The Story of…Wonhyoam Hermitage (Busan)

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 The amazing view from Wonhyoam Hermitage…and the hike that nearly killed me to get it.

Hello Again Everyone!!

As I mentioned in a previous posting about Wonhyoam Hermitage, there are literally dozens of Wonhyoam Hermitages throughout the Korean peninsula named after the famous Korean monk, Wonhyo-daesa. And this entry is about another hermitage called Wonhyoam Hermitage.

The difference between this Wonhyoam Hermitage and others is that this one is directly associated with Beomeosa Temple in Busan. In fact, it’s located on the temple grounds and up Mt. Geumjeongsan.

The story all starts when I was exploring some of the hermitages in and around Beomeosa Temple. Initially, I had been attempting to see Geumjeongam Hermitage. One wrong turn later, and I was attempting to see Wonhyoam Hermitage. I had known, or thought I knew, that the two hermitages were close in proximity to each other. So when I was unable to locate one, I was crossing a bridge over Dolbada (The Sea of Rocks), and heading up a mountain in search of a second hermitage.

Without knowing the distance it took from the base of the mountain up to Wonhyoam Hermitage, I was ill prepared for the climb. I didn’t have any water, and I didn’t have my hiking boots on, either. Halfway up the climb, which is about 500 metres straight up, I was wondering what I had got myself into. Resting at the first of many large rocks along the way, sweat covering my body, a stranger walked by me. He kindly offered me water. I must have looked like death when he saw me. Fortunately, this wasn’t the first stranger to offer me assistance along the way.

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 Part of the arduous hike on your way up to Wonhyoam Hermitage.

A further 300 metres up the hike, a hike that I had no idea when it would come to an end, another stranger walked by me as I rested on a rock. His English was great, and he offered me the encouraging words that the hermitage was only another 200 metres up the mountain trail. Before he had told me the distance remaining in the hike, I had been contemplating descending the mountain. I hadn’t seen a sign pointing me in the direction of the hermitage for several hundred metres.

He asked why I was so interested in seeing Wonhyoam Hermitage. I told him that I had heard great things about the hermitage. He then went on to tell me that he visited Wonhyoam Hermitage every weekend, which was a miracle onto itself, considering the distance and stamina it took to see this hermitage located amongst the mountain peaks of Mt. Geumjeongsan.

He suggested that we go together. When I told him that I was going to rest a bit longer, he gave me the most accurate directions to get to the hermitage: through a fenced gate and around a rightward bend in the trail.

Having finally ascended the mountain, I saw both Korean gentlemen that helped aid me in my time of need. With a kind smile exchanged between us, I hung around a bit before descending down the mountain.

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 The older looking main hall at the hermitage.

To me, it’s these moments that remind me of the kinder and gentler side of Korea. It isn’t the driving or balli, balli (hurry, hurry) culture, but the kindness shown from one stranger to the next. And the more I explore the mountain trails and temples of Korea, the more I get to discover the sweeter side of Korea.

For more information on Wonhyoam Hermitage in Busan.

The Story of…Wonhyoam Hermitage (Yangsan)

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 The stunning view from Wonhyoam Hermitage in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

I’ve been to my fair share of Wonhyoam Hermitages throughout the Korean peninsula. But the one that this Story of… will focus on is the Wonhyoam Hermitage on Mt. Cheonseongsan in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

I had visited nearly all that Yangsan had to offer in terms of hermitages and temples, all but for the hard to reach Wonhyoam Hermitage. I had been told that you had to trek through a military base to get to the hermitage that lies 900 metres up on Mt. Cheonseongsan.

So pushing my luck one Sunday morning in 2011, I made my way towards Wonhyoam Hermitage. With a few wrong turns, I finally found the dirt road that led up to the hermitage. Fortunately, my information was wrong, because Wonhyoam Hermitage isn’t on the other side of a military base; instead, the dirt road that leads up to the hermitage skirts the military outpost. And there’s one turn, if you head in the wrong direction, that is out of bounds because it’s protected by landmines. Glad I turned left instead of right at that bend in the road.

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 The not-so-camera-shy junior monk and I just outside the main hall at the hermitage in 2011.

When I finally did arrive at the hermitage, I was pleasantly surprised by a hermitage filled with beautiful shrine halls and a gorgeous view of the town of Yangsan down below. But the true highlight to this hermitage was when the junior monk saw me walking around and took an interest in me. He waved me over for a quick coffee. With his broken English and my broken Korean, we were able to have a nice 30 minute discussion about Korea and Korean Buddhism. Just before I left, he got a volunteer at the hermitage to take a picture of us just outside the entrance to the hermitage’s main hall. With a warm good-bye, he invited me to come back the next time with my wife. With a smile, I promised that I would.

A year later, I finally lived up to the promise that I gave the junior monk at Wonhyoam Hermitage. With my wife, and in the spring of 2012, we made the long ascent up to the hermitage. I was a little surprised that the monk remembered me a year later; but then again, Wonhyoam Hermitage probably doesn’t have all that many expats visiting the hermitage. This time, with my wife as a translator, we discussed Korean Buddhism even further in depth. He explained to me the patient mind it took to become a Korean Buddhist monk. It was really informative. I was also able to ask him questions about Korean shamanism.


 And a return visit picture of the two of us from 2012.

Once more, before we left, he got pictures of us all together. This time, however, he was the photographer. He got my wife and I to pose in front of the main hall and the bell pavilion. He also got a picture of him and I together. It was a really unique experience to have. He even showed me a picture of his previous day’s climb to the ledge where Wonhyo-daesa purportedly prayed upon when he was at the hermitage some 1300 years earlier.

It’s these encounters that I really cherish when visiting Korean temples. So many people get caught up in the daily trappings of life that they forget to stop and enjoy the experiences that life can sometimes provide. Also, some may overlook them during their time in Korea. To me, these kinds of encounters are what typify the Korean experience for me.

For more information on Wonhyoam Hermitage.

Wonhyoam Hermitage – 원효암 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

Picture 008The breath-taking view from Wonhyoam Hermitage at the city of Yangsan down below.

 Hello Again Everyone!!

For whatever reason, I had never had a huge urge to visit Wonhyoam Hermitage here in Yangsan. Perhaps it was the distance, and perhaps it was knowing I would have to climb another mountain to get to it. But whatever the reason, I had yet to visit it. Like  Golgulsa Temple in Gyeongju, Wonhyoam Hermitage was a very pleasant surprise.

Wonhyoam Hermitage (원효암), like the identically named hermitage in Busan, is named after the Silla monk Wonhyo-daesa, who helped popularize Buddhism throughout the Korean peninsula. The hermitage dates back to the Silla dynasty, and it’s located 900 metres up on Chunseoungsan Mountain. If you’ve been to both the Wonhyoam Hermitages in Yangsan and Busan, you’ll know that Wonhyo-daesa really enjoyed isolated hermitages to study.  Interestingly, the hermitage has an fascinating story attached to its very long history. In the summer of 1991, a thunderstorm without rain erupted around the hermitage for two hours. A fireball from this storm struck at Saja-bong ( Lion  Peak), which is east of Wonhyoam Hermitage. As a result of this strike, a blackened figured was discovered on the rocks by hikers the next day. The image that was formed by the strike looked like the image of the Buddha. And after the abbot of Tongdosa Temple, Wolha, saw the image he called it “Cheonwang Yaksa Yeorae,” which in English translates as Heavenly Light Yaksayore-bul, after the Buddha of Medicine. It was named this because Yaksayore-bul resides in the East, which is where the strike of lightning hit near the hermitage.

When you first approach the hermitage, after making the long way up the eight kilometer military/hermitage road, you’ll see some of the most beautiful views in all of Yangsan, and perhaps Gyeongsangnam-do. You can take some breath-taking views from these heights, so take your time and enjoy the view. Walking down the road, you’ll notice a beautiful bell pavilion to the right of you. And to the left, where there’s a bend in the trail, there’s a little rock outcropping. Be careful when you step out onto this outcropping, because one wrong step and you’re rolling down the wrong side of a mountain. However, once you’ve safely made your way out onto the rock outcropping, the valley that the south part of Yangsan is situated in reveals itself before your very eyes.

Continuing towards the hermitage grounds, you’ll first see a brightly coloured green roof that sits upon the main hall. Immediately to your right is the hermitage office. And trust me, the office workers will look shocked to see a foreigner so high up the mountain. Inside the main hall is a triad of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) in the middle, and to his left sits Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to his right. There is an amazing wooden guardian sculpture on the left wall with a uniquely designed, and multi-armed, Dongjin-bosal (The Bodhisattva that Protects the Buddha’s Teachings) in the centre. Around the main hall are some uniquely painted ox-herding murals. Well hidden, and behind the main hall, is a hall dedicated to the three Shamin gods and Yongwang, the King of the Sea. Along the main altar for the Samseong-gak (The Three Stars Hall) are equally beautiful wooden sculptures dedicated to the three Shaman gods: Chilseong (The Seven Stars), San shin (The Mountain god), and Dokseong (The Recluse). In an adjoining room, intermingled with the mountain’s rocks, is a hall dedicated to Yongwang.

To the left of the main hall are the monk’s dorms and study halls. And to the right of the main hall, and up the embankment, is the beautiful bell pavilion with intricate woodwork and paintings. Interestingly, there’s a set of 108 stairs that leads up to Cheonwang Yaksa Yeorae. Under a canopy, the altar looks to the south with the blackened Buddha figure sitting on the altar.

On a personal note, as I was ready to leave, the junior head monk at the hermitage invited me for a cup of coffee that lasted 30 minutes. It was an amazing experience with his broken English and my broken Korean talking about life and faith.

For the Story of Wonhyoam Hermitage.

HOW TO GET THERE: Like most smaller hermitages or temples in smaller towns, this hermitage is a bit of a chore to get to and find. You can take bus number 12 or 12-1 towards  Tongdosa  Temple. You’ll have to get off at Daeseok village. This area is around the more famous  Hongryongsa  Temple. The hermitage has a shuttle bus that ventures up the 8 kilometre road. The shuttle bus can be found out in front of the Wonhyoam Hermitage shop. And the bus leaves four times a day at 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m., and 1 p.m.

View 원효암 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10. This temple has a better view than Baekunam Hermitage near  Tongdosa  Temple, and more beautiful buildings than the Wonhyoam Hermitage near  Beomeosa  Temple. And for these two reasons this hermitage rates slightly higher than the two aforementioned hermitages. Wonhyoam Hermitage has a beautiful bell pavilion and Samseong-gak hall. Couple this with the spectacular views of Yangsan below and the blackened Buddha figure from the lightning storm, and you’ll know why this hermitage is rated as high as it is.

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The amazing view of the city of Yangsan from the road that leads into Wonhyoam Hermitage.
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A close up of the factories and apartments that are spread throughout the valley below.
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The twist in the trail that leads towards the hermitage.
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Left of the twist in the trail is this rock outcropping that overlooks the city of Yangsan.
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And the breath-taking view from the rock outcropping!
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And to the right, and up on the hill, is the beautiful bell pavilion.
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And just past the twist in the trail is the hermitage’s courtyard and main hall.
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Sitting on the altar inside the main hall is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) in the centre, flanked by Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) to the left, and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the right.
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The uniquely designed wooden sculpture of the multi-armed Dongjin-bosal (The Bodhisattva that Protects the Buddha’s Teachings).
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One of the ox-herding murals with a larger sized ox, which is symbolic of a person trying to tame their untamed mind.
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A view up at the towering boulders that surround the hermitage.
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At the centre of the altar inside the Samseong-gak is this wooden sculpture of Chilseong (The Seven Stars).
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On the right side of the Samseong-gak Hall are these two paintings. On the right is what is thought to be Wonhyo-daesa, who is the monk that gave the hermitage its name, and on the left is Uisang-daesa, his close friend.
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A look inside the hall that houses Yongwang, the King of the Sea. If you look close enough you can see the massive rocks that protrude out from the floor into the shrine hall.
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The monk dorms which are left of the main hall.
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And a view of the beautiful bell pavilion to the right of the main hall. It rests on the adjacent embankment.
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A better look at the brilliant woodwork and paintings that adorn the bell pavilion.
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A long look up the 108 stairs that rest on the side of the mountain.
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And what lies at the top of those stairs? This canopied altar houses the Blackened Buddha rock: Cheonwang Yaksa Yeorae.
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You can see the blackened Buddha shaped design at the centre of the altar.
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And just when I was ready to leave…
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I met this really nice monk that wanted to have coffee with me.

Wonhyoam Hermitage – 원효암 (Geumjeong-gu, Busan)

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A beautiful view from Geumjeongsan Mountain near Wonhyoam Hermitage in Busan.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Getting up early to visit a few more of the hermitages at Beomeosa Temple, I was surprised by one and disappointed by a couple others. The one that I was pleasantly surprised with was Wonhyoam Hermitage. I think it’s probably the most difficult hermitage that I’ve ever tried to get to, but the views of Busan down below were well worth the one kilometre hike up Geumjeongsan Mountain.

Wonhyoam Hermitage (원효암) is named after the famous Korean monk, Wonhyo, who helped popularize Buddhism throughout the late Three Kingdoms Period and the early Silla Dynasty. Wonhyoam Hermitage is built on the former residence of Wonhyo. As I was walking in the temple courtyard, I was greeted by a hermitage monk. He told me that the hermitage is over 300 years old.

Half the adventure of seeing Wonhyoam Hermitage is making the long hike up the steep rock trail. In fact, the area that you first start to climb to the hermitage (left of Beomeosa Temple) is called Dolbada, which literally translates as “Sea of Rocks.” So make sure you bring a good pair of shoes because the hike can be a bit treacherous at times if you don’t have the right pair of footwear. The trail that leads up to the hermitage zigzags for about a kilometre. The trail to the hermitage is marked by white signs, with red print, that read – 원효암. There’s a faded hermitage sign to the right which highlights the summit of the mountain ridge. However, before you turn towards the hermitage path, hang a left towards a rock outcropping. Scaling the rocks is a bit dangerous, so be careful. But once you’ve traversed these big boulders, a beautiful panoramic view of Busan and the Nakdong River reveal themselves in the twisting valleys below. It’s a nice little spot to catch your breath amongst the sky and stone. Take your time and take as many pictures as you want because you’ve earned it with the hike.

Once you’ve gathered all the pictures you want, and your breath, head back to the main hiking trail. A groomed trail will lead you to a set of three stupas of monks who once resided at the hermitage. To the left of these stupas is an ancient pagoda that dates back to the 10th century. So important is this three-tiered pagoda that it’s been declared a Busan Tangible Cultural Property. Continuing down the trail, and past the hermitages farm, you’ll notice the hermitage’s main gate to the right and through the trees. The entrance gate is adorned with two fading paintings of the guardians Heng and Ha. The gate doors are uniquely adorned with an equally fading symbol of Yin and Yang. The door knockers are a pair of beautiful lion heads. As you pass through this gate you’ll be met by a serenely maintained hermitage courtyard. Straight ahead is the diminutive main hall. Inside the main hall, have a seat and enjoy the serenity. The main altar statue is Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). To her right is a statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). There is a beautiful guardian painting to the left of Gwanseeum-bosal. As you step out of the main hall, you’ll notice an administrative office to the left of the main hall. To the right, and up the hill, is a set of monk dorms and study halls. Up this hill is the twin pagoda to the one at the entrance of the hermitage. Like the first, this pagoda also dates back to the 10th century. Originally, it was located 30 metres northwest of the hermitage, but was later moved to be included on the hermitage grounds.

The Story Of…Wonhyoam Hermitage in Busan.

HOW TO GET THERE:  Like all the other hermitages at Beomeosa Temple, you first have to take the Busan subway, line one, to Beomeosa station and take exit #1. Here, you can either walk up the thirty minute hike to Beomeosa Temple, or you can walk a block uphill to the bus stop where you can take bus #90 to the nearby entrance of Beomeosa Temple.  You can take a path that leads left of the Iljumun gate. This trail will lead you to an opening with a wooden bridge that spans a stream. This area is the start of the Dolbada (The Sea of Rocks). Hang a left and cross the bridge. Straight ahead is the first of several white signs with red print that read – 원효암. Now the truly tricky part: Head up the 1 kilometre trail to the summit of the ridge along the Geumjeongsan Mountain Range. You’ll pass through a gate with wired fencing. You’re halfway there! Keep going, and you’ll come to a fading sign. The hermitage is about 300 more metres up the trail passed the pagoda, stupas, and the hermitage farm. It’s tough but well worth it!

OVERALL RATING:  6/10. While the buildings aren’t quite as beautiful as the ones at Gyemyeongam Hermitage, the sister hermitage at Beomeosa Temple, the views of Busan and the Nakdong River down in the twisting valleys below are second-to-none. The hermitage has a pair of ancient pagodas that are beautiful. The hermitage itself is serene and worth the effort to get to. So if you have the time, strength and the stamina, have a look at this hermitage!

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 Dolbada is the starting point to your exhausting climb.
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 You’ll be greeted by a lot of these signs along the way that lead you up to Wonhyoam Hermitage.
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Just a part of the arduous kilometre hike up Geumjeongsan Mountain.
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 Finally, the sun appeared as I made it to the ridge that the hermitage rests upon.
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 To the right, as the path forks, is Wonhyoam Hermitage.
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But before you go, hang a left and climb these boulders to get an amazing view of Busan down below.
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 Part of the panoramic view. There is ancient Chinese character writing to the right and Busan in the valleys below to the left.
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 A beautiful view from the rock ledge of Busan and the Nakdong River.
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 Back on the hermitage trail you’ll come across these unique monk stupas.
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 Across from these stupas is this 10th century pagoda.
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 Past the stupas and pagoda is the richly coloured hermitage farm.
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 Not long after the hermitage farm is the hermitage’s main gate. It slants a bit, but it’s still beautiful in colour and design.
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 On the right side of the gate is the guardian Heng.
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 And to the left is the guardian Ha.
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 The fading Yin and Yang sign that adorns one of the hermitage’s gate with a beautiful lion-head knocker.
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Finally, a walk through the hermitage’s front gate.
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 Straight ahead in the courtyard is the main hall at the hermitage.
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 A look across the front of the main hall at one of the monk study halls.
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 Inside the main hall is this majestic statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).
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 To the right of her is Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). One of the people that works at the hermitage was dutifully cleaning around all the altar statues and paintings when I arrived.
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 As you step out of the main hall you’ll see the monk’s dorms to your right and up the hill.
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 A trail to the left of these study halls is the twin ancient pagoda at the hermitage that also dates back to the 10th century.
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A look up at the clearing sky above a study hall.