptures are preserved, but it saddens me that the protections obscure their beauty. I am glad that I saw Sinseonam in its original state (it’s been 4 years), but must admit it’s good that care is being taken so that it will be there for many more centuries.

        • From what I can tell from looking around Korean blogs, I don’t think that either the Seven Buddhas statue nor the Sinseonam Bodhisattva are sheltered by a canopy. Here is a Korean blog that appeared in February of this year. As you can see from the pictures, there’s no canopy over either sculpture. And the Googles seem to be dated back to 2016.

          http://blog.naver.com/choluck01/220974865243

  3. Very beautiful place, indeed. The final stairs do really finish your legs and knees.
    If you have enough time, you can reach Chilbulam from above (many ways on the map, available at the rangers park’s office), so you’re not sweaty for the tea. And you can enjoy the rocky style of the pine forest, on the higher areas of the Namsan.
    It was my first stay in Korea, so my first korean day-trail. I found it exactly as expected and totally unexpected. I saw few people but never felt alone, it’s really hard sometime but never that hard once done, Nature is “at home” but so quietly it’s like welcoming me.
    It seems that the whole Namsan is actually a unique hermitage. The experience was far deeper for the spirit than the visit of Bulguksa temple, and I take into account the difference due to the touristic fame of the Bulguksa.
    I stayed 9 days in Gyeongju, I walked twice in Namsan (west-east and east-west).
    Few advices : to go there from the bus terminal, take the bus#11, and to go back to the bus terminal, take the bus#10 (these two bus are on the same trip, including a stop at Bulguksa, but opposite direction each other).
    You can also reach the Namsan at the other side, usually by Samneung-Gol (you wrote about it, pages 3 &4 in Gyeongju temple) with most of bus#50X, same bus terminal as #11 &10, and walk through, west to east, east to west and from anywhere to north (very close to Gyeongju). From Gowibong peak, be very careful if you go down to Cheonusa temple, amazing way but it’s named python trail, no need to guess why.
    At the bus terminal, the #10 &11 stop is on the riverside of the road, and the 50X stop is on the cityside of the road.
    Don’t forget water.

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