Skip to content

Buddhist Temple Stay

May 15, 2012

Although a bar we frequent here in Seoul is ironically called “Zen Bar”, it has never done much for my mental health.  So this past weekend,  my friend Vida and I decided to leave the smog, and booze filled debauchery, for some real Zen living at a “temple stay”. From the lotus flower, to the lanterns that hang in the springtime,  to the temples and Buddhist statues, I’ve always loved the different aspects of Buddhism here is Asia.  For two-days I was a mini-monk and finally got the chance to learn more about this exotic stuff.

Geumsansa Temple

We stayed at Geumsansa Temple which is about 3 and a half hours south of Seoul.  Nestled in some mountains, the fresh air was a great change.  After we took in some big, deep cleansing breaths…the allergies kicked in.  Ironically we’ve become immune to the pollution, and now fresh air is the hazard.

The temple was established around 600 AD, and though not all of the original buildings stand, it was a pretty cool place to be spending the weekend.

Temple Stay schedule

Day One

When we arrived at the temple, we were given a uniform and name tag to wear.  Comfortable and baggy, we didn’t have to worry about our appearance for the time being.  After that, we were assigned to our rooms where we would be getting little sleep (and which would be done on the floor, Korean style).  After, we met the monk and translators that would be guiding us through the weekend.

Lotus Lanterns

After some time exploring the temple grounds we were given a fun and easy activity of making a lotus lantern.  Buddha’s Birthday is coming up this month so many people make lanterns and attach a wish to them.  After we finished, we let them dry and hung them up to be used later.

Around 9pm, our monk led us to a spot on the temple grounds where we lit a candle in our lanterns.  We walked in circle, meditating (or trying to) while he drummed and recited a chant.  Watching all of our lanterns float around in the darknes made for an amazing sight.

Yebul Service

Later in the afternoon, we experienced a Yebul Service in the main temple.  This is devotional chant in which the monks chant along to a mantra while another monk keeps the rhythm by drum.  We followed along and did the bows at the appropriate time.  The sound of the monks chanting was actually quite hypnotizing and beautiful.

Tea time with our Monk

After dinner, we were able to have tea and traditional Korean snacks with the monk.  At this time we were able to ask him any questions we had about Buddhism or his life.  The monk didn’t speak English so the answers had to be translated.  This proved to be a barrier because he would sometimes give long-winded answers.  I was getting the feeling the entire answer wasn’t always able to be translated.  Either way, a lot of the things he said gave us an insight on why he became a monk, what his life is like and what Buddhism is about (on the very surface).

Around 10pm we went to our rooms to go to sleep.  But only in a few hours we would be waking up…

Day Two

Morning Yebul

After a few hours of sleep, we woke up at 3:15am to attend the morning Yebul Service (devotional chanting in the main temple).  Like zombies, we all walked through the night to the sound of a gong which was summoning the monks. We followed along with the chant and bows as best as we could.

108 bows

Around 4:30am our monk led us in the torturous “108 bows”.  Every morning the monks do these bows, and each one is accompanied by a wish or a prayer.  The full bow starts in standing position, and from there you kneel to the ground.  Then you put your head on the mat and turn your hands so they face up.  From the ground, you go back to standing position without the help of your knees or arms.  Physically and mentally challenging (I started to lose focus probably after bow 30), we were all happy when it was over.  This exercise also has left my legs sore for about 2 days. *ouch*

Meditation 101

Afterwards, our monk led us in meditation.  This was also mentally and physically challenging.  We were all restless from the amount of time we had been sitting cross-legged for the entire weekend, not to mention keeping our thoughts in meditation was near impossible.

Traditional Monastic Breakfast   

For breakfast, our monk led us in the traditional Buddhist monk way of eating a meal.  This was slow, ritualistic and symbolic to Buddhist teachings.  We were to value every part of the meal, to give thanks for it, and to understand that eating isn’t always pleasure but can also be pain.  (Eating is painful? Never thought that before.. )

There were many steps involved and we all had roles serving each other.  We ate in silence and covered our mouths with the bowls as we ate.  At the end we were to finish every last piece, and then wipe the bowls down with one piece of pickled radish and some water.  From there, we were to eat the radish and then drink the water we used to clean the bowls.  After wiping the bowls down again, and rinsing them once again, we would put them back together and wrap them up in the way they came.  To close we all recited a chant.  With the many steps, silence, and leg cramps from sitting cross-legged, I was even more tired now.

Buddhist Beads

Beads are a very symbolic part of Buddhism.  Our monk gave us 108 beads to string a necklace.  I was excited about another craft, but then I realized it wouldn’t be all fun.  We were to think of a wish or a prayer for every bead we strung.  (We also had to option to do a bow with each bead. My legs were tired enough!)  After about the fiftieth bead it gets very hard to stay focused and concentrated on the beads.   Not the fun craft I imagined, this was actually mentally challenging and really about self-reflection.

Community Work

Every day the monks do certain tasks to tend to the grounds while socializing with each other.  Our task was to pick weeds.  I was really enjoying this one because it didn’t involve being silent, sitting cross-legged, or burning my thighs.  Our work time was cut short due to rain, and since our monk was so compassionate he let us come inside for tea.

Back to the real world

After lunch, all of us mini-monks packed up and got on the bus to head back to Seoul.  We were happy to be going back to the comforts of a bed, chairs and sleeping past 4am, but I’m not too sure if we were happy about getting back to the smog and hustle-bustle.  Exhausted from the weekend, it was the quietest 3+ hour bus ride I’ve ever taken.  Almost every one of us was passed out, lying down over empty seats.  This was a great experience and possibly one of the best things I’ve done in Korea.

Info: I went with “Adventure Korea” for this trip since the transportation was included.  Most temples around Korea do temple stays and what they offer vary.

Until next time, byebye! 🙂

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Dad permalink
    May 15, 2012 11:07 pm

    So glad that you are expanding your horizons. A mini-monk without the Zin Bar. I love it!!!

  2. Jill Arant permalink
    May 20, 2012 10:44 pm

    Hi Jessica! Wow that was a fascinating read! I tried t to visualize how in the world you would get up from your face on the floor and hands facing up without the use of your knees or arms! Yikes your legs must be a whole lot stronger than mine!!!! I’d still be in the bent/prone position calling for my mommy. What an experience – you are an inspiration and I’m so glad you are getting everything you can out of your time in Korea! Experience, adventure, learning, culture and on and on and on. And not to forget having fun thru it all. You’ll have lots of stories to tell! Take care and have fun! We celebrated your dad’s birthday earlier this week and today are golfing with your mum. They are doing fine and of course we all miss you and your delightful smile and giggle. 🙂

    • May 22, 2012 3:11 pm

      Thanks Jill. 🙂 Good to hear from you and I’m glad you liked the read. I’m also happy you guys had a nice birthday get together. It’s too bad I can’t just pop over as well! Have fun golfing and give Scootch a pet for me!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: