“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
When I decided to veer left, instead of taking the direct root to the top, I didn’t know what difference it was going to make.
From the temple, I’d noticed a long hermitage stretched out on a perch below one of the peaks. I thought this might be the trail to that hermitage, where I could sit for a bit, eat my orange and read a few more pages of the Dhammapada.
It was going to be a bit longer of a hike, but something was urging me to come.
The thing about taking one path is that you never really now what the other one held. But in the end, you can’t really think about that, and with what this path presented me, I didn’t wonder for a moment what was on the other path.
After taking joining this trail, I hadn’t seen another hiker, which felt a bit like a treat. It had been months since I’d had any solitude. Earlier, I’d passed a couple of monks heading down to the temple. Each time I passed a small pile of stones, or little ribbons tied to slender branches, I thought how the whole side of the mountain felt like a temple, with hermitages scattered everywhere and every sign pointing the way back to Dae Ung Bo Jeon, the temple’s Dharma Hall. Usually, I push myself really hard to reach the summit, but this time I really slowed down and the it all sublimated.
I generally struggle with walking meditation, but while hiking, it seems to come naturally. Focus on each step is heightened, awareness of balance, and shifting of balance, the angle of the ground, the stability of you footing. It pulls you into the moment and makes you breathe. There’s a lot to be learned ascending a mountain; patience, perseverance, limitations, and ability. There’s also the reward of your effort, usually a fine view sitting on the top, but my reward came a bit earlier than that.
Just as I was starting to see the peak, outlined by the blue sky through the bare trees, a rough sounding bark came echoing down at me. There was no growl, but it was definitely a bark to let me know I wasn’t known here and that wasn’t comfortable for the one barking.
I headed up a bit further to where the path opened a bit, to let the dog have a good look at me, and as he came down the stairs, looking as big as he could, still barking, I crouched down to his height and held my hand out for him to sniff. Once he caught my scent and gave the back of my hand a small lick, he let me scratch his cheek and around his ears, and just like that, we were friends.
The small building he’d come down from behind definitely wasn’t the hermitage I’d spotted before (it turned out to be an outhouse) but up a couple of flights of stairs was a nice, small hermitage, anyway, with a terraced garden and a couple old pagodas. The dog followed me up, tail wagging, then guided me up to a small ridge just above the rooftop of the hermitage. There, barely noticeable from below, was a simple, unpainted hall, beams weathered dark, the little side door hinting to open it.
I gave the latch a sturdy tug and the door opened. I left my shoes beside the stone step and stepped inside. Before I was entirely through, though, I was almost knocked right back out by the amazing sight inside.
The back of the hall opened up into a solarium, and bathing in the sunlight was a 1000 year old rock-cut Maitreya Buddha, seated on the face of a stone, surrounded by Bodhisattvas. There was such a gentle feeling in the hall, the lanterns were soft shades of pink, the walls left bare, added to the simplicity. I didn’t want to leave, but there was still much to do outside, so I bowed three times, sat for a bit, (took a bunch of photos!) and went on my way, but not before thinking to myself, if I’d of stayed on the other trail, I wouldn’t have found this place.
I hadn’t gone very far before the temple dog came chasing and he followed me until I got the feeling I should have gone back the other way. I sat on a rock with him and checked the map. I’d gone much further east than I’d thought, and was about to loop around the back of the mountain. A couple other hikers came around and asked where I wanted to go. He let me know that way was, “very joshim, joshim!” (watch out, watch out!) and mined some rope climbing. Not in the mood for any big adventures, this time, I headed back, eventually to where the two trails from earlier in the morning once again joined. The dog stayed behind this time, as a few other hikers found their way to the hermitage, he had to keep his eye on things.
A came up to a spot marked on the map, Cheonyeon Su, that I thought might be a mountain spring. Cheonyeon is one thousand years, and Su is the Chinese character for water, but what was there was a 12-1500 year old tree.
From there, it was a short, steep climb to the top. The view was special, right at the tip of the Korean peninsula, the sea surrounded both sides of the mountain. I looked down at the rice fields, green houses and small villages, gathered among them. From where I stood, there were two peaks, one on each side. The peak known as “Buddha’s Breast” looked a bit risky, so, deciding it was better left unfondled, I followed a man up the other peak. The second peak was 73 meters shorter than the Buddha’s Breast but was named after the mountain, and I figured I’d rather get to see the view of the taller peak,anyway.
It was an interesting climb to the peak, a bit nerve-racking, but nice. It wasn’t until later, when I climbed back down and met EunBong, that I found out I’d been stepping all over the Buddha’s Face!
The Buddha’s nipple?
the Buddha’s chin