Unbuam Hermitage – 운부암 (Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

Unbuam Hermitage in Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hermitage History

Unbuam Hermitage is one of several hermitages located on the sprawling Eunhaesa Temple grounds in Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do. According to a hermitage legend, Unbuam Hermitage was first founded in 711 A.D. by the famed monk Uisang-daesa (625-702 A.D.). However, there are two reasons to question this legend. First, Uisang-daesa died in 702 A.D.; and secondly, Eunhaesa Temple wasn’t constructed until 809 A.D. As for the name of the hermitage, it was called Unbuam Hermitage because the monk Seoun was floating above the location of the future hermitage. After the hermitage’s founding, very little is known about its history. However, we do know that the hermitage was destroyed by fire in 1860. Unbuam Hermitage was later rebuilt, at least in part, in 1900.

Unbuam Hermitage is home to one Korean Treasure. It’s the Gilt-Bronze Seated Bodhisattva at Unbuam Hermitage of Eunhaesa Temple, which is Korean Treasure #514.

Hermitage Layout

When you first arrive at the hermitage grounds, you’ll notice two large artificial ponds situated out in front of the main hermitage grounds. While the one to the right is rather non-descript, the pond to the left has a large, stone statue of the Bodhidharma standing in the centre of the artificial pond.

Between both of the ponds, you’ll find an unpainted Iljumun Gate. Up a set of uneven stone stairs, you’ll see the large Bohwa-ru Pavilion in front of you. The Bohwa-ru Pavilion dates back to 1900. This gate helps shield people from seeing directly into the hermitage grounds. You’ll need to pass under the Bohwa-ru Pavilion, and up a set of stairs, to finally be standing in the centre of the hermitage’s main courtyard.

Right away, you’ll notice that the main hall is book-ended on either side by two longer buildings. The building to the left is the administrative office and kitchen, while the long unpainted building to your right is the Yosachae (monks’ dorms). And standing all alone in the middle of the hermitage courtyard is an older diminutive three-story stone pagoda.

Past the smaller sized pagoda, you’ll see the rather stout Wontong-jeon Hall straight ahead of you. The exterior walls to the main hall are adorned with fading murals. If you look closely enough up at the eaves, you’ll notice some of the fading floral patterns that were once a bit more vibrant. As for the Wontong-jeon Hall, and stepping inside the main hall, you’ll find a solitary statue resting inside a glass enclosure. This is a statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion), and this statue is officially known as the Gilt-Bronze Seated Bodhisattva at Unbuam Hermitage of Eunhaesa Temple. The statue of Gwanseeum-bosal stands 1.02 metres in height, and it wears a wonderfully ornate crown with a flame pattern, flowers, and birds of paradise adorning it. The statue has an oval face with slight eyes. Based upon the style of the statue, it’s believed to date back to the early Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), while still retaining some of the local characteristics of statues like this from the late Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) in Gyeongsangbuk-do. This statue is Korean Treasure #514. As for the rest of the interior of the Wontong-jeon Hall, you’ll find a Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural) and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) mural hanging on the far right wall.

To the left rear of the Wontong-jeon Hall, you’ll find a brand new Samseong-gak Hall. This shaman shrine hall, which will become apparent soon, is highly original in a few ways. First, there are three rooms housed inside the Samseong-gak Hall. But instead of being divided into rooms dedicate to various shaman deities, this shaman shrine hall has rooms to the left and right of the central hall which allows people to pray all alone. As for the central room inside the Samseong-gak Hall, you’ll find three paintings housed inside it. Typically, the Chilseong (The Seven Stars) painting hangs in the centre of the triad; but inside this hall, you’ll find the Chilseong painting hanging on the left wall, while the painting dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) hangs on the right wall. And taking centre stage inside the Samseong-gak Hall is one of the most original modern paintings dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) in Korea. Sitting front and centre in the mural is a seated image of Sanshin. And he’s joined by a tiger in the painting, but there’s more. Also taking up residence in the painting, and starting in the back row, appears an image of Uisang-daesa (625-702 A.D.) to the left of Wonhyo-daesa (617-686 A.D.). As for the front row, and in the centre, appears an image of Gyeongheo-seonsa (1849-1912). And he’s joined on either side by Seongcheol-seonsa (1912-1993) and Jinje-seonsa (1934).

To the rear of the Wontong-jeon Hall, and to the right and past the vegetable garden at Unbuam Hermitage, you’ll find what looks to be an abandoned building over a bit of a ridge. Without a signboard indicating what it might be, you’ll find a beautiful modern painting of a more traditional image of Sanshin and his tiger.

How To Get There

To get to Unbuam Hermitage, you’ll first need to get to Eunhaesa Temple, which is where the hermitage is located. You can catch a bus to Eunhaesa Temple from the Yeongcheon Intercity Bus Terminal. These buses leave the terminal eight times a day. The bus ride will take about 45 minutes. From Eunhaesa Temple, you’ll need to continue to walk west of the temple, and to the north, towards Unbuam Hermitage. The walk takes about 4 km, or around 1 hour and fifteen minutes.

Overall Rating: 5.5/10

Unbuam Hermitage is packed with originality. And front and centre is the modern Sanshin painting housed inside the Samseong-gak Hall. It’s unclear what the intentions of the artist was, but Sanshin is joined by five of the most prominent luminaries in Korean Buddhism. Adding to this painting is the Bodhidharma statue in the entry pond, the splendid Bohwa-ru Pavilion at the entry of the hermitage courtyard, and the ornately crowned Gilt-Bronze Seated Bodhisattva at Unbuam Hermitage of Eunhaesa Temple inside the Wontong-jeon Hall. In a way, the hermitages at Eunhaesa Temple are more special than the main temple itself.

The beautiful grounds at Unbuam Hermitage.
The Bodhidharma stone statue and pond out in front of the hermitage courtyard.
The entry gate leading up to the main hermitage courtyard.
The stairs leading up to the Bohwa-ru Pavilion.
The Bohwa-ru Pavilion and a pair of cherry blossom trees in bloom.
A look up at the Wontong-jeon Hall from the Bohwa-ruy Pavilion.
The view from the Bohwa-ru Pavilion.
A monk’s dorm at Unbuam Hermitage.
A closer look at the Wontong-jeon Hall.
The Gilt-Bronze Seated Bodhisattva at Unbuam Hermitage of Eunhaesa Temple.
A look at the hermitage courtyard from the Wontong-jeon Hall.
A look up at the modern Samseong-gak Hall.
A look inside the central hall of the Samseong-gak Hall.
A closer look at the modern Sanshin mural inside the Samseong-gak Hall.
The hidden Sanshin-gak Hall to the right rear of the Wontong-jeon Hall.
And the modern Sanshin painting in residence inside the Sanshin-gak Hall.