Colonial Korea: Haeinsa Temple – 해인사 (Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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Haeinsa Temple in 1933.

Hello Again Everyone!!

First built in 802 A.D., Haeinsa Temple has grown throughout the centuries both in size and significance. The name of the temple means “Temple of the Ocean Mudra Temple,” in English; and alongside Tongdosa Temple and Songgwangsa Temple, they comprise the three jewel temples. Of the three, Haeinsa Temple represents the Dharma teachings of the three jewels (삼보사찰, in Korean).

The temple is located in Mt. Gayasan National Park just outside Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do. Both Suneung and Ijeong, two Buddhist monks, helped establish the temple. After curing King Aejang’s wife of a serious illness, King Aejang of Silla (r. 800 A.D. to 809 A.D.) ordered the construction of Haeinsa Temple as a show of appreciation. Another story written by Choe Chiwon in 900 A.D. states that the temple gained the support of the queen after she had converted to Buddhism. Either way, and through the financial support of the king and queen, the famed Haeinsa Temple was built.

The temple has grown numerous times throughout the years. The very first of these efforts started during the 10th century. Haeinsa Temple’s growth was to continue in 1488, 1622, and 1644. In 1817, Haeinsa Temple was completely destroyed by fire. It was later rebuilt the following year; in total, Haeinsa Temple has been devastated by fire seven times in total over the course of its history.

Haeinsa Temple’s claim to fame is the Tripitaka Koreana. The Tripitaka Koreana was first housed at the temple in 1398. In total, the Tripitaka Koreana are comprised of some 81,258 wooden blocks that have the various Buddhist teachings written on them. The Tripitaka Koreana are housed in the Janggyeong-panjeon library to the rear of the temple grounds at Haeinsa Temple. The Tripitaka Koreana was first made in 1087; however, the first set of wooden blocks were completely destroyed by the invading Mongols. It would take from 1236 to 1251, under the royal orders of King Gojong (r. 1213 to 1259), to right this historic wrong.

In September of 1951, during the Korean War that lasted from 1950-53, a crisis was averted at Haeinsa Temple. The Tripitaka Koreana was nearly destroyed after the Battle of Incheon. At this stage in the war, the allied forces were turning the war around; however, some North Korean forces refused to retreat. Roughly a thousand North Korean soldiers remained in and around the Haeinsa Temple grounds as guerrilla fighters. The allied forces were ordered to bomb Haeinsa Temple using four bombers to clear the area of enemy forces. Fortunately for Korea, and Haeinsa Temple in particular, the leading pilot of the bomber planes, Kim Young, disobeyed the order. In time, the North Korean forces retreated from the Haeinsa Temple perimeter and the temple was saved from bombing.

In total, Haeinsa Temple houses three national treasures and an additional thirteen treasures. Not surprisingly, all three of the national treasures are linked to the Tripitaka Koreana. And in 1995, Haeinsa Temple was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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The Iljumun Gate at Haeinsa Temple as it appeared in 1933.

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The intricate design of the Iljumun Gate.

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A three tier pagoda next to the Iljumun Gate in 1916.

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The Gugwang Pavilion at Haeinsa Temple in 1933.

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The Seokjo in 1917 out in front of the Gugwang Pavilion.

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The Daejeokgwang-jeon main hall in 1933.

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Some of the amazing woodwork adorning the ancient hall.

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A look inside the Daejeokgwang-jeon main hall in 1933.

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And another look around the main hall.

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The ancient three tier pagoda that stands out in front of the main hall at Haeinsa Temple in 1916.

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The stone lantern, or seokdeung, out in front of the main hall in 1916.

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The Myeongbu-jeon and Josa-jeon halls at Haeinsa Temple in 1933.

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The amazing Janggyeong-panjeon, which houses the Tripitaka Koreana. The picture dates back to 1933.

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A closer look at the Janggyeong-panjeon library.

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The Iljumun Gate in 2015

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The Gugwang Pavilion in the fall of 2015

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The restored Daejeokgwang-jeon main hall.

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A look inside the Daejeokgwang-jeon main hall in 2013.

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A modern look at the Janggyeong-panjeon, which houses the Tripitaka Koreana.

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A closer look at the Janggyeong-panjeon library.

Hongjeam Hermitage – 홍제암 (Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The beautiful view from the Sanshin-gak at Hongjeam Hermitage near Haeinsa Temple in Gayasan National Park.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Having recently revisited Haeinsa Temple, and Hongjeam Hermitage, as well, I thought I would do a re-write of the hermitage. I don’t usually do such a thing, but I think I might have understated the hermitage’s beauty because I overlooked half of what it had to offer. So with that in mind, this is the re-written article on Hongjeam Hermitage.

Hongjeam Hermitage was first built in 1608 for High Priest Samyeong by King Seonje. The King did this in appreciation for the Buddhist priest’s contribution in defending the country from the Japanese during the Imjin Invasion of 1592 by raising a Buddhist monk army. The famous priest would spend the remaining years of his life at Hongjeam Hermitage. And when he died a stupa and stele were made in 1610. The biography of the great priest is written on his stele. Stupidly, the stele was damaged by the Japanese police chief in Hapcheon during Japanese colonial rule in 1943. Fortunately, it was repaired in 1958. In total, the hermitage has been rebuilt seven times throughout the years; the most recent being 1979, when the hermitage was completely dismantled under the patronage of then president, Bak Chung Hee.

You first approach Hongjeam Hermitage from the east after passing by the Iljumun Gate at Haeinsa Temple. The first thing to welcome you at the hermitage are a row of stupas and steles. Of the nine stupas and steles, it’s the turtle based stele in the centre that belongs to the warrior monk, Samyeong-daesa. You’ll easily be able to identify it, because the body of the stele has been broken in the middle into four pieces. Amazingly, it was able to be repaired. To the right rear of these stone monuments, and lying on the hillside that overlooks Haeinsa Temple, is an courtyard memorial for those that fought in the Imjin War (1592-98).

When you approach the hermitage grounds either through the side or main entrance, you’ll be welcomed by a collection of buildings. The ones to the far left are the monks’ facilities like the kitchen and dorms; as to the right, there stands the main hall at Hongjeam Hermitage. Stepping inside the elevated main hall, you’ll first notice the elaborate main altar that houses seven statues. Sitting in the centre is a large golden statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on his immediate right and left by Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha) and Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). Rounding out the five larger statues are a pair of book-ending statues dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power and Wisdom for Amita-bul). The interior walls are lined with elaborate Palsang-do murals. Also, there hangs a painting that depicts three Dongjin-bosal (The Bodhisattva that Protects the Buddha’s Teachings) images.

To the left of the main hall is a tucked away Myeongbu-jeon Hall. Immediately upon entering this hall, you’ll notice a diminutive statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) on the main altar with a colourful altar mural backing this Bodhisattva. Hanging over top of the entry, and slightly to the right, is a Gamno-do mural. But the most interesting pair of murals hang to the left of the main altar. The first is an older guardian painting, while the other is an equally older looking mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).

Now, this is where Hongjeam Hermitage gets interesting. If you exit the first hermitage compound to the left rear, you’ll come out on the other side next to a rolling stream and a large cabbage patch field. It’s to the rear of the cabbage patch and the building that backs this produce that you’ll come to an amazing Sanshin-gak. Resting inside this shaman shrine hall is a statue and painting dedicated to the Mountain Spirit. But what sets this apart from the hundreds of other Sanshin murals I’ve seen in Korea is that this Sanshin appears to be a Bodhisattva. In this painting and statue, the spiritual roots of Korea are blended between Shamanism and Buddhism. To the left of the Sanshin-gak are two encased rows of Nahan statues. In addition, and among the rocks that pop out from the ground, are a pair of granite statues dedicate to Jijang-bosal to the left and Yaksayore-bul to the right.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Hongjeam Hermitage, you’ll first have to get to Haeinsa Temple. And to get to Haeinsa Temple from Busan, you’ll first have to get to Seobu Bus Terminal. The easiest way to get to Seobu is from Sasang subway stop, which is #227 on the second line. Once you get to the Hapcheon Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll have to get on another bus for Haeinsa Temple, which is about 4,000 won. From where the bus lets you off, you’ll have to find the trail that leads up to Haeinsa Temple for about a kilometre, which starts to the left of the temple museum. From the Iljumun Gate, which is the first gate at Haeinsa Temple, you’ll have to continue left as you face this gate. Head towards the parking lots on your left and cross the narrow stone bridge where you’ll catch your first glimpse of the monk cemetery at Hongjeam Hermitage. In total, it’s about 300 metres from the Iljumun Gate at Haeinsa Temple to get to Hongjeam Hermitage.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10. While initially underrating this hermitage the first go around, I won’t make the same mistake the second time around. Hongjeam Hermitage is the eternal resting place to one of Korea’s most famous monks: Samyeong-daesa. In addition to such a unique claim, it also houses Korea’s most unique images of Sanshin. Finally, Hongjeam Hermitage is beautifully situated in Gayasan National Park next to the famed Haeinsa Temple.

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The entry at Hongjeam Hermitage.

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The fall colours at Gayasan National Park.

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The entrance marker welcoming you to Hongjeam Hermitage.

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The shrine dedicated to the Imjin War dead at Hongjeam Hermitage.

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Another look with Haeinsa Temple and the colourful mountains framing the shrine.

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The collection of stupas and steles at Hongjeam Hermitage.

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The stele dedicated to the famed warrior monk, Samyeong-daesa.

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The hermitage grounds as you approach the entrance gate.

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A closer look around the hermitage grounds and the main hall.

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The amazing view from the hermitage courtyard.

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The wooden corridor just outside the main hall’s entrance.

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The main altar inside the hermitage’s main hall.

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The Dongjin-bosal mural to the right rear of the hall.

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Just one of the beautiful murals that adorns the interior walls of the main hall at Hongjeam Hermitage.

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As well as this all-white incarnation of Gwanseeum-bosal.

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To the left of the main hall is this shrine hall dedicated to Jijang-bosal.

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The large Gamno-do mural near the entry of the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.

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An aged Sanshin mural hangs inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.

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The cabbage patch to the left rear of the main hermitage compound.

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The Sanshin-gak at Hongjeam Hermitage.

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With this spectacular statue and painting of a Bodhisattva-like image of Sanshin.

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The ceiling to the Sanshin-gak.

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The rows of Nahan statues at the hermitage.

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They’re fronted by these two beautiful stone statues of Jijang-bosal and Yaksayore-bul.

Hongjeam Hermitage – 홍제암 (Nearby Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The stele dedicated to the famous monk Samyeong at Hongjeam Hermitage near Haeinsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

After visiting the neighbouring Haeinsa Temple, and knowing a bit about the hermitage’s history, we decided to visit Hongjeam Hermitage. And with the added bonus of knowing that Hongjeam Hermitage is the closest hermitage to Haeinsa Temple, it was a bit of a no brainer.

Hongjeam Hermitage (홍제암) was first built in 1608 for High Priest Samyeong by King Seonje. The King did this in appreciation for the Buddhist priest’s contribution in defending the country from the Japanese during the Imjin Invasion of 1592 by raising a Buddhist monks army. The famous priest would spend the remaining years of his life at Hongjeam Hermitage. And when he died a stupa and stele were made in 1610. The biography of the great priest is written on his stele, and the adjacent hillside stupa contains the sarira (remains) of Samyeong. Stupidly, the stele was damaged by the Japanese police chief in Hapcheon during Japanese colonial rule in 1943. Fortunately, it was repaired in 1958.

Inside the main hall are portraits of High Priest Samyeong, as well as Seosan and Yongkyu, who helped aid in the defence of Korea against the Japanese. The hermitage has been rebuilt seven times throughout the years; the most recent being 1979, when the hermitage was completely dismantled under the patronage of then president, Bak Chung Hee.

When you first approach the hermitage from Haeinsa, you’ll come across the area of the hermitage that houses a row of nine stupas and steles  with the turtle based stele in the centre that belongs to Sa-myeong’s. You’ll easily be able to recognize it because the body of the stele has been broken at the centre into four pieces. Amazingly, it was able to be repaired. To the right of this courtyard, and up a set of stairs, is another hillside courtyard that houses the remains of Samyeong inside the larger sized stupa. This hillside cemetery (budowon) overlooks Haeinsa Temple.

Adjacent to the cemetery that holds Samyeong’s stele, as well as many others, is the main courtyard to Hongjeam Hermitage. The main entrance to the hermitage has a beautiful gate. There are beautiful paintings adorning the flanking sides of the entrance. As you step inside the courtyard, you’ll instantly be greeted by row upon row of monk dorms. To say that this hermitage is active is an understatement. I was unable to enter any further into the hermitage because it was so busy when I visited, but the main hall is to the far left.

Admission to the hermitage is free as long as you pay your 3,000 won entrance fee to get into Gaya-san National Park.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Hongjeam Hermitage, you’ll first have to get to Haeinsa Temple. And to get to Haeinsa Temple from Busan, you’ll first have to get to Seobu Bus Terminal. The easiest way to get to Seobu is from Sasang subway stop, which is #227 on the second line. Once you get to the Hapcheon Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll have to get on another bus for Haeinsa Temple, which is about 4,000 Won. From where the bus lets you off, you’ll have to find the trail that leads up to Haeinsa Temple for about a kilometre, which starts to the left of temple museum. From the Iljumun Gate, which is the first gate at Haeinsa Temple, you’ll have to continue left as you face this gate. Head towards the parking lots on your left and cross the narrow stone bridge where you’ll catch your first glimpse of the monk cemetery at Hongjeam Hermitage. In total, it’s about 300 metres from the Iljumun Gate at Haeinsa Temple to get to Hongjeam Hermitage.

View 홍제암 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 4/10. This hermitage doesn’t have the most for a visitor to see. The reason may be that it’s probably not meant for visitors, but that it’s more for the daily life of a Buddhist monk. With that being said, Hongjeam Hermitage has a lot of historical value with it being the final resting place of one of Korea’s most famous monks: Samyeong. Additionally, the entrance gate to the hermitage, as well as the beautiful views of Haeinsa from the hillside cemetery are another highlight to this small hermitage. So if you want a little Korean Buddhist history lesson, be sure to visit Hongjeam Hermitage.

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The Iljumun Gate at Haeinsa Temple that you’ll have to pass by to get to Hongjeam Hermitage.
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The road that leads into the historical hermitage.
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A view of the icy ravine as you cross over the bridge.
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A hiking trail and stele just east of Hongjeam Hermitage.
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The cemetery (budowon) at Hongjeam Hermitage that is just to the right of the hermitage. In the centre, you can see the stele dedicated to the famous monk: Sa-myeong-daesa.
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A better look at the row of stupas and steles.
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A view of the cemetery (budowon) on the hill that houses Sa-myeong’s stupa as it looks out on to Haeinsa Temple and Gaya-san Mountain.
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The main entrance gate to Hongjeam Hermitage.
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The intricate and original design that adorns the main entrance gate.
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And a look out upon some of the hermitage buildings at Hongjeam Hermitage.

Gilsangam Hermitage – 길상암 (Nearby Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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A view of the main hall from the mountainside Gilsangam Hermitage near Haeinsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

I had long since wanted to visit this hermitage, that’s in associate with Haeinsa Temple, ever since I first visited Gaya-san National Park back in 2004. This hermitage is the first that you see as you near Haeinsa Temple. And this time, while visiting Haeinsa Temple, I took the time to visit this unique hermitage.

When you first approach Gilsangam Hermitage (길상암) from the parking lot, you’ll first notice a stone courtyard with two tall statues and a pagoda. It’s only after a second glance that you’ll actually notice the hermitage spread out over the face of the neighbouring mountainside. The first ten metre tall stone statue is Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). He is surrounded by a semi-circle of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas including Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Up a small set of stairs to the right is the next ten metre tall stone Buddha. This Buddha looks to be Yaksayorae-bul (The Buddha of Medicine) as he’s holding a jar in his left hand. Again, Yaksayorae-bul is surrounded by another semi-circle of larger stone statues of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. And the far right side of this imposing stone courtyard is a five-tier stone pagoda. Next to this massive structure is a gentle statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).

Left of this stone courtyard of statues and a pagoda are the brown stairs that lead up to the clinging hermitage buildings and grounds. Halfway up the first set of stairs, both to the right and left, are the monks’ facilities, which include the dorms and kitchen. These are strictly off-limits. As you ascend the rest of the first set of stairs, you’ll be greeted by the hermitage’s main hall. The exterior of the hall is largely unadorned. Believing the neighbouring shrine hall on the right, perched above the main hall on the next mountain terrace, to be that of either a Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall or the San shin-gak Mountain spirit hall, I decided to hold off on entering the main hall.

The shrine hall perched slightly above the main hall to the right isn’t in fact a shaman shrine hall; but instead, it’s an odd little building. Again, the exterior of this hall, much like the main hall, is unadorned with any paintings; however, the interior is quite different. The triad sitting on the main altar is centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). Now, that isn’t the strange part about the hall. What is strange is that the triad is surrounded by a hall of stone statues both big and small. These statues are almost always the Nahan (The disciples of the Historical Buddha). But these stone statues certainly didn’t look like the Nahan. Instead, they simply seemed to be decorative statues. But upon closer inspection, these atypical statues that almost have Buddha-like features, were in fact the Nahan. Confusing, but true.

In front of this hall is a beautifully ornate seven-tier stone pagoda with tiny bells on each angle. And it was out in front of the this Nahan-jeon that I noticed a rock staircase to the right of the shrine hall that led further up the mountain’s face. I must have taken about five minutes just eye-balling the mountainside to see if these stairs were nothing more than a hiking trail, or in fact an extension of Gilsangam Hermitage.

Chancing it, I decided to see where the stairs led me. If I thought that the first flight of stairs were steep and plentiful that led me up to the main hall, this second set of stairs put the first to shame. Halfway up the set of stairs, I came to a watering hole. I guess even the people that built the stone staircase realized it was quite a climb. But it’s from this vantage point that you finally realize there is actually a shrine hall further up the mountain. Another amazing thing at this watering hole is a sign marker written in Chinese characters that translates as “Big Awakening Spring.” The title of the stone marker is self-explanatory inside the hermitage grounds.

Climbing the second half of the steep second set of stairs, and near the peak of the granite mountain, you’ll finally arrive at the crowning shrine hall at Gilsangam Hermitage. Sitting outside this hall is a compact bronze bell. And again, the exterior of this hall is unadorned. But inside this hall weren’t the shaman deities, like I expected; but instead, there was a triad of foreign looking Buddhas and Bodhisattvas on the main altar. The central Buddha was adorned with a golden cape. And without being able to see his mudra, it’s impossible to indentify which Buddha he is meant to represent. Surrounding this main altar are more traditional looking miniature figures on each of the three walls of the hall.

A bit disappointed that there wasn’t a shaman shrine hall, I descended down the steep set of stairs on rubbery legs. Remembering I had yet to visit the interior of the main hall, I decided to catch the rest of my breath before descending the second set of equally numerous stairs. To my surprise, I found the set of three shaman deities on the left wall. The first painting is of San shin (The Mountain Spirit). Next to San shin is Dokseong (The Recluse), and Chilseong (The Seven Stars) is on the far right. All three paintings are old and in rough shape. Sitting on the main altar, in the centre of the triad, appears to be Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). There are two additional unknown Bodhisattvas on either side of this triad. Behind each of these two statues are sixteen Nahan paintings that look to be just as old as the three shaman paintings.  And on the far right side of the altar is a uniquely designed, and multi-armed, Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Gilsangam Hermitage, you’ll first have to get to Haeinsa Temple. And to get to Haeinsa Temple from Busan, you’ll first have to get to Seobu Bus Terminal. The easiest way to get to Seobu is from Sasang subway stop, which is #227 on the second line. Once you get to the Hapcheon Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll have to get on another bus for Haeinsa Temple, which is about 4,000 Won. From where the bus lets you off, you’ll have to backtrack down the road for about 500 metres until you get to Gilsangam Hermitage. Don’t worry, you’ll see the hermitage to your left when you first enter the park from the large stone Buddhas and pagoda across a brigde.

View 길상암 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 7/10. The continually unfolding depth of buildings and structures at this hermitage was a nice surprise. It has a lot of hidden treasures, both inside the main hall with the gorgeous and old shaman deity paintings, as well as the shrine hall hidden near the summit of the mountain peak. Added to this secrecy is the ornate stone courtyard of statues and pagodas that not only welcome to you Gilsangam Hermitage, but also welcome you to Gaya-san National Park. This hermitage, much like what it hides on its mountainside grounds, is a nice little hidden gem near Haeinsa Temple.

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The stone courtyard with two large statues and a pagoda that welcome you to Gilsangam Hermitage.
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The frozen stream you have to cross to get closer to the hermitage grounds.
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The large statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) on the left and Yaksayore-bul (The Buddha of Medicine) on the right.
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The large five tier pagoda in the stone courtyard.
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A look up at the main hermitage courtyard from the first set of long stairs.
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The Nahan-jeon shrine hall to the right rear of the main hall.
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The uniquely designed seven tier pagoda that sits out in front of the Nahan-jeon shrine hall.
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A look at the main altar with Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) in the centre. He’s flanked by hundreds of atypical Nahan stone statues.
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The second set of long stairs that lead up to the mountainside shrine hall.
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A look down from the midway point of the second set of steep stairs.
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Continuing up the second set. Yep, still more stairs.
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The spring with the stone marker that reads “Big Awakening Spring.”
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The third and final set of stairs that leads up to the shrine hall that neighbours with the peak of the mountain.
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A look up at the mountainside shrine hall, which is the one that I thought was either the San shin-gak or the Samseong-gak shaman shrine halls.
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A look over at the granite peak.
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A look in at the foreign looking main altar.
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The bell pavilion next to the main hall on the first terrace of the hermitage.
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A look in at the wonderfully old artwork inside the main hall.
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A unique statue of the multi-armed and faced Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).
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A look to the left inside the main hall at the shaman and Nahan paintings.
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One of the individual Nahan paintings.
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And a look at the mold-laden San shin painting at Gilsangam Hermitage.
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Finally, the impressive and old Chilseong (The Seven Stars) painting.

Updated: Haeinsa Temple – 해인사 (Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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 The AmazingTripitaka Koreana  at Haeinsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Haeinsa Temple is one of Three Treasure Temples in Korea alongside Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do and Songgwangsa Temple in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do. Haeinsa Temple represents the doctrinal aspect of Korean Buddhism. Haeinsa Temple was first founded in 802 by monks Suneung and Ijeong after their return from China. Legend states that the two monks healed King Aejang’s wife of her illness. As a show of gratitude, the king ordered the construction of the temple with royal funds. In total, the temple has been expanded numerous times including in the 10th century, 1488, 1622, and 1644. Unfortunately, the temple was burned to the ground in 1817 and was rebuilt a year later. In total, the temple has suffered from seven disastrous fires. But rather remarkably, the Tripitaka Koreana, for which the temple is best known, and all of its 81,258 wooden blocks, have been spared such destruction ever since their housing at Haeinsa Temple in 1398. Haeinsa Temple, and its Tripitaka Koreana and Janggyeong-panjeon, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.

The walk up to the temple grounds, alongside the Gaya River, is meditatively beautiful in its scenic simplicity. You’ll pass by four hermitages directly associated with Haeinsa Temple as you make your way towards the outskirts of the temple. The first thing to greet you at the temple is the stoic two-pillared Iljumun Gate. Up a column of towering trees, you’ll next be met by the Cheonwangmun Gate that houses four unique paintings dedicated to the Four Heavenly Kings.

After exiting out of this gate, you’ll see a steep set of stairs that pass through the Haetalmun Gate; however, don’t pass by the former Sanshin-gak before entering the temple’s lower courtyard. With Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) being exiled from the temple grounds sometime during the 90’s, this hall has been converted to a hall dedicated to a Guksa-dang, which houses a shaman spirit that protects the temple’s grounds from any unwanted or evil spirits.

Finally standing in the centre of the lower courtyard, you’ll see the massive Gugwangru Pavilion straight ahead that shields the upper courtyard from sight. To the far right is the understated Jong-gak, or bell pavilion, at Songgwangsa Temple.

After either going to the left or the right of the Gugwangru Pavilion, you’ll finally be in the midst of the upper courtyard with the Janggyeong-panjeon, or the Tripitaka Koreana library, framing the main hall. The Daejeokgwang-jeon, or main hall, is large in size and sports some beautiful Palsang-do murals around its exterior walls. In addition to these eight paintings, and because the main hall is so large in size, there are numerous other Buddhist motif paintings around the halls exterior walls. As for the interior, and sitting squarely in the centre of the main hall, is a large, golden statue dedicated to Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy).

To the right of the main hall is the rather large Gwaneum-jeon hall, while to the left, just below the main hall, are a collection of monks’ dorms. It’s only on the upper tier, and next to the main hall, that you’ll find three more temple shrine halls. The first to the far right is the diminutive Myeongbu-jeon, which houses Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). Next to the Myeongbu-jeon is the rather compact Nahan-jeon. To the immediate left is the newly constructed Daebiro-jeon, which houses three more incarnations of Birojana-bul. Perhaps the most peculiar shrine hall at the temple is the hexagonal-shaped Dokseong-gak that houses Dokseong, The Lonely Saint.

Perched above all other structures at Haeinsa Temple is Janggyeong-panjeon, or the Tripitaka Koreana library. The Tripitaka Koreana was first made in 1087; however, they were destroyed by the invading Mongols. It was later, from 1236 to 1251, and under the orders of King Gojong (r. 1213-1259), that the set of some 81,258 blocks were completed. It was only in 1398 that the set came to be housed at Haeinsa Temple. The Tripitaka Koreana is Korean National Treasure #32, while the Janggyeong-panjeon is designated National Treasure #52. Unfortunately, any photography up in the Janggyeong-panjeon area, as well as the Tripitaka Koreana, is strictly prohibited.

Admission to Haeinsa Temple is 3,000 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Daegu Seobu Bus Terminal, you can take an express bus to Haeinsa Temple. This bus leaves every 40 minutes and the ride should last about an hour and a half.

OVERALL RATING:  9.5/10. Just for housing the Tripitaka Koreana, the temple rates a 9.5 out of 10. Additionally, Haeinsa Temple has a rich history and a lot of Korean cultural significance. It also houses a gorgeous main hall. There are numerous things to see at this ancient temple like the shrine halls, pagodas, and ancient relics. However, Haeinsa Temple is a bit of a chore to get to, and for that reason it rates slightly lower than a perfect score. With all that being said, Haeinsa Temple is well worth the effort to the Korean countryside.

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The Iljumun Gate at Haeinsa Temple.
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 The path that leads up to the Cheonwangmun Gate.
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A closer look at the Cheonwangmun Gate.
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Just one of the paintings dedicated to a Heavenly King.
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The painting inside the Guksa-dang dedicated to the protective shaman spirit.
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The Haetalmun Gate at Haeinsa Temple.
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The Gugwangru Pavilion in the lower temple courtyard.
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The expansive main hall in the upper courtyard at Haeinsa Temple.
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A look inside the well-populated main hall at Haeinsa Temple.
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The Myeongbu-jeon at the temple.
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A look inside the low-ceilinged Myeongbu-jeon.
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A look inside the Nahan-jeon.
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The Daebiro-jeon hall to the left of the main hall.
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Joined by the hexagonal Dokseong-gak.
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A look up towards the amazing Janggyeong-panjeon library that houses the Tripitaka Koreana.
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 Inside the Janggyeong-panjeon.
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The library is well organized and well worth the long trip to visit them.
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UNESCO had it right when designating Haeinsa Temple a World Heritage Site!