Seongjuam Hermitage is located on the eastern side of Mt. Byeokdosan (437.1 m) in central Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do. It’s hard to tell just how old the diminutive hermitage is; however, it’s one striking feature is the Rock-Carved Standing Buddha Triad in Yul-dong, which is Korean Treasure #122.
The Rock-Carved Standing Buddha Triad in Yul-dong appears to be from Unified Silla (668-935 A.D.). Stylistically, the Buddha triad that appears on the carving is similar to the one found at the Gulbulsa-ji Temple Site also in Gyeongju. The 8th century piece consists of a triad centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). This central image is joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul). This triad was very popular in the 8th century when it was first made. The central image of Amita-bul has a large, bald head. And at the top of its head, it almost appears to be wearing a hat. It has a plump face that’s adorned with a nice smile. As for its hands and its mudra (ritualized hand gesture), Amita-bul has his right hand held to his chest with the index and thumb placed together. As for the accompanying Bodhisattvas, the image of Gwanseeum-bosal appears to be quite feminine. It has a curvy figure with its feet spread to the side. Also, the mudra that Gwanseeum-bosal is making has her right hand held above the shoulders with its thumb and middle finger placed together. And the left hand is holding a treasure bottle. Daesaeji-bosal, on the other hand, is similar in appearance to Gwanseeum-bosal. All three statues have a round halo surrounding each of their heads.
You first approach Seongjuam Hermitage up a set of rural roads that ends at a mountainside road. Standing in the remote hermitage parking lot, you’ll find the trailhead that leads up to the hermitage to the right of the parking lot retaining wall. Through a bend in the trail, and to the left and then right, you’ll see a sign that is the surest indication that you’re nearing Seongjuam Hermitage. The sign that you pass by on your way towards the hermitage describes the history behind the Rock-Carved Standing Buddha Triad in Yul-dong.
Up this mountain trail for another one hundred metres, you’ll finally come to the outskirts of the hermitage. Uniquely, the first hermitage structure to greet you at Seongjuam Hermitage is the Sanshin-gak Hall. The diminutive shaman shrine hall has a beautiful signboard above the entry. Stepping inside the Sanshin-gak Hall, you’ll find a beautiful image dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), who almost appears to be making a mudra with his left hand. Meanwhile, the accompanying tiger has the most psychedelic swirling eyes.
To the left of the Sanshin-gak Hall, and up a set of uneven stone stairs, is the hermitage’s two-in-one main hall. This L-shaped structure has the main hall to the right and the monk’s living quarters to the left. Inside this extremely small main hall are a pair of red paintings. The first to the left, and backing the main altar image of an all-white Gwanseeum-bosal, is the Yeongsan Hoesang-do (The Sermon on Vulture Peak Mural). And second, and to the right, is the Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural).
But it’s to the right rear of the L-shaped main hall that you’ll find the aforementioned Rock-Carved Standing Buddha Triad in Yul-dong. The carving is a beautiful reminder of Silla Buddhist artistry.
How To Get There
From the Yuldong Train Station in Gyeongju, you’ll need to exit the train station to the south. Along the way, you’ll find a sign that says “경주두대리마애석불입상” on it. These signs are leading you towards the famed Rock-Carved Standing Buddha Triad in Yul-dong at Seongjuam Hermitage. The trek from the train station to the hermitage is about one kilometre.
Overall Rating: 3.5/10
While smaller in size, the hermitage artwork around Seongjuam Hermitage like the main altar murals inside the main hall and the Mountain Spirit mural inside the Sanshin-gak Hall are beautiful, but it’s the Rock-Carved Standing Buddha Triad in Yul-dong that distinguishes this little known hermitage in Gyeongju.