The Diamond Mountains, Rev. J. S. Gale, D. D.

Part I Introduction  (text below)
Part 2: Diary of a trip to the Diamond Mountains (Sept 21st to Oct 22nd, 1917)

Part 3, i: A trip to the Diamond Mountains in 1489 A.D.  by Yi Wun (李雄)
Part 3, ii: Journey to the Diamond Mountain by Yi Chung-kwi (
李廷龜)(1564-1635 A.D.)
in 1603 A.D.
Part 3, iii: A Visit to Piro Pong in 1865 by Cho Sung-ha (趙成夏)


Keum-kang San (金剛山) or the Diamond Mountains, is the famous region that lies to the east of central Korea between the lines of latitude, 38.35—38.40 and longtitude, 128.2—128.12.

One Korean writer says, “From ancient times kings have wondered over it; priests of the Buddha have extolled its beauties; great scholars have sung its praises; artists have painted its views, but none have done it justice. It was the wonder of East Asia in the past, now it is gradually becoming a wonder of the world.”

It has four names that correspond to the four seasons. In spring it is called Keum-kang, the Diamond Mountains; in summer, Pong-nai (蓬萊), Fairyland; in autumn, P’oong-ak (楓岳), Tinted Leaves; and in winter, Kai-kol (皆骨) Bare Bones.

Speaking of these various names, one writer says: “From the 4th Moon to the 5th, the azalias and rhododendrons come out in quick succession, and all the valleys are as though coloured by an artist’s skill. Flowers are seen on the faces of the time-worn eerie rocks, while the sound of bees and butterflies, and the calls of the birds fill the air with music.

“Though this is so on the lower level, higher up you will find snow still in the crevices of the rocks. So it is called in springtime the Diamond Mountains.

“In summer, luxuriant leaves and flowers fill every valley, accompanied by cool shades and soft tints of green. The water, rushing through the narrow gorges, sings to one as on a harp; while great rocks crowd about like fallen fragments from the Milky Way. Spray, like flakes of powdered marble, is flung across the line of vision. This is Summer

“When rains come on, the waters rush down and the streams increase till the roar of them is heard as though the hills were giving way. Travel ceases, and all the world stops still, while danger lurks on every side.

“In these summer months we call it pong-nai, the world of the fairy.

“In autumn, the distant sky hangs high overhead, and all the peaks wear a look of sadness, while the breeze rustles mournfully through the fallen leaves. In every glade, colour breaks forth as though done by a dyer’s skill, the hills become a fabric of the reds and greens of nature’s soft embroidery. Anyone having sorrow or trouble of heart will find relief at this season in writing out his woes. Thus is it called p’oong- ak, autumn tints.

“Following this comes the fierce, relentless grip of winter, a terror to all mankind, when its name is changed to bare bones mountain.”

From an old Korean book I extract the following: “The Ch’un-ma, (天廉) hills of Songdo are like young lords dressed in light armour astride fast horses, that wheel down upon you as the falling snow.

“The Chi-ri (智異) hills of Chulla province, abundantly satisfied, sit like merchant princes, rolling in wealth, all the treasures of the world at their feet, gems and jewels.

“The Ke-ryong (鷄龍) hills are bright and beautiful, like Confucius and his disciples in the hall of music, where An-ja plays the harp, and Chung-ja sings.

“The Ka-ya (伽倻) hills, neat and comely, are like a group of pretty girls, fresh as springtime, out on the banks of the river.

“The Sam-gak (三角) hills stand up sharply defined like Paik-i (伯夷) and Sook-je (叔齊) gathering herbs.

“But Keum-kang finds no words to do it justice.”

Kwun keun (權近:), who was born in 1352 A. D. and died in 1409, nearly a hundred years before America was discovered, wrote:

“When I was young I learned how everybody wished to see the Diamond Mountains, and sighed over my own failure to visit them. I heard, too, that many people hang pictures of them in their rooms and bow before them. Such is the burning desire that would peer into these mystic glades.

I was born in Korea, only a few hundred li from these mountains, and yet I have never seen them. Bit and bridle of office and affairs of state have so held me in that I have not had a chance, no not once, to visit them, and yet the pesistent desire has ever been in my heart to make the journey.

“In the autumn of the year pyung-ja (1396 A.D.), when I went as envoy to China, and had many opportunities to meet the Emperor, his majesty suggested subjects for me to write poems on, a score and more, and among them was one “the Diamond Mountains.” I knew then how widely their report had gone abroad, and that what I had heard as a boy was more than true. I was so sorry I had never seen them for myself, but I made a resolve that if god blessed me with a safe return, I would assuredly go and see them, and thus pay the debt to my long cherished desire.”

Mr. Kwun wrote for the Ming emperor a poem that runs something like this:


Like snow they stand, ten thousand shafted peaks, whose clouds awake and lotus buds break forth.
              Celestial lights flash from the boiling deep, and air untainted coils the hills around.
              The humpy sky-line forms a walk for birds; while down the valley step the fairy’s feet.
               I long to sit me on these lifted heights and gaze down on the vasty deep and rest my soul.


There is no record that Mr. Kwun ever saw these hills, or got beyond his dream of the Diamond Mountains. He is the famous scholar known as master Yang-ch’on (陽村) whose collected works today are among the treasures of the east

He tells us in plainest terms how great a hold these enchanted hills had upon Korea’s world in the days of Geoffrey Chaucer who was Mr. Kwun’s contemporary—while people were travelling to Canterbury in England, long lines of pilgrims were also wending their way to this ancient, religious haunt.

As introductory to a closer view I quote from a famous scholar, Yi Whang (李滉). Born in 1501, and dying in 1570 A. D., he rose to be a religious teacher of the first order, and his tablet stands no 52 on the east side of the master in the Temple of Confucius.

In his preface to a book on the Diamond Mountains by Hong Eung-kil (洪應吉) he writes:


“My friend, Hong Eung-kil, a man of great learning, and born with a special love of nature, in the 4th Moon of this year (1553 A. D.) along with two friends decided to visit the Diamond Mountains, and other immediate places of interest. He returned more than satisfied, full of delight, in fact, over his pilgrimage. I regretted deeply that I had not shared it with him, so, by way of consolation, I asked to see his notes. On reading them I realized more than ever that these mountains are a wonder of the world.

“Master Hong knows well, not only how to enjoy nature, but also how to record his impression.

“According to him the Diamond Mountains are a matchless creation. ‘Their peaks, and points, and spurs, and horns, are massed together as though the gods had fashioned them and the angels trimmed them off; no end is there to their variety of form and colour, and one can never grasp the extent of their mystic meaning. He who first sees them, is dazed, for to east, and west, he beholds a bewildering vision impossible to describe.’

“Hong’s book takes the reader little by little into the advancing wonders; leads him past this point and that, by the windings of the streams, up, up to their source; tells where the valleys widen and narrow down, how they circle about; brings him into the most difficult and secluded places; faces him with every kind of danger; rejoices over suprises; is lulled by the vast quiet, and yet never falls into any weariness of expression. Though he loves the odd and weird, yet he maintains his poise as he notes them down. He ascends the giddy heights and looks off upon the world beneath him; he beholds the distant waters of the sea and washes his hat-strings in its pearly deeps.

“Hong never loses that sense of power that the first look conveys, and his joy never falters. His delight comes not so much from the height of the mountains or the depth of the sea, as from the beauty and comliness of all combined. A most delightful report he has given, that has refreshed my soul.

“Autumn 1553.”


This was a long time ago, when we think of its being eleven years before Shakespeare was born.

Here is another tribute to Mr. Hong’s book on the Diamond Mountains written by Korea’s most famous saint, Yool-gok. in 1576. Yool-eok (栗谷) is the Confucius of Korea, first in letters, and first in religion. His name is revered as one of the great Sages of the East. He tried Buddhism in his early years, and went and lived for a time in the Diamond Mountains; but he gave it up later and became an ardent student of the Chinese Classics. His tablet stands No 52 on the west side of the Master in the Confucian Temple. He says:


“For natural beauty, no land is superior to Korea, and in Korea what can equal the Diamond Mountains? Great numbers of the literati have visited them and written an account of their journey; but among them all my friend Hong has most nearly touched the heart of the matter. While his record is detailed, it is never wearisome; it is beautiful but never boastful. In it he tells of the contour of the mountains, the source and direction of the streams; how this region swallows down the clouds, and then vomits forth the mist; how the woods congregate, and the rocks roll their forms together. Endless views and prospects he has recorded, with a most delightful pen. Nothing more is left to be said. Those who read his book have seen the myriad peaks with their very own eyes, for such descriptions as his, equal the beauty of the hills themselves.   

“We know that all created things are under divine law, from the sun and moon that are above us, to the grass and herbage that are beneath our feet. Even the chaff, and refuse ends of life are all under the appointment of the divine mind. By means of these He would teach us His wills. But though man sees them, he so often remains unconscious of what they mean; in fact he might just as well have never seen them at all.

“So often when the literati visit the Diamond Mountains they see them only with the fleshly eyes, forgetting that the inner soul should see as well.”


The inner portion of the Diamond Mountains centres about two gorges Paik-ch’un (百川) and Man-pok (萬福), Hundred Streams, and Myriad Cascades. Paik-ch’un lies north and south some ten li in length, with Chang-an Monastery at one end and Pyo-hoon at the other.

As you enter the gateway going up stream facing northward you catch something the spirit of this romantic world. The babbling of the water, the soft murmur of the pines, the calls of the birds, await you at every turn. Your heart leaps for joy as you march along this avenue of knights and kings. What a world of wonders!

A little later, pavilions and halls are seen across the stream through the foliage. This is the famous temple of Chang-an-sa (長安寺). You cross a wooden bridge, under which run the waters of the Myriad Cascade, and enter its enclosure.          

Chang-an took its rise in the days of Pup-hung of Silla, fourteen hundred years ago, antidating the times of Mohammed. Let the foreigner, with all his freshness of soul, meditate a little ever these hoary landmarks of the past.

A stone used to stand in front of the temple with an inscription on it written by Yi-kok (李穀) (1298-1351 A- D.) father of Mok-eun (牧隱) Korea’s famous writer. He says:


“When the Emperor of the Mongols had been on the throne some seven years, the palace lady-in-waiting, Keui-si, became empress, and had apartments assigned her in the Heung-sung Palace. She was a Korean and her promotion was due to the fact that she had given birth to a son.

“She said to the eunuchs, ‘I am blessed from a former existence with this high office, in return for which I desire to pray to God for eternal blessings on the Emperor and Crown Prince. Without the help of the Buddha, however, no such thing is possible

“She sought far and wide on their behalf, and at last hearing that the Chang-an Temple in the Diamond Mountains was a place of special prayer, she gave of her own private means, in order to specially beautify it and make it a place of abiding worship .”


This was in the 3rd year of Chi-jung (1343 A. D.). The following year she did the same and again the year after. Five hundred priests, who had their dress and food supplied, were assembled for the service, and here they prayed for blessings on the Imperial House of China.

There are three valleys, or rock gorges, that are conveniently reached from the temple of Chang-an-sa. One is the valley of a Hundred Streams, which runs from Chang-an to Pyo-hoon.              Its general direction is north and it takes about forty minutes to complete the distance. The whole course is a pilgrimage of delight with the peaks of Kwan-non, Suk-ka, and Chi-jang, appearing and disappearing.

One marked point that invites to closer inspection is the Wailing Pool, Myung-yun-tam (鳴淵潭). We are told that two famous priests were rivals here once on a time in the matter of spiritual power. As a result of a wager, Keum-tong, one of them, had to give up his life and die in the pool. His form is seen to-day in the huge rock that lies prone on its south side. We are told also that his sons followed him and died as well.

This happened about the year 1400 A.D. and, ever since, the pool has continued its mournful note of wailing for the dead.

The surroundings are quite impressive, a vision of rocks and trees, with the little temple of An-yang glimpsed through leafy bowers. One catches his first. impressions of the nature of the Diamond Mountains by a walk through this valley.

Farther on, and nearer Pyo-hoon-sa (表訓寺), is Sam-bool-am, the Three Buddha Rock, an ancient landmark chiselled out by Nan-ong (嬾翁) a priest of the 14th century. He was a disciple of the Indian teacher, Chi-kong (指空) and the master of Moo-hak (無學), who had to do with the setting up of Yi dynasty in 1392 and the founding of Seoul.

Fifty three little Buddhas are carved on the back of the rock, the same fifty-three that have to do with Yoo-jum-sa and that belong in tradition to far pre-Buddhistic days.

Passing a number of budo, or relic pagodas, and memorial stones that mark the site of the temple Paik-wha-am (白華海), the visitor reachs Pyo-hoon-sa.

A short distance south of the Wailing Pool, there is a gorge, on the right-hand side of the valley, that leads directly east to Yung-wun-am (雪源庵). It is a good two hours journey up this rattling canyon. Twenty-two times the road crosses the stream jumping from rock to rock, before it reaches the lonely little house of prayer that sits under the shadow of Chi-jang (地藏), Guardian of Hell. On the way is the Mirror Rock (明鏡臺) that stands by the bank of the Pool of the Yellow Shades.          

In the Book of Hell, Myung-boo Sa-sin-nok we read, “Beyond the Fragrant Sea is the Iron Hill and beneath the hill the great kingdom of Yum-na (Hades). Here ten kings bear rule, each carrying a bright mirror, in which he reads each man’s destiny, his length of days, his sins, his errors, and judges accordingly. In the time of Silla, a man called Suk-pong was arrested wrongfully and taken to hell. The mirror, however, reflected his innocence, and so he was sent back and restored to life among men. Later, on his way through the world, he came to this place in the Diamond Mountains, and beholding the rock, its shape reminded him of the mirrors he had seen in the hands of the Ten kings of Hades and so he named it Myung-kyung-tai (明鏡臺) or Mirror Rock.”

Near Mirror Rock stands an old wall, one of the ancient landmarks of Silla. Tradition says that when the King, in 918 A. D., unable to withstand the increasing power of Koryu, (高魔) bowed submission, the Crown Prince, after a fiery protest which his father heeded not, wept, spoke his farewell and withdrew to this secluded gorge where he took up his hermit abode and remained till the day of his death.

Passing up the valley of the Hundred Streams, we return to Pyo-hoon Temple that stands at the entrance of the Myriad Cascade Valley.

It was built by a priest named Eui-myung in the days of Moon-moo (文武) of Silla (661-681 A.D.) and is one of the four largest temples of the Diamond Mountains. Though the buildings are extensive and were repaired daring the Yi Dynasty they wear a somewhat neglected look to-day.

Behind Pyo-hoon, about half an hour’s walk up the hill is Chung-yang-sa (正陽寺), Temple of the Noontide. It stands on the main ridge of the Diamond Mountains and from it can be seen all the highest peaks round about. In the middle of the court is a stone lantern that was set up over 800 years ago, a symbol still of the Light of Asia. A hexagonal hall at the rear, erected in honour of the Great Physician, Yak-sa (藥師), has pictures in it said to have been painted by the famous artist O Toja (吳道子) of the Tangs though the truth of this may be questioned.

In front of the temple is the Heul-sung Noo(歇惺樓) Pavilion of Rest, where the whole circle of the hills is in view. This is indeed the fairy’s outlook. When the king of Koryu came here a thousand years ago (918 A.D.) the Buddha Tam-moo appeared to him. His light illuminated the place so that the king called it Pang-kwang-tai (放光臺) Shining Pavilion.

To the east of Pyo-hoon Temple is a hill called Ch’ung- hak Pong (靑鶴峯) Blue Crane Peak, that guards the entrance to Man-pok Valley. It has a peculiar history. King Moon-moo of Silla, it seems, commanded Master Pyo-hoon to build this temple. The day the pillars and cross-beams were set, a blue crane came down from the adjoining peak and danced with delight. Later, on occasions of special rejoicing, cranes were seen to gather on this fairy summit as though deeply interested in what they saw.

Passing Blue Crane Peak we enter the Man-pok Valley, that runs from Pyo-hoon to Mahayun. Here rocks and walls confront the passer in a most bewildering way. Coloured lights add their share to this vale of wonder. All through the chasm, that cuts a way clear to Pi-ro-bong (毘盧峯), rocks are piled upon each other in wildest confusion. The streams roar through its depths, skid across the smooth worn surfaces and break up into every variety of feathery foam. Hence it is called the Valley of a Myriad Falls, Green Dragon, Black Dragon, Spray Fall, Pearl Fall, Fire Dragon, Green Lotus, Turtle Pool, Fairy Basin. etc.

At the entrance of the valley there is an inscription written by Yang Sa-un (楊士) on the floor of the rocks:

Pong-nai p’oong-ak wun-wha tong-ch’un (蓬察楓岳元和洞天) AMONG THE DIAMOND MOUNTAINS THIS IS THE WORLD OF THE FAIRY.

Yang’s dates were 1517 to 1584, so it was evidently written when Shakespeare was alive. The characters are said to be wonderful examples of the master-penman’s craft.

Po-tuk temple (普德庵) sits like a swallow’s nest on the face of the overhanging wall of rock. A brass pillar supports it to its clinging hold. Beneath the temple is a cave with an accompanying Buddha. A very old temple it is that has looked down for centuries upon the world at its feet.

Although this is the ordinary way to Mahayun there is still another road for anyone who loves the dangers of the almost inccessible, north of Pyo-hoon, leading over the giddy heights to eastward.

Ma-ha-yun (摩訶衍) is situated far back in the central valley of the Diamond Mountains. An awesome silence, except for the echoes of the passing stream, fills its world. Before it, the hills, Paik-oon, Hyul-mang, Moo-gal stand like a screen. This is indeed the centre of the world of the Buddha. In the autumn season it is a region of enchanting colour.

The way from Mahayun to Yoo-jum-sa (岾寺) which is said to be ten miles distant, leads up Man-pok Valley and past the great statue of the Buddha, Myo-kil-sang (妙吉祥). This giant image was carved out of the rock-face by Nanong, 500 years ago. With an expression of eternal silence it sits by the roadway, to give its priestly blessing to all who pass.

Crossing the hill in front, four thousand feet and more above the sea, the traveller suddenly finds himself in the Outer Region. From this point on a varied pathway down-wards brings him in three hours to Yoo-jum-sa.

A fairy tale clings to this templea tale that, in spite of its absurdity, has outlasted a thousand years. Fifty three little Buddhas are said to have set sail from the Punjab, down the Indus, on a long journey to the region of the Diamond Mountains.

How they came in a stone boat over all the distance is a question that troubles not the ancient world of Korea.

No-ch’oon (盧春), the magistrate, learning of their arrival, hastened to meet them, but they were gone. He hurried along the trail of their departure till he suddenly met an angel who pointed him to the peaks that beckoned him up the hill. Then a dog led his way for a time, then a deer, till finally he found himself at the top where all the little Indian Buddhas were sitting in the trees. Here he built a temple and called it Yoo-jum-sa. This was 4 A. D., or 64 years before Buddhism reached China. Let us not trouble to cross-question the story too closely. It will appear again in later accounts in its proper place. Suffice it to say that it is one on which the stately halls of Yoo-jum rest, and that is ample proof for all the ancient East.

This will serve as a general introduction to the Diamond Mountains. It leaves out Sin-ke-sa (神溪寺) that will be taken up later. Sin-ke-sa is really in another world. All of the Inner Region, and the outer as far as Yoojum-sa, is 2,000 feet up in the air where the immortals live. Sin-ke-sa is down on the sea-level, next door to the common abodes of men. Its hills and rock-canyons, however, are infinitely grander than those of the Inner Region but they lack the whisper of the genii that makes the Diamond Mountains what they are.

From this point on we give an account of a trip made by the writer to this famous resort in the autumn of 1917 and, following that, an extract from trips made in former ages by noted scholars of Korea.