Lourdes and I visited here on October 15th 2004, with professional travel-writer Cynthia Barnes of
Missouri, who visted Korea for a week. We showed her around a few rare highlights, for the day.
The spectacularly-weird human-like shapes of the Seon-bawi are interpreted in the age old pungsu-jiri style
of anthropomorphizing natural features, but this happens in various different ways by different worshippers
and observers, according to their own ideologies and agendas -- there is no rigidly-set interpretation.
Some regard the two separate "figures" as two seated people, and therefore a Buddhist interpretation of two
monks sitting in contemplation of (and protection of) Seoul City; this goes with the "Meditation" identification
of the name "Seon". The one on the left may be falling asleep with his head on his friend's shoulder, or
whispering into his right ear, perhaps. Some people see them as the great 7th-Century Shilla monk-friends
Wonhyo and Uisang, often used as an um-yang [yin-yang] pair in naming hermitage temples, adjacent
peaks and so-on. Could be seen as Sakyamuni Buddha himself, with a favored arhant disciple. They are
more-commonly said in some older guides to represent the great geomancer-monk Jacho Muhak-daesa
who selected the site for Seoul (then called Hanyang)'s main royal palace just east of here when it was chosen to be
capital of the new Joseon Dynasty in 1390 on the left, speaking advice into the ear of founding-King Taejo Yi
Seong-gye himself -- see the additional legend below -- but this clearly is a modern (post-1500) concept.
Other Koreans still maintain a view closer to the ancient "original" view with a more-mystical Buddhist twist,
regarding them as male & female Mireuk-bul [Maitreya Buddhas] slowly revealing themselves to this world
as messiah-avatars in order to relieve all beings from suffering. Worship activities are then believed to
speed-up this much-desired manifestation. Some merely regard them as great petrified spirits with
powers to grant wishes for earthly benefits to supplicants. Others take a more-advanced Daoist /
Neo-Confucianist view that this is a spot of unusually-strong ji-ki [Earth-energy] that connects with the
principles of Heaven in such a way as to make it a prime spot for meditation and yogic practices --
with enhanced chances of attainment of enlightenment or powers.
The right seated-human figure certainly could be seen as the Benevolent King whom this mountain was
named after (see intro-page), and the left figure is easily seen as a tiger (ear, eye and nostril easily seen)
affectionately resting his jaw on his shoulder -- this King-Tiger set parallels the crags seen above them.
To myself and a few others, this pair is "clearly" a Sanshin [mountain-king-spirit] and his-or-her tiger,
seated together similar to how this duo is frequently depicted in artworks. The necessary third element
of a Sanshin icon, a pine tree, is in fact growing on their left side! This interpretation makes this a
natural Sanshin statue, in-line with the deepest roots of indigenous Korean spirituality -- and again
forming a meaningful triangle with the Benevolent King and Tiger Crags above them. Sanshin are
immortal spirits, too, matching-up with the original name of Seon.
After all these years of visiting, this view makes the most complete sense to me... Create your own
interpretation of this amazing site, according to what your eyes or soul can see of it!
|The Seon-bawi from their rear, their humanoid shape even more distinct
This is one of those "Korea, Old & New" photos so easy to take in Seoul
The Seon-bawi from their rear again, on a hazy day in November 1988, from another
mountain-worship cliff-altar way back up the mountain. Note how less-developed the
landscape is; there's now a highway and huge apartment-complex at that 'blank
space'. The long grey korean-style roof to their left is the Guksa-dang.
the sacred "Immortal Rocks", a.k.a. "Meditation Rocks"
one of the world's most-worshipped natural-stone altars
Shamanic apogee of the Inwang-sa Complex
|the Seon-bawi stands before the last
sunset of 2010, in a New Year's photo
from the Joseon-ilbo newspaper.
|Shot from the old Hanyang City Wall, looking west, in 1988:
Seon-bawi stands black, and the Benevolent King sits at the top-right
|above and below-right:
good shots by mountain-master Roger Shepherd in June 2011
that unfortunate apartment-complex went up in the late 2000s...
close-up of the rear of the "head
and shoulders of the main figure,
May 2011, show them covered in
little disks, glued on -- couldn't tell
what they are -- stubs of candles
or incense? pigeon-repellents?
This is new and strange...
|with Myeonmok-san, old Hanyang's Nam-san or South Mountain, in the hazy distance
|banners above the altar announcing special Buddhist devotional practices held here: Lotus Lanterns for
Pungsu-jiri-master Muhak-daesa in 2009 and prayers to Gwanse-eum the Bodhisattva of Compassion in 2011
|guiding a tour there in 2009 -- I do this several times
every year for SIWA in, the RAS, and Yonsei Univ.
The Seon-bawi is the main sacred-center of the Inwang-sa Complex on Inwang-san, the primary reason
for its reputation as one of the holiest of Korean mountains. For ages it has stood in the middle below
the Benevolent King and Tiger Crags, forming a pungsu-jiri-energy-charged triangle with them. For as
long as we know-of, it has served as Korea's most-worshipped rock. For seven decades it has stood
just above the just above the Guksa-dang [National Shaman-spirit Shrine], enhancing the sacred
functions and reputations of them both.
These are weather-eroded outcroppings of volcanic stone, prominently different from the huge piles of
gray granite under and all around them (most of Korea's mountains) -- very rare and weird, geologically.
The name Seon-bawi is linguistically interesting and controversial. The suffix -bawi is a native Korean
term denoting a boulder, rock-outcropping, cliff, crag or small rocky peak that is prominent and believed
in the ancient indigenous Shamanism to be infused with vital spiritual powers accessible by humans who
perform rituals of various kinds before them. Further, they are believed by common devotees to be spirits
manifesting upwards into this world in stone, in geological time -- more on this Korean concept is here.
The Korean word pronounced Seon could be any of several Sino-Korean [hanja] characters; the one
used here was originally "immortal", making this the "Immortal Rock" (or could be used plural, "Rocks"), a
Daoist-Shamanic conceptualization that these are Spirits. In the past 20 years, however, along with the
increasing "Buddhist-ization" of the "Inwang-sa" Shamanic Complex, the people in-control here have
changed this Seon to the hanja character for "meditation" [world-famous in Jp as Zen], making this the
"Meditation Outcropping" -- not only just renaming but religiously re-contextualizing it in a way preferred
by the modern anti-Shamanism powers-that-be. It has been "officially" designated with "Meditation"
on a cultural-asset signboard at its foot for about a decade now.
|The Seon-bawi dressed-up with colorful paper Lotus-Lanterns for the Buddha's Birthday holiday in 2008
|A section of the old Seoul city wall can be seen to their left. It ran on the east ridge of Inwang-san, so that the
Seon-bawi were left outside of Hanyang (Joseon's capital fortress-city, now known as Seoul). It is said that Master
Jacho Muhak-daesa (geomancer-monk, architect of the new dynasty as successor to Doseon-guksa) advised that
should the Seon-bawi be included within the walls, the new dynasty would last for 1000 years; if excluded then only
500. But that era's leading Neo-Confucianist and royal-advisor "Sambong" Jeong Do-jeon advocated excluding
them (symbolically excluding Korea's native Shamanic culture), and Founding-King Taejo Yi followed that advice.
|the twin seok-deung [stone lanterns] were installed flanking the stairway in the late
1990s; classically, they are only placed before halls that enshrine a major Buddha icon
<-- wall to its south
|two views of Seon-bawi from a shamanic-temple to its' southwest
|"Buddhist-ification" of this site:
|on far-left, the Monk who has recently been "managing" the Seon-bawi; he stays in the shack-office seen to the
rear, and collects all the cash / foods / alchoholic-drinks donations offered here (a very large amount of all 3!).
I don't know which Buddhist Order he might belong to, or how he gained authority over this site from the previous Shamans;
he's not friendly and refuses to answer questions from me.
|items from a Buddhist calendar for 2009 apparently published by a worship-association.
the caption at left labels it the "Inwang-sa Seok-bul-gak" [Prosperity-King Temple
Stone-Buddha Shrine, a name I've never otherwise seen used for it.