If you stand at Daramjae, which is in the middle of Daenisan Mountain (located to the east if one travels along Nakdonggang River from Hyeongpung-eup, Daegu), you can see Dodongseowon in the distance, nestled at the foot of the mountain.
While walking back down the mountain, you can perhaps absolve yourself of the “irreverence” of having looked down at this respected institution from an elevated place. Whether uphill or not, the path to Dodongseowon is always one that requires a calm mind.
Scenery of Dodongseowon
Dodongseowon is located at the foot of Daenisan Mountain in Dalseong-gun, Daegu, and faces north, toward Nakdonggang River. The split mountain range protects the seowon from the wind, with a large river flowing in front of it: in other words, by traditional Korean geomancy standards, it is an ideal location for a seowon. In front of it is a gingko tree that is over 400 years old, known as the “Kim Goeng-pil tree.” It has a broad collection of branches that seem to reach up into the sky and span a length equivalent to that of six adults each with both arms outstretched. The tree was planted by Jeong Gu, the individual who built the seowon, most likely as a show of respect for his great-grandfather.
Dodongseowon, whose name means “the truth (道) has come to the East,” was built to commemorate the academic learning and moral fortitude of Kim Goeng-pil (1454-1504). When Ssangyeseowon, which was located at the foot of Biseulsan Mountain (in today’s Hyeonpung-eup, Daegu) was burned to the ground during the Hideyoshi Invasions, in 1604, Kim’s maternal-great grandson, Jeong Gu, spearheaded its reconstruction at the foot of Daenisan Mountain and renamed the seowon “Borodongseowon.” In 1607, it became a royally sponsored seowon after King Seonjo bestowed a name board with the inscription “Dodongseowon.”
Suweolnu, a pavilion with a three-doored façade, is decorated with vivid dancheong colors and has a high roof with four raised corners. After passing Suweolnu, one arrives at a low, narrow gate called “Hwanjumun” (“hwanju” means “to call the master of my heart”). Therefore, before passing through this gate, one has to think honestly about whether the “master” of one’s heart is awake. As such, literati who entered places of learning in the Joseon dynasty were much more interested in what was on the inside rather than outward appearances.
The main learning area, Jungjeongdang, sits on a high stylobate that is as tall as an adult and can be reached by climbing seven high steps. Not surprisingly, this stylobate is the apex of Dodongseowon’s aesthetic. Stones of varying sizes and colors were somehow stacked together, giving the appearance of a beautiful patchwork quilt. Jungjeongdang is propped up by six thick pillars, each of which is wrapped with a white paper band at the top. These bands, called sangji, show that Kim Goeng-pil is the highest-ranking of the “five wise men of the East” (Kim Goeng-pil, Jeong Yeo-chang, Cho Gwang-jo, Yi Eon-jeok, and Yi Hwang). They signal to all, even those who are far away, that one must assume a respectful posture while at Dodongseowon. These sangji are used only at Dodongseowon.
Geouijae (meaning “where righteousness lives”) and Geoinjae (meaning “where benevolence lives”) are the two student dormitories on the east and west sides of the seowon, which were probably lit up at night as the students studied late.
The highest point of Dodongseowon is occupied by the shrine. Kim Goeng-pil’s spiritual tablets are positioned in the center, with those of Jeong Gu on the left.
It is said that one must visit Dodongseowon at least four times a year in order to fully appreciate its beauty. In the spring, the shrine is graced with peony flowers in the courtyard, while red crape myrtles are in full bloom for all three months of summer. In the fall, the gingko trees display their golden leaves, while the snow-draped seowon in winter is the perfect place to make one’s heart and mind as clean as the white snow.
Veneration at Dodongseowon
Rituals at Dodongseowon, which are regarded as the prototype for seowon rituals, strictly observed the eumbokrye. Each step of the ritual, which was conducted according to the holgi, was observed with solemnity. These rituals also took a lot of time because all officiants took turns presenting the cup. The order in which the cup was presented was also quite different from that of other seowon.
After the ritual, the chukmun was burned in a square-shaped hole in the center of the seowon’s western wall. (Other seowon dug this hole in the ground.)
Because the entrance to the shrine was so low, everyone had to lower their head in order to enter. The height of the doorway was most likely intentional (to encourage ritual participants to arrive with a respectful and solemn state of mind). Chunchuhyangsa was conducted on the second and eighth lunar month of the year.
Kim Goeng-pil sought out Kim Jong-jik at the age of 20 to study Elementary Learning. Kim Jong-jik, after reading a poem by Kim Goeng-pil entitled “Studying Elementary Learning by Myself” in which Kim wrote “I realized all of my wrongdoings done until yesterday through this book,” is said to have been greatly impressed, saying that Kim Goeng-pil would “become a great scholar someday.” Kim Goeng-pil called himself an “Elementary Learning apprentice” and is said to have always kept a copy of the text on hand.
Kim Goeng-pil always wore a cholip (men’s wide-brimmed hat made with dried sedge) with strings made with lotus fruit. He studied day and night in the same room, always seated with a straight back. His family is said to have known when Kim was studying late at night because they could hear the sound of the lotus fruit clinking on the table. Kim is regarded as a member of the Confucian scholar “family tree” made up of Jeong Mong-ju, Gil Jae, Kim Suk-ha, and Kim Jong-jik. Yi Hwang praised Kim as a “top-rate Neo-Confucianism teacher.” Kim’s books include a posthumous collection of poems and essays Gyeonghyeollok (景賢錄), or Writings of Hanhwoendang, and Family Rituals. He was sentenced to death by poison in 1504 during the Gapja Sahwa (or Second Literati Purge).
Jeong Gu (1543-1620), who is also enshrined at Dodongseowon, was the maternal-line great-grandson of Kim Goeng-pil. Jeong was a prominent sarim scholar of southeastern Korea of yehak, which literally means “propriety,” in the 17th century and played a key role in the construction of Dodongseowon. Jeong was also the person who wrote the seowon’s regulations.
Learning at Dodongseowon
In winter and spring, students studied classical Neo-Confucian texts, such as the Four Books and Five Classics. In the summer and fall, students were allowed to read whatever they wished, whether it was a history book or collection of writings. Kim Goeng-pil, who focused on cultivating the next generation of scholars based on a solid understanding of Neo-Confucian theory, stressed putting theories into practice. He is regarded as having made a break with exam-based learning and revived the tradition of “practical learning,” which was broken after Jeong Mong-ju.
Interaction at Dodongseowon
The name of Dodongseowon’s Suweolnu means “a brightly shining moon reflected in the cold waters of a stream.” Suweolnu was a place where future members of the literati could go to write poetry while gazing up at the moon or engage in academic debates. After climbing the stairs to the top, visitors will be able to feel the energy of the young students who visited Suweolnu.
Other aspects (cultural heritage items and memorial objects)
Dodongseowon is full of interesting, sculpted figures. At Jungjeongdang, there are two squirrel heads sticking out from the stylobate, a stone turtle with a sharp gaze in the front courtyard, four dragon heads that stick up vertically from the front-facing section of the stylobate, and lotus flower designs on the stone stairway leading to the shrine. In particular, the wall of Dodongseowon, which is sturdy thanks to the stacked layers of stone, clay, and roof tiles, is designated as Treasure No. 350, along with Jungjeongdang and the shrine.