Geumgangam Hermitage, which means “Diamond Hermitage” in English, is one of the more popular hermitages on the Beomeosa Temple grounds in Geumjeong-gu, Busan. Although there is no way to confirm whether Geumgangam Hermitage existed before the late Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), there are records that show that it was constructed in 1803 by the monk Chuigyu-seonsa. Since its foundation, Geumgangam Hermitage has been reconstructed twice; first in 1863 and then again in 1899.
More recently, and during the 1980’s, Geumgangam Hermitage, which was a smaller mountain hermitage, started to gradually gain in popularity. It’s from this popularity that the hermitage began to grow in both size and influence.
Like the neighbouring Anyangam Hermitage and Daeseongam Hermitage, Geumgangam Hermitage is located to the south-west of Beomeosa Temple and a little further up Mt. Geumjeongsan (801.5 m). But while Geumgangam Hermitage welcomes visitors, both Anyangam Hermitage and Daeseongam Hermitage are strictly off-limits, as they are centres for Buddhist monastic studies.
You first begin your trek up to Geumgangam Hermitage from the upper left side of the Beomeosa Temple grounds. Here you’ll find an opening with a large collection of rocks. This area is known as Dolbada, or “Sea of Rocks” in English. Continuing up the trail through the Dolbada, you’ll come to two wooden bridges. Instead of going over them, which will eventually bring you much further up the mountain to Wonhyoam Hermitage, hang a right. The hermitage is about three hundred metres up a stone stairway and a collection of cascading water.
Having finally mounted all the uneven stairs, you’ll see a sign with the name of the hermitage on it, as well as a bridge that spans the length of the cascading water. At this point, you should also be able to see the Iljumun Gate out in front of the main hermitage grounds at Geumgangam Hermitage. Instead of having the more traditional hanja characters writing on it, the writing on the nameplate is written in Korean. And the nameplate simply reads “Geumgangam – 금강암.”
Passing through the uniquely designed Iljumun Gate, you’ll enter into the beautiful Geumgangam Hermitage grounds that has lush green grass growing in the main hermitage courtyard. Straight ahead of you is the Daejabi-jeon Hall. The outside walls to the main hall are adorned with fairly traditional paintings. One is the Palsang-do (The Eight Scenes from the Buddha’s Life Murals), and the other set is the Shimu-do (The Ox-Herding Murals). The Palsang-do set is on top, while the Shimu-do on are the bottom. The Shimu-do are placed within a circular design, while the Palsang-do are fading with age. Inside the Daejabi-jeon Hall, on the other hand, are a triad of main altar statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). This central image is joined on either side by golden statues of Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). Behind this triad is a beautiful wooden relief. To the right of the main altar, you’ll find another stunning relief. This wooden relief is dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). And to the left is the third stunning wood relief inside the Daejabi-jeon Hall. This relief is a depiction of the Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural). And rounding out the Buddhist artistry inside the main hall is an all-white mural dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) on the far left wall.
Surrounding the Daejabi-jeon Hall are a collection of shrine halls. To the immediate right of the main hall is a rather top-heavy three-story stone pagoda. Out in front of this simplistic three-story pagoda is an intricate stone incense burner with a dragon design around its base. Above this pagoda is the Samseong-gak. Rather interestingly, once again, the name of the shrine hall is written in Korean on the signboard. The outside walls to this hall are adorned with a mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). Inside this shaman shrine hall, you’ll find the three most popular shaman deities housed inside its walls. In the centre of the three hangs a golden relief dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). To the left hangs a golden relief dedicated to Sanshin. And to the right hangs another golden relief; this time, this golden relief is dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint).
To the left of the Daejabi-jeon is a diminutive Jong-ru (Bell Pavilion). The bell inside this pavilion is equally compact. But also like the pavilion, it’s beautiful in design. Up the embankment, you’ll find an entrance to a cave. This cave is the hermitage’s Yaksa-jeon Hall. Housed inside this cave is an all-white image of Yaksayeorae-bul (The Medicine Buddha). The white statue of Yaksayeorae-bul is pouring water from the bottle it holds in its left hand. And surrounding the central image of Yaksayeorae-bul are tinier statues of all-white Buddhas.
Further up the embankment, and only accessible by way of the Samseong-gak Hall, is the Nahan-jeon Hall. The exterior walls to this hall are painted with various Nahan either studying or teaching. As for the interior, you’ll find another golden relief hanging in the centre of the main altar. This golden relief is centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). And it’s fronted by a diminutive triad of statues, again, centred by Seokgamoni-bul and joined by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). Flanking this main altar triad are statues of the sixteen Nahan (The Disciples of the Historical Buddha). There are also two wooden reliefs joining the golden relief on the main altar. However, these two reliefs are of the Nahan.
How To Get There
From the Beomeosa Station subway stop, stop #133 on line #1, leave this station through exits #5 or #7. From there, walk five minutes to the bus stop and take Bus #90 to get to the entrance of Beomeosa Temple. From the entry of Beomeosa Temple and the historic Iljumun Gate, you’ll need to take the trail that leads to the left. Eventually, you’ll come to a wooden bridge that spans a stream. This area is known as Dolbada, or “The Sea of Rocks” in English. Hang a left but don’t cross the bridge; instead, head up the stone stairway next to the cascading water for about three hundred metres. Along the way, you’ll pass by Daeseongam Hermitage to your right. You’ll know that you’re nearing the hermitage with a sign that reads “금강암.” This sign is situated on a bridge that spans the length of the rolling rocks and water. Head up this path for an additional fifty metres until you arrive at Geumgangam Hermitage’s Iljumun Gate.
Overall Rating: 7/10
Geumgangam Hermitage is large enough to be a temple. And if it wasn’t attached to Beomeosa Temple, it would probably be far more famous than it already is. It’s located up a beautiful valley and up the cascading waters that flow down from Dolbada, or “The Sea of Rocks” in English. Geumgangam Hermitage is home to a handful of beautiful temple shrine halls including the Nahan-jeon Hall and the Samseong-gak Hall. Included in these halls is the rather unique Yaksa-jeon cave shrine hall. If you’re to visit any hermitage at Beomeosa Temple, Geumgangam Hermitage should be high on that list.