|Banya-bong the Prajñā Peak
our May 2006 hike 반야봉
Sacred "roof" of the Northwest Sector of Jiri-san
Banya-bong is the middle of Jiri-san's three major sacred peaks. At 1751 meters high, it is the
third-tallest summit in the Republic of Korea (beating Seorak-san's Daecheong-bong by just 43 meters).
It is quite remote and difficult to get to --- the closest and easiest trail-head is 8 km away (the
Nogo-dan parking lot, at 1100 m, which is where we exited on this very long day of hiking.
Banya-bong and its subsidiary peaks stand above the famous Pia-gol & Baemsa-gol
Scenic-Valleys, and the obscure Anshim and Beomwang Scenic-Valleys, and thus above the
great historic monasteries Yeongok-sa and Chilbul-sa. There is no spring near its summit. It's
subsidiary peaks are (in an arc from S to E) Hwangjang-san (942m), Tong-kkok-bong (905m),
Bulmujang-deung (1446m), Samdo-bong (1499m), Toggi-bong (1534), Myeongseon-bong
(1586m) and Hyeongje-bong (1433m). Banya-bong's southern sub-peak, sometimes called Jung-bong
[Central Peak] is 1732.5m, causing confusion on some maps (including in the official National Parks book!).
Banya 반야 is the Korea pronunciation of the key Buddhist/Hindu Sanskrit word Prajñā (Paññā in
Pali, shes-rab in Tibetan, 般若 / ban-ruo in Chinese) that means "wisdom" or intelligence in general --
but especially the Buddhist wisdom that is based on a realization of dependent origination, not-
self, emptiness / transitoriness, and so on. Banya is the wisdom possessed and employed by
Munsu-bosal [Manjusri, Monju, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom] to enlighten each Buddha before it
manifests into our world, and to potentially enlighten all the universe's beings, according to the
Diamond and Lotus Sutras. It is the wisdom that is able to extinguish suffering and bring
enlightenment. The Prajna-paramita [Perfection of Wisdom] Sutras, summarized in the Heart Sutra,
describe it as supreme, highest, incomparable, unequalled, and unsurpassed -- the principal
means of attaining nirvana, through its revelation of the true nature of all things; it is also listed
in the Lotus Sutra as the sixth of the Six Paramitas [perfection or culmination of certain practices that
are cultivated towards enlightenment on the "Bodhisattva Path"].
The beginning of the Heart Sutra includes the phrase "...doing Prajñā..." indicating that Banya is also an activity
as well as an outcome, quality or state -- in this sense it can be described as "choice-less engagement",
selflessly accepting outcomes as they develop, followed by further engagement. This is a key concept of the
Seon [Chan or Zen] Buddhism that has flourished in Northeast Asia -- the Sixth Patriarch Huineng (d. 713)
emphasized practice of Banya in counterpoint to the quietistic and self-absorbed style of meditation that was
then current. In so doing, he emphasized dynamic action and human involvement as essential to Seon practice.
Therefore the name of this mighty peak, Banya, means roughly the same thing as the name of this entire set
of mountains, Jiri, which I have translated as Exquisite-Wisdom -- spiritual wisdom that is above-the-ordinary,
refined, precious and rare -- so, Wisdom Peak as the symbolic-center of the Wisdom Mountains. This entire
massive set of peaks and slopes (indeed most of the Baekdu-daegan Range) has long been associated
with Munsu-bosal, with several of its temples reflecting that emphasis -- this peak most particularly.
|I finally made it up here on May 21st 2006, after 21 years of wanting to,
and two other attempts at foiled by bad weather. It seemed a hard climb...
the only Wisdom i received up there was "you should be in fitter shape"...
Shawn, my partner in this final climb (Lourdes and Yana
stayed down at Samdo-bong, waiting for us) at the doltap
tower on the summit, and Koreans taking pictures of
themselves, as proud of the 'accomplishment' as we were.
The very long ridge-trail heading west to Nogo-dan Peak, just faintly visible in the late-
afternoon haze. We had already been hiking for 9 intensive hours, and 4 more yet
remained before we could hope for a lengthy hot-Springs bath and a hot wild-mountain-
vegetable meal -- though those were finally achieved, as they always are in the end...
Looming above the trail-sign at Nogo-dan Peak in the twilight distance the monument at its summit