The Story of…Samyeongam Hermitage

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 The front facade to Samyeongam Hermitage at Tongdosa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

There are just so many beautiful and well kept hermitages at Tongdosa Temple. In this case, the Story Of… discusses Samyeongam Hermitage, which is part of a collection of hermitages that surrounds Tongdosa Temple.

When I first visited Samyeongam Hermitage back in 2004, I was blown away by its beauty. I’ve been to my fair share of smaller sized hermitages associated with much larger temples, but Samyeongam Hermitage surpasses most of them. With the twin Koi ponds out in front of the elevated hermitage courtyard, as well as the two pavilions that stretch out over these ponds and the mountains that frame Samyeongam Hermitage, and this hermitage has both natural and artificial beauty.

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 The beautiful pavilion that overlooks the equally beautiful Koi pond.

This beauty is re-affirmed to me each of the handful of times that I’ve re-visited the hermitage throughout the years. But the most memorable moment came in 2012, when I was out taking pictures of the hermitage’s courtyard. The head monk at the hermitage noticed me as he came out of the monks’ quarters. With a passing smile between us, he continued on his way, and I on mine. I continued onto the main hall, where I took some pictures inside the hall while there were no visitors. The head monk noticed this and nicely told me that I should hurry because his morning prayer service was about to start. After that, he disappeared for a bit.

Wanting to get a few more pictures from the hermitage’s courtyard, and down onto the twin Koi ponds, I hovered around one of the pavilions. Suddenly, the window to one of the monks’ quarters swung open. It just so happened to be the head monk, again, holding out a bowl of peanuts for my wife and I. After we took the bowl, he reached down and grabbed some bread, as well. He then motioned us towards the pavilion to enjoy the view and enjoy what he had given us. He then said that if we were still around after the hour long morning prayer, he would like to join us. Unfortunately, we already had plans; otherwise, I’m sure it would have been yet another great conversation with a Korean Buddhist monk.

It’s kind of funny that you set off in exploring a Korean temple or hermitage and you end up eating a bowl of peanuts provided to you by the head monk of a hermitage.

For more information on Samyeongam Hermitage.

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 The view from the restive pavilion. 

Samyeongam Hermitage – 사 명암 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The gorgeously serene coy pond at Samyeongam Hermitage

Hello Again Everyone!!

Continuing on our tour of hermitages around Tongdosa Temple, this posting will be about Samyeongam Hermitage (사 명암).  Samyeongam Hermitage is one of the largest hermitages I’ve ever visited, and probably the largest of the hermitages associated with Tongdosa Temple. As you approach Samyeongam Hermitage, the first thing you’ll notice is the beautiful pond that is located out in front of the main hermitage courtyard. A gorgeous granite bridge spans the length of this coy pond. Scattered all around the rim of the pond are assorted Buddhist statues. And like two sentinels, the twin bell pavilions hang out over the pond from the depths of the elevated main courtyard above. Greeting you, as you climb the staircase that leads up to the main courtyard at the hermitage, is an intricately designed brown Buddha statue (probably Gwanseeum-bosal). Once you make your way up the stairs, you’ll be introduced to the main courtyard by a low standing Iljumun (First Gate). As you pass through Iljumun, you’ll first see the main hall directly in front of you.  The main hall has extremely rare paintings adorning its exterior.  Because it’s a hermitage for monks studying Buddhism, the paintings are of childlike monks, symbolic of the spiritual maturation process within the Buddhist faith. To the left is the monk study hall.  To the immediate right of the main hall is a shrine hall with ancient trees standing out front of it like two protective guards. Surprisingly, there was a well hidden shrine hall directly behind the main hall up a steep set of stairs. To the far right are a handful of buildings that are the monks’ dorms, and they’re off limits to the public. Of note, you can get some great pictures of both the pond, and the valley below, from the elevated main courtyard.

HOW TO GET THERE:  Much like Okryeonam Hermitage, to get to Samyeongam Hermitage, you’ll first have to make your way to Tongdosa Temple.  To get to Tongdosa from the Gyeongsangnam-do area, you can take an intercity bus from Busan, Eonyang or Ulsan. And 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 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. As you near Samyeongam Hermitage, you’ll come to a point where the road forks. Whereas the road that leads to Okryeonam Hermitage splits to the left, the road that leads to Samyeongam Hermitage heads right.  There is a large stone standing on its edge that reads the hermitage name in Korean: 사 명암.

For the Story Of…Samyeongam Hermitage.

Like Okryeonam Hermitage, admission to Samyeongam Hermitage is free; however, you’ll have to pay the modest 3,000 Won entrance fee to Tongdosa Temple to gain access to the rest of the grounds.

View 사명암 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING:  7/10. The coy pond at Samyeongam Hermitage is beautiful. And this unique aspect of this hermitage slightly outweighs the smaller uniqueness of the neighbouring Okryeonam Hermitage. For this reason, Samyeongam Hermitage rates slightly higher than Okryeonam Hermitage. Besides the coy pond, there are other highlights at this hermitage, like the ancient trees that act as sentries for a shrine hall.  Also, the lower standing Iljumun gate nicely frames the main hall as you ascend the stairs at Samyeongam Hermitage.  Much like Okryeonam Hermitage, Samyeongam Hermitage has a lot to offer the temple adventurer; and to top it off, it’s one of the easier hermitages to get to at Tongdosa Temple.

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On the left is the stone marker that shows the way to Samyeongam Hermitage.
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A view of Samyeongam Hermitage.
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A view of the coy pond from the granite bridge that spans its depths.
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And one, of the two, bell pavilions that hangs over the coy pond.
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And the other bell pavilion and the Iljumun gate at the hermitage.
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Just one of the many statues that sits on the banks of the pond. This one was the most beautiful.
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The brown Buddha statue that welcomes you to the hermitage that is perhaps Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).
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A unique perspective as one ascends the stone staircase.
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A view through Iljumun gate.
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The main hall that is uniquely adorned with childlike paintings of monks.
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The shrine hall with ancient trees as guards to the building.
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The main altar inside the main hall. Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) is in the centre, with Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) to the left, and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the right.
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A better look at Amita-bul.
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An intricate guardian painting inside the main hall.
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Just one of the many unique paintings that adorns the exterior of the main hall.  In this painting, there are childlike monks dancing around and wearing traditional masks.
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Another of the childlike monk paintings.  If you look close enough, you’ll notice one of the monks on the far left is painting the Korean flag.
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And another of the childlike monks, making, what looks to be a snowman. I’ve never seen a painting at any other temple or hermitage that even closely resemble this one.
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 The shrine hall that is hidden behind the main hall.  The entire hermitage complex is surrounded by a bamboo forest.
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The well hidden shrine hall directly behind the main hall at the hermitage.
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A gorgeous pool of water with a stone lotus spout in the foreground.  In the background is one of the monk dorms at the hermitage.
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One last look at the coy pond, as we descend the hermitage stairs.