Sangseon-am  Hermitage
지리산 노고단  상선암
[Wisdom-Discernment Mountain Crone-Altar Peak  Upper Meditation Hermitage]
in the Southwestern Cheoneun-sa Sector of Jiri-san
A 20-minute hike up a steep rocky trail from an unmarked bend in the paved road winding from
Cheoneun-sa Temple up to Nogo-dan Peak, Sangseon-am [Upper Meditation Hermitage] is
visited by few.  However, it enjoys a high reputation for its spartan elegant simplicity, its role in
Korean Buddhist history starting 130 years ago,  and its ideal location on a holy peak's "upper
hyeol" according to
Pungsu-jiri-seol.  Its very steep site is pretty amazing, with the buildings
clustered just in front of a prominent rocky cliff with 3 giant old pine-trees growing from its peak.
At around 800 meters altitude the winters must be long and harsh, but the other seasons are
glorious.  Three monks now live in quiet contemplation there.
I visited with wife Lourdes and friend Je-min on a bright day in October 2004
Above:  Sangseon-am in context, shot from
up the highway to the west.  This ancient
Buddhist hermitage sits on a geomantically-
powerful site on the southern slope of
1507-meter Nogo-dan [Old-Woman Altar]
Peak (seen above) of Jiri-san National Park.

Left:  close-up shot from the highway.

Below:  the view from Sangseon-am itself,
up west to the highway -- arrow points to
where I took the above photos from.
ceiling-beams with preservative inscription
Signboard on the Main Hall.   It was originally named
Sangseon-am Upper Immortal Hermitage, evoking
Daoist ideas of great longevity and enlightenment
attained by living there, but the seon was changed to
"Meditation" in the 20th Century, to be more 'Buddhist'.
The Dok-seong painting (left) is
unusual for the golden cup to his right
and the girl-dongja offering a sacred
peach of immortality.  

In the Shin-jung taenghwa (right),
San-shin holds out-downwards some
kind of scepter, extremely rare; he is
up-front-center, paired with the
Yong-wang.  This is the ONLY
San-shin icon of any sort, which is
surprising given the nature of this place.
The abbot said that they offer ritual-
respect to their San-shin "directly" at
the cliff -- that really, this entire
site is a natural Sanshin-gak.
the steep cliff, and my view of Sangseon-am from atop it
Je-min and I having tea with the Abbot, who turned out
to be a disciple of Master Pyeong-jeon at
Sudo-am below.
a painting of a mountain-adept by
that monk, on an interior doorway
A prominent diamond-angled boulder to the right of the
Main Hall shelters their spring/well, and a small cave
The "natural San-shin shrine" cliff up-close
Gwanse-eum-bosal, Bodhisattva
of Compassion, is their main icon;
note the wave-motif above him.
Great Seon (meditation, Zen) Master "Jinjong" Baek Yong-seong (1864-1940) became the
Abbot here after his "great awakening" in 1885 at the age of 21, making this his main temple
for about 20 years.  He intensively both Seon and Gyo (doctrinal study), teaching meditation
to many younger monks and also reading various sutras, including the
[Lotus Sutra], the Hwaeom-gyeong [Flower Garland or Avatamsaka Sutra and the Awakening
of Mahayana Faith. In addition, while cultivating the perfection of effort (
virya paramita), he
engaged in discourse on the nature of truth in this auspicious and inspiring location with
visiting Seon masters such as Gyeongheo, Hyewol, Mangong and others, gradually expanding
his own awakening.  Later, after a famous trip to China representing Korean Buddhism in 1907,
he resettled as
Banjang [Spiritual Master] of Jiri-san Chilbul-am (now Chilbul-sa), one of the
most famous meditation centers.  In 1919 he became one of the top leaders of the 3.1 Korean
Independence Movement against Japanese colonialism, and still remains a national hero.