Okryeonam Hermitage – 옥련암 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The uniquely designed and decorated main hall at Okryeonam Hermitage 

Hello Again Everyone!!

Recently, my wife, in-laws and I all jumped in my wife and I’s new car and headed over to Tongdosa Temple to visit a few of the hermitages that are situated all around the grounds of Tongdosa Temple.  The first on our list was Okryeonam Hermitage (옥련암). It’s had a lot of renovations and add-ons since I was last there in the spring of 2007.

When you first approach the hermitage, you’ll notice three newly built/molded pagodas.  In fact, the pagodas are so new, that only one is completely done with a stone altar piece and cobble-stone around the pagoda. As you continue towards the hermitage, you’ll notice a life-size stone sculpture of Podae-hwasang welcoming you to Okryeonam Hermitage. Continuing up the increasingly elevated road that leads to the hermitage, you’ll notice fields of vegetables that help sustain the monk population with sustenance. In the distance, you’ll finally be able to spot the courtyard of the hermitage. To the left and right of the main stairs that lead up to the elevated courtyard, are a visitor’s centre and retreat hall.  These are newer looking buildings with beautiful landscaping and stone sculptures surrounding them.  Just before you climb the staircase to the upper courtyard at the hermitage, you’ll be able to see a unique pagoda made of temple roofing tiles.

Up the short staircase, and past two fiercely carved lion sculptures, are the main hall, shrine hall, and monk dormitory. The shrine hall, to the left, houses the figure of San shin and Dokseong.  Uniquely, this shrine hall also houses Jijang-bosal, Amita-bul, and Gwanseheum-bosal. Around this hall, there are beautifully painted pastoral paintings and ox-herding murals. To the right of the main hall is the monk dormitory.  The most unique structure at the hermitage is the main hall.  There was a religious ceremony going on when we visited, so we couldn’t go inside; however, the outside of the main hall more than made up for the inability to go inside. One of the most unique features on the exterior of the main hall is that the name of the hall, which is situated above the main doors at the main hall, are almost always written in Chinese characters.  But at Okryeonam’s main hall, the name is written in Korean:  Keun  Bit Eui Jeeb (“House of Big Light”). In fact, the paintings surrounding the exterior of the main hall, which represent the different life stages of the Historical Buddha, are also written in Korean, which is another rare feature to any Korean temple/hermitage. One more unique feature to the temple, and probably the most unique feature of the temple, is the gable area of the main hall, just below the roof.  Accompanying the usual paintings of gods and monks, there were also wooden statues of gods and monks.   In the courtyard, as you’re leaving, take your time to look at the wooden sculptures with human faces that are smiling at you.

HOW TO GET THERE:  To get to Okryeonam Hermitage, you’ll first have to get to Tongdosa Temple.  And 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.  Once you get to the parking lot for Tongdosa Temple, keep walking up the road for cars to the left.  Follow this road for about a kilometre.  The road will fork to the right or go straight.  Follow the road that leads straight. Continue up this road for another two kilometres and follow the signs as you go because there is more than one hermitage back there.

Admission to Okryeonam Hermitage is free; however, to get into the grounds, you’ll have to pay 3,000 won at the Tongdosa Temple entrance gate.

View 옥련암 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING:  6.5/10. There are a lot of unique features to this hermitage.  As soon as you approach the hermitage, you’ll be greeted by the uniquely molded pagodas, much like at Haedong Yonggungsa, that are just being completed. The other more unique features at this hermitage are littered throughout the exterior of the main hall, like the Korean name plate for the main hall, the Korean writing for the story of the Historical Buddha, and the wooden sculptures of gods and monks spread out along the main hall’s gables. If you’re going to visit any of the hermitages located at Tongdosa Temple, Okryeonam Hermitage is one of the better ones to visit.  Also, it’s one of the easier and more accessible hermitages to locate throughout the Tongdosa Temple grounds.

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The newly molded pagodas that welcome you to the hermitage.
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The pagodas and Podae-hwasang together welcome you to Okryeonam.
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The beautiful manicured grounds and conference hall at the hermitage.
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The tiled pagoda just below the elevated courtyard at Okryeonam Hermitage.
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The uniquely designed and decorated main hall.
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This is the first, of three, comical wooden sculptures in the main courtyard.
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A view of the courtyard at Okryeonam Heritage.  On the left is the main hall, and on the right is the monk dormitory.
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The shrine hall with a rare blend of hall guests.
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First is Jijang Bosal, the Bodhisattva of the Afterlife.
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Adorning the altar are Amita Bul (The Celestial Buddha), and Gwanseheum Bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).
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And the shaministic god: Dokseong.
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Up high, just below the roof, is this charismatic painting.
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The unique name inscription above the main doors at the main hall.  It’s unique because the words are written in Korean and not in Chinese chracters.  The Korean words read Keun Bit Eui Jeeb: The House of Big Light.
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Another unique thing about the main hall at Okryeonam Hermitage.  Again, the writing accompanying the paintings about the life of the Historical Buddha are written in Korean and not in Chinese characters.
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The wooden sculptures of gods and saints all along gable of the main hall at the hermitage.
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And just before we left, a comical good-bye from the second wooden sculpture in the main courtyard at Okryeonam Hermitage.