The Story of…Mitaam Hermitage and Hwaeomsa Temple

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The parking lot on the mountain where my near death experience started at Mitaam Hermitage.

Hello Again Everyone!!

This will be my last posting on the website until early September. I’ll be headed out on vacation. It’s the first time in two and a half years that there won’t be a weekly posting, but hopefully there’s enough already up on the site to keep everyone busy. Have a great August, everyone!

So in this posting, I thought I would talk about the near death experience I had while visiting Mitaam Hermitage and Hwaeomsa Temple in Yangsan (not to be confused with the much more famous one in Jirisan National Park).

A lot of the time I visit temples and hermitages way off the beaten trail. Not just a little, but waaaaay off. I’m so far off, sometimes, that Korean hikers have asked me how I even found the hermitage or temple in the first place. When I do visit these places, often the road can be quite hazardous in my two-wheel drive KIA Pride. Such was the case when I visited these two mountain temples.

The initial climb up in the car was rather smooth. Then I switched it over to low gear just to be sure. Eventually, I came to a parking lot that had quite a few vendors. At first, I was going to park my car here, but then I realized that the road continued and Mitaam Hermitage was a further kilometre away. At this point, I was completely ignorant of just how much the road conditions would change.

Continuing, the road’s gradient quickly change. No longer was it a respectable 15 degree angle; instead, it had become a 30 degree angle (at best). Finally, nearing the point where the road ends, there’s a narrow plateau where two or three cars can park. Unfortunately, all of these spots were taken up. This is also the place where the trail for Mitaam Hermitage begins. Having not found a place to park, I decided I would continue up the road and visit Hwaeomsa Temple first. Then, I would backtrack and have a look at Mitaam Hermitage later. The only problem with this plan is that the road abruptly becomes a 40 degree angle and it’s at a bend.

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The trail that leads up to Mitaam Hermitage. It’s also on the neighbouring road that I skidded and slipped down the side of a guardrail-less mountain road.

So I revved up my car and attempted to take the angle and gradient with a bit of speed. Unfortunately, I didn’t take it with enough speed because my tires started to spin. Then, my car started to roll back because of the incline. I got to a point where I was nearing the edge of the road: a road that has no barriers or guard rails. Instead, all that awaits you is a steep kilometre long drop-off. I thought, so this is how it’s going to end. Fortunately, my wheels finally did gain traction and stop spinning, and my car eventually did stop rolling backwards. It was a bit touch and go as I turned my car around, but I was finally able to do it. With my emergency brake on, and my car parked at a 30 degree angle, I explored Mitaam Hermitage, which lies 400 metres up the trail.

It wasn’t until much later that I finally plucked up enough courage to make my way back up to Hwaeomsa Temple and the steep and dangerous mountainside road. It should be said that the second time did the charm and the beauty of Hwaeomsa Temple was nearly worth risking my life.

For more on Mitaam Hermitage, follow the link.

And for more on Hwaeomsa Temple, follow this link.

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The beauty of Hwaeomsa Temple on Mt. Cheonseongsan in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Mitaam Hermitage – 미타암 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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A look inside the cave that houses the 8th century Amita-bul statue at Mitaam Hermitage.

Hello Again Everyone!!

While out on a Sunday drive, I decided to finally visit the last of the major temples or hermitages listed on the Yangsan city website: Mitaam Hermitage (미타암). For various reasons, the most notable being the distance from where I live, I had yet to visit. And it almost seems as though I saved one of the best for last.

Mitaam Hermitage is named after Amita-bul, the Buddha of the Western Paradise. It was first constructed in 647, during the final year of the famous Queen Seondeok’s reign, by the equally famous monk Wonhyo-daesa. The hermitage was later expanded in 921 by the priest Jijong. Finally, in 1238, the hermitage was further repaired by the priest Jungjin. Of note, the hermitage appears in the Samguk Yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms). In this famous text, it is stated that three monks were disciplining themselves in the aesthetic meditation and ascended to the Western Paradise.

The hermitage sits high above the city of Yangsan on the eastern slopes of the Cheonseongsan mountain range. Mitaam Hermitage is also referred to as the “Third Seokguram” for the natural grotto that houses a statue of Amita-bul that dates back to the late 8th century.

As you approach the hermitage up a long, steep, and wandering road, you’ll finally come to a trail that leads you up to the hermitage. The views from this 500 metre stretch of trail of the neighbouring valley, mountain peaks, and Yangsan, are gorgeous, so take a couple of pictures as you attempt to recover your breath. Finally, when you arrive at the ledge where the hermitage rests precariously upon, you’ll be greeted by the gift shop to your immediate right and a coffee stand to your left. Passing by both of these non-descript buildings, you’ll pass by a row of monks’ dorms that are extremely compact.

Straight ahead, you’ll finally see the gorgeous main hall. The paintings that adorn the outside walls of the main hall are rather simple paintings of the Nahan. Uniquely, there are wooden tablets placed under these paintings on the right side of the main hall. The lattice work at the front of the main hall are second to none, as are the Nathwi paintings below the latticework. Inside, the main hall is ornately decorated and designed with multiple large canopies that surround the multiple statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas that rest on the altar. The left wall has a beautiful older looking painting of Jijang-bosal, and the right wall has the guardian painting. The triad that sits on the main altar is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) in the centre. He is flanked by Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power), as well as Moonsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom). And sitting upon his own altar, and to the right of the triad, is a statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). And next to him is an older looking statue of Seokgamoni-bul with an even older looking mural behind him. To the far left is a statue of Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul). And the farthest statue to the left is a black-haired Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). All of these statues are surrounded by beautiful canopies that are adorned with flying Biseon, dragon’s and floating flowers. The most interesting piece of artwork inside the main hall is a gorgeous painting of the founding monk, Wonhyo-daesa. It is perhaps the most original and beautiful paintings of this monk that I’ve seen in all of Korea.

Further up the path, you’ll pass by the hermitage’s kitchen, as well as an extremely compact bell pavilion. Along this path, you’ll be headed towards an indoor pavilion that houses both the entrances to the Samseong-gak shrine hall dedicated to the three most popular shaman deities in Korea, as well as the entrance to the cave that houses the millennium old statue of Amita-bul. Along the way, again, you’ll see some of the most picturesque views of the Korean landscape from this vantage point.

Finally, inside the indoor pavilion, you’ll see the Samseong-gak shrine hall entrance straight ahead, while the cave entrance is to your immediate left. Inside, the paintings of the three shaman deities, San shin, Dokseong, and Chilseong, are rather common in their design. The three metre wide entrance to the cave that houses the Amita-bul statue is rather unassuming. However, one look inside reveals a beautiful stone sculpture of the Buddha of the Western Paradise. He is surrounded by rows of tiny jade Buddha statues. And he is immediately flanked by two newer looking Bodhisattva statues. While not nearly as impressive as the artificial stone cave at Seokguram Hermitage in Gyeongju, the one at Mitaam Hermitage is beautiful in its own right.

For more information on Mitaam Hermitage, follow the link.

HOW TO GET THERE: You can get to Mitaam Hermitage in one of two ways. First, you can catch a bus to Yangsan Intercity Bus Terminal and catch city bus #2000. The bus ride will take you about 40 minutes, and you’ll have to get off at Jujin Village in Soju-dong. Either that, or you can catch city buses # 247 or 301 from the Busan City Bus Terminal in Nopo-dong. You’ll then have to get off at Jangheung. Wherever it is you get off, the sign markers leading you to the hermitage are well placed. But either way, make sure you pack your hiking boots because the hike up the side of Cheonseongsan is a long one.

View 미타암 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 8/10. While a bit out of the way, Mitaam Hermitage more than makes up for it with what it offers the visiting temple adventurer. Of course the highlight to this hermitage is the stunning and ancient cave statue of Amita-bul, but this hermitage also has a lot more to offer like the beautiful painting of Wonhyo-daesa, the ornate interior of the main hall, as well as the amazing view of the Korean landscape down below. Without a doubt, Mitaam Hermitage is an amazing hermitage to visit.

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The start of the 500 metre trek up the side of Cheonseongsan Mountain.
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Finally, the first sighting of the hermitage.
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 The entrance leading up to the main hall with the monks’ dorms on the left.
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A view of Yangsan far below.
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 The name tablet for Mitaam Hermitage on the main hall.
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 Just one of the paintings of the Nahan that adorns the outside walls of the main hall with the wooden tablets placed below the paintings.
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The gorgeous lattice work and the vampire looking Nathwi below the doors.
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 The amazingly ornate interior of the main hall with a look upon the main altar.
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The guardian painting on the far right wall.
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 And next to it is this amazing rendering of Wonhyo-daesa with his 1,000 followers.
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On the far right side of the altar is this older looking statue and mural.
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And on the far left side of the altar is this black haired statue of Jijang-bosal.
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And next to the statue of Jijang-bosal is a mural of Jijang-bosal.
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The path that leads to the cave. But first, you’ll pass beside the compact bell pavilion.
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 Just around the gray bend is the cave.
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A view from the bend down at Yangsan with Gyeongju to the far north.
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And just outside the indoor pavilion are a dozen headstones.
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 The entrance to the Samseong-gak shrine hall inside the indoor pavilion that acts as both a shelter to the opening of this shrine hall as well as a shelter to the cave entrance.
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 A look at the simple rendering of San shin, the Mountain spirit.
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 And to the far right is this rendering of Chilseong, the Seven Stars.
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And one more look inside the cave at the ancient Amita-bul statue of the Buddha of the Western Paradise.