I first went to Jajangam Hermitage back in 2004, and it was one of the first hermitages I visited directly associated with Tongdosa Temple. Ever since then, I’ve regularly visited this hermitage throughout the years.
With only a handful of hermitage buildings, Jajangam Hermitage isn’t the largest you’ll find; however, it is purportedly the staging ground where the monk Jajang-yulsa planned and created the famed Tongdosa Temple. However, the most curious part of the hermitage is the golden frog that takes up residence behind the main hall at Jajangam Hermitage.
So the story goes, that during the creation of Tongdosa Temple, there were numerous golden frogs around Jajangam Hermitage. As Jajang was washing his rice, the frogs were muddying the water. So twice, he removed the frogs and twice they returned. Upon closer inspection, he realized that the frogs were golden, an auspicious sign. So when winter came, he created a home for the frogs at the hermitage by driving a finger into solid rock.
This very hole, which is called Geumwangong, is where a golden frog now takes up residence at Jajangam Hermitage.
Nowadays, this golden frog is pretty elusive. It’s believed that only the most devout Buddhist can see this golden frog. I’ve been to the hermitage a countless amount of times, and it was only recently — on a field trip with teachers at my school — that I finally saw one.
As I approached the hole — and I was the first — I looked in very carefully. At first, I couldn’t see a thing. But looking a little closer, I could see in the darkness these tiny little eyes looking back at me. A few more teachers attempted to see what I had seen, but only one other saw it.
While we were leaving, the head monk at the hermitage asked me if I had visited the golden frog. I said I had. He seemed a bit surprised, almost as though it wasn’t true. Quickly, he made a beeline for Geumwangong from the courtyard. Not long after, he came back. The Korean teachers that were with me asked him if he had seen the golden frog, but from his face I could tell that he hadn’t.
Sometimes, real life is stranger than fiction.