Tour Through Time: Stop 28: Yeong-Chwisan Mountain

23 miles later and we arrive at Yeong-Chwisan Mountain to visit a monastery.

Choi Hyong-Ung was born in 1520 and educated in Neo-Confucianism before becoming a Buddhist monk, despite Buddhism being frowned upon at the time. He travelled a lot, staying at various monasteries and teaching Buddhism to those that needed it.

In 1544 King Jung-Jong died and his first son In-Jong took the throne, himself dying only a year later. So Jung-Jong’s second son, 12 year old Myeong-Jong took the throne, and his mother, Queen Mun-Jong ruled in his name as Queen Regent. Queen Mun-Jong was very popular among the people, giving land formerly owned by nobility to the common people, and lifting the ban on Buddhism.

Meanwhile Choi had become a “Seon” or Meditation Master, teaching hundreds of pupils and writing many religious text including one still studied by monks today, known as “Seonga Gwigam” (Mirror for Seon). He strongly believed that Buddhism, Confucianism and Neo-Confucianism each taught in essence the same thing, the truth of the mind, for it is within the mind that good and evil is born. King Myeong-Jong gave Choi an important position within the Seon School but Choi did not enjoy it, and soon returned to his travelling.

In 1567 King Myeong-Jong sadly passed away and King Seonjo took the throne. He continued with the reforms but, as we discussed in our stop at Ojukheon House, political bickering had divided the government and weakened the kingdom. In 1583, Yi I had suggested an Army Reserve Corp of 100,000 be trained to reinforce the regular army, but due to the political conflicts it was never implemented. With Japan posing a massive threat to Korea, King Seonjo sent delegates to Japan who returned with a letter for Hideyoshi Toyotomi inviting the King to submit to Japan and join them in invading China. After many discussions in court it was decided that Japan’s increasing army was likely to have been raised to fight China, not Korea, so it was unlikely to be a threat. They also decided not to inform the Ming Dynasty of Japan’s ambitions in case they were seen as allying with the Japanese.

In 1591 Hideyoshi Toyotomi requested access through Korea to reach China but King Seonjo refused the request for fear that they would also invade Korea. He started to build defensive forts along the coast but it was too little too late, and in 1592 the Imjin War began. The Joseon Navy performed well under Yi Soon-Sin but the Joseon soldiers were continually defeated on land, so King Seonjo fled the capital and in desperation called on Choi Hyong-Ung (now 72 years old) to form his monks into guerrilla units and help defend the country.

Choi established a secret base in a monastery here on the Yeong-Chwisan Mountain and formed the “Righteous Army” of over 5,000 warrior monks divided into divisions led by Choi and his senior students, most notably Yu Jeong. The monks fought against the Japanese firing arquebuses (a forerunner of the modern-day rifle) with only sickles and spears, and won many battles. Choi and his warrior monks inspired other guerrilla armies to form across the country. It is said that it was Choi with allied Ming soldiers that recaptured the capital of Pyongyang.

Following the end of the Imjin War in 1598, Choi Hyong-Ung returned to his teaching. In January 1604 Choi Hyong-Ung gave his final lesson, took out a portrait of himself and wrote “80 years ago, that image was me. 80 years later, I am that image now.” It is said that he then went into the lotus position and passed away.

Choi Hyong-Ung was known as “Seosan Daesa” or “Great Master of the Western Mountain” and is greatly revered as a teacher of Buddhism and the leader of the warrior monks.

We will be marking our arrival here with 23 Jumping Lunges before continuing 87 miles west to a battle site.

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