Trips to Korean Hermitages | One is All, All is One Saseongam Hermitage on Mt. Osan in Gurye

One is All, All is One
Saseongam Hermitage on Mt. Osan in Gurye

Yun Je-hak | Freelance Wrter

Once upon a time there were four monks. They resided on a summit which allowed neither a step back nor a step forward. Day in and day out, all they did was put in joyous effort toward finding liberation from birth and death. Eventually, they succeeded and discovered their true nature.
One early morning the four monks gathered. Before descending the mountain, each of them said a few words, which doubled as their goodbyes.
The oldest monk said, “I am going to wander to this village and that, and sing and dance with the people.”
He then pointed to a rock cliff on which an image of Medicine Buddha was inscribed; it had not been there yesterday. His fingers were deeply cut as if scratched by rocks.
The second monk said, “One is all, and all is one. All living beings are equal.”
Listening to these words, the four gazed at each other.
The third monk said, “This land is a mandala, and I will pray for the peace of this land by establishing temples and pagodas wherever the land’s energy is weak or deficient.”
At that moment, the sun rose above the mountain and made everything shine.
The fourth monk said, “I will wash my feet in streams and look at mountains to cleanse my eyes.”
After descending the mountain, the four monks wandered out into the world, each going his own way.
Walking across the plains of Gurye south of Mt. Jirisan, and crossing the Nakdonggang River, one reaches Mt. Osan (lit. “Terrapin Mountain,” 531 m high), named for its shape.

Its summit consists of jagged rocks unlike its overall round shape. And perched like a swallow’s nest on a cliff is Saseongam Hermitage (lit. “Hermitage of Four Sages”).
Originally established and named Osanam in 544 (the 22nd year of the reign of Baekje’s King Seong) by an Indian monk named Patriarch Yeongi, it was the site where four of Korea’s most famous monks practiced: Wonhyo (617-686), Uisang (625-702), Doseon (827-898), and Jingak (1178-1234). At some point its name was changed to Saseongam.
The four monks never practiced together, but I can imagine a dialogue between them as presented above. A common theme throughout their dialogue was to make this world more peaceful and livable; it is not important what they called such a world.
Legend says that the image of the Standing Medicine Buddha (Tangible Cultural Property of Jeonnam 220) mentioned above was inscribed by Wonhyo with his fingers. However, its sculpting technique allows us to date it to the late 9th century to early 10th century, which means Wonhyo could not have done it, but it doesn’t matter. It is sufficient to think of Medicine Buddha as one who regards the ailments of all living beings as his own, and of Wonhyo’s compassionate heart that dwelt among the people as he wandered to all corners of Silla. Uisang expounded on Hwaeom (Huayan) thought and left us Hwaeom ilseung beopgye do (Chart of the Avataṃsaka One Vehicle Dharmadhātu). Doseon wanted to bring the Korean Peninsula into balance and harmony by supplementing Korea’s geomantic energy with temples and pagodas, and Jingak began a meditation practice community. All of these great Korean sages made and pursued strong vows to make this world into a true Buddha realm.


Photos | Shin Byeong-mun (Photographer)


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