The Story of…Chilbulam Hermitage

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The Seven Buddhas of Chilbulam Hermitage.

Hello Again Everyone!!

In yet another installment of The Story Of…, I thought I would next tell you about Chilbulam Hermitage on Mt. Namsan in Gyeongju.

I had long wanted to visit Mt. Namsan in Gyeongju because it’s littered with an endless amount of Buddhist artifacts like temples, hermitages, shrines, statues, and pagodas. So during the winter vacation of 2013, I decided I would finally explore parts of the historically important mountain. A week earlier, I had explored Samneung Valley on the other side of the mountain. So the following week, I decided I wanted to visit Chilbulam Hermitage and the famed Bodhisattva on the Rock Face above the hermitage.

And while I knew that the hike would be a bit of a strenuous one for me, as the hermitage lies two kilometres up the mountain, near the summit, I never imagined it to be that hard. The first kilometre and a half is rather easy, while the remaining 500 metres is rather strenuous (to put it mildly). Near the end of the hike, I think I might have been taking a break every 100 metres. Fortunately for me, and since it was the dead of winter, there weren’t many other hikers around so I could seem cool and collected when they passed by me.

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The long hike up renders these beautiful views of Gyeongju down below.

Finally cresting the mountain and arriving at Chilbulam Hermitage a bit out of breath and sweating profusely, I was greeted by, “Hello.” At first, I wasn’t sure where it was coming from, since I was only half aware of my surroundings due to exhaustion.

“Hello,” the voice said again, “would you like some tea?”

With the sweetest smile, and the simplest of words, I was able to spot the source of the sentence. From the main hall/nuns’ living quarters, I saw the shaved head of a Czech nun. Talk about surprising. The last thing I expected to hear, let alone see, was a foreigner just like me, especially since the hermitage is rather remote.

At first, I said, “Is it alright if I have a look around the hermitage?”

“Of course, take your time.”

Now, I didn’t say no because I didn’t want tea. I said no because I wanted to stop sweating first. I know, a bit of vanity. So after looking around the beautiful grounds at the seven Buddhas sculptures at the hermitage, I took the nun up on her offer.

So over a couple cups of tea and ddeok (Korean traditional rice cakes), we talked about Korean Buddhism, Korea, and driving in Korea (as she was just starting to drive in Korea).

Unfortunately, our conversation had to come to an end because the morning service was just about to start and the living quarters also act as the main hall at Chilbulam Hermitage. But before I left, she invited me back and wished me well in my exploration of the beautiful Bodhisattva on the Rock Face that overlooks the valley down below, as well as Chilbulam Hermitage.

Fortunately for me, and before I made my way back down the mountain, this meeting cured my weary legs.

Check out here to learn more about Chilbulam Hermitage.

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The Bodhisattva of the Rock Face above Chilbulam Hermitage.

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.

Video: Chilbulam Hermitage

Hello Again Everyone!!

The amazingly beautiful Chilbulam Hermitage in Gyeongju on Mt. Namsan. Not only does it have picturesque views, but it also houses to two cultural heritage properties that date back to the 8th century. The first are the Seven Buddhas on a Rock Face, while the other is the sculpture of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) that’s carved on the face of Mt. Namsan on a narrow ledge.