The Marmot's Hole

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Tag: Korean Culture

2nd Wonhyo Pilgrimage Trek Launches on Saturday Sept 1st

The second trial-run of the Wonhyo Pilgrimage Trail will kick-off with a dinner in Gyeongju Friday evening, and an early-morning start from Bunhwang-sa on Saturday — finishing that day’s trek at Gogul-sa and then pressing onward north then west. This is a religious-tourism project a few of us woiguks have been planning & pushing since 2007, with support from some Korean friends. This time the pilgrims will be making a pro-quality video as they go, recording the landscapes, temples & villages along the way, and interviewing monks about Wonhyo’s philosophy & other Buddhist ideas. Should be some adventurous fun, again!

Here is Tony’s recent press-release:
Second Wonhyo pilgrimage aims to re-enact Korean saint’s journey of 1,300 years ago

SEOUL – On September 1 a group of seven pilgrims will leave Bunwhang-sa temple in Gyeonju to re-enact the famous journey the Korean Buddhist saint Wonhyo made from Gyeongju to the area of Gaya-san Wonhyo-bong near the west coast port of Dangjin, more than 1,300 years ago.

This is the second Wonhyo pilgrimage. The first one, an exploratory trip, took place in December of last year. In that journey, the pilgrims covered just shy of 500 km, much of which was walked along back roads and mountain tracks. The journey took them from Gyeongju, ancient capital of the Korean Shilla kingdom, to what is known as Wonhyo’s cave near Dangjin, on the west coast of South Chungcheong Province. The second pilgrimage is expected to finish in the same place.

Tony MacGregor, one of the organizers of the pilgrimage, said the first journey was an inspiring experience. “We saw a side of Korea that is usually hidden – a wonderful kindness, and a profound spiritual culture that is very open. In fact, we were so impressed that this time we decided to make a documentary film of our journey, interview the monks we meet on the way and record their way of life.”

Wonhyo’s journey resulted in his enlightenment. Legend has it that he and fellow spiritual seeker Uisang, took shelter from a storm in an old tomb they thought was a cave. During the night Wonhyo became thirsty and began searching on the ground for a gourd of water. He found one and picked it up and drank deeply from it. The water was sweet and refreshing and he slept deeply until dawn. In the morning he discovered that the vessel he had drunk from was not a gourd but a human skull. It was not filled with sweet, clean water but instead was full of dirty rainwater, rotting meat and maggots. He was so revolted by what he had drank that he fell on his knees and vomited. At that moment, the question came to his mind “Why? Why was the water so sweet and refreshing in the night and yet so revolting in the day?” The answer came to him that it was his mind that determined the difference between the water at night time and in daytime, not the water itself. He realized that truth is created by the mind. At that moment, he attained enlightenment.

On the first pilgrimage, after their arrival at Wonhyo’s cave on December 18, the pilgrims celebrated the saint’s enlightenment by drinking pure spring water from vessels they took to the cave during a brief ceremony. “It was a wonderful way to finish what had been a series of incredible hikes from temple to temple to minbak (family inn) across the Korean Peninsula,” said Tony MacGregor, who conceived the idea of the pilgrimage in 2007 when he was working in Korea as a journalist. “We plan to do the same thing at the end of this second pilgrimage.”

The cave, he said, is an unpretentious place, a dark hole gouged into a huge rock, a good place to shelter from rain but not a comfortable place to spend a night. It was once venerated as the home of a mountain spirit before Wonhyo meditated in it , after which it became a Buddhist shrine honoring him. The cave provided a symbolic end to the journey, he said, and was not the actual tomb where Wonhyo attained enlightenment, a spot about which there is no consensus.

MacGregor said the pilgrimage was a joint effort between him and his friends and was inspired by the kindness and goodwill from Koreans that he and his friends had experienced during their stays in Korea. “We wanted to say thank you to Korea and Koreans in a special way, and what better way than through a pilgrimage to honor Korea’s most beloved and respected Buddhist saint, Wonhyo.”

MacGregor thanks the Templestay Program and the Jogye Order for their help and cooperation with the project.

More information about the pilgrimage can be found at

Media attention and any othe support or interest is welcome!
CONTACTS:     Tony MacGregor, 010-8694-1250.        Chris McCarthy,
David A. Mason, 82-10-9734-9753, in Seoul

Photos from the launch of the first trek last December.
I’ll post the schedule in the comments…

Alan Heyman’s 80th Birthday

Just a social note for all of us current and former expats: the guy who is, as far as I know, the “senior” among all western expats in Korea, just turned 80 years old — a month after being honored with a prestigious national medal for his lifelong service to Korean music and dance.

Also one of my mentors and a decades-long friend. No non-Korean has ever known more about, or done as much of and for, Korean Shamanism and all its related art-forms. A varied bunch of his associates held a dinner-party at his house, hosted by his kind wife and daughter, and we were quite pleased to be able to honor him fittingly, in his sunset era.

Retired long ago as professor, still active in translating texts — the sort that few others could tackle.   He is now working on his autobiography, with assistance by members of the National Folklore Museum; should be a hellova good read when it comes out.

Some photos of the party are here on my site.

Daoist Seminar/Festival for a Buddhist Hero

This coming Saturday June 6th (Memorial Day holiday, and the Fifth Full Moon) there will be a potentially-fascinating event held at Hanseo University and Wonhyo-am temple on Mt. Gaya-san — The Third International Seondo Daoist Conference: Wonhyo Festival.

Gaya-san is part of the Deok-san Provincial Park, fairly famous for containing Sudeok-sa Monastery and the Baekje “smiling Buddha triad” Samchonbul carving. Another of its attractions is Wonhyo-am, with cave above, which lays claim (along with a couple of other rival sites) to be the site where Korea’s best-known Buddhist master attained enlightenment (you know, the drinking-water-from-skull story).

For this reason, a multi-faceted commemoration of his life and legacy will be held there and at the close-nearby rural college. This is being organized and hosted by the international branch of the Seondo Korean Daoist organization, whose leader happens to be a professor of Hanseo. Outside of Korea Buddhism and Daoism are considered as separate and even rival religions, but in this country they have been very much associated and even blended together over 17 centuries — Daoism was rarely any kind of officially/institutionally established tradition here, and so Korean Buddhism, particularly the Zen-based Jogye Order, has a lot of its philosophies and practices mixed-in (the same might be said for all of Zen Buddhism anywhere). Anyway, this event just goes to show what high respect Wonhyo commands, even among those of ostensibly other traditions…

I’ll be participating in this event, as speaker and performer of a Moonrise-Sanshin-je in Wonhyo’s honor. Some of you may be interested in attending; there is no charge. I’ll post the detailed info in the first response here. Transport and other info can be provided if you ask… I may have room in my car for a few.

By the way, super-hiker Roger Sheperd is back in Korea, doing his thing. Having already trekked the entire SK Baekdu-daegan in autumn 2007, he is now attempting to walk walk an estimated 2000 kms of the Jeongmaek branch-mountain-ridges. His blog is at

And his former partner Andrew finally finished hiking the greatest of those, the Nakdong-Jeongmaek (and then has left Korea); his completed blog is at: How the deskbound me envies them…

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