Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Temple Stay

Hello everyone, it has been a while since I have written last. I am trying to fit in quite a bit before I have to leave this amazing country. Well, I have crossed off pretty much everything that I wanted to do while I was here. This post is the last on the list- temple stay.

   My friends and I spent two days living at a temple, meditating, seeing/participating in various Buddhist rituals, and eating what monks eat. Most Koreans are Buddhist, Christian or Agnostic. I really did not know much about Buddhism except for my experiences I have had in Cambodia and Thailand, which were quite different from Korea’s take on Buddhism. We rode out into a suburb of Seoul and hiked up a mountain to the temple that we would be staying at. When we arrived we were shown our quarters and given some spiffy pajamas to wear as our uniform (one must be comfortable in order to achieve enlightenment). Our interpreter showed us around the temple grounds, as the monk who was guiding us only spoke Korean. The temple was beautiful and was nestled on a foothill of a larger mountain. A small stream ran through the grounds that overlooked the glowing city. It was strange to look out at the lit, noisy city in a place that was so quiet and peaceful.

Once our tour of the various buildings was over it was time for dinner. The meal was like most other 

ones I have had in Korea except for the absence of meat. They stressed to eat everything 

that you took. After the meal we had time to explore a cave near the cafeteria. The stream ran through it and once you reached the bottom of the cave there was a small chapel set up.  As the sunset we had the chance to watch a bell ringing ceremony. The giant bell, a large drum and a hollowed out wooden fish hung on a pavilion, which we all walked under when we entered the temple grounds. It was quite amazing to watch the monks perform and every time they struck the large bell the sound dissipated throughout the hills. It was a good way to put us in the mindset for what was to come next.
Percussion Deck

Once the ceremony was over we went onto the second floor of the main building where one of the temples was. The monks began a chanting ceremony shortly after our group was settled in. We were not allowed to take pictures inside the temple, but I will try to explain what it looked like the best I can. The temple had three Buddhas at one end; to the left of the figures was a picture of someone that had died recently. To the right was a large mural called the guardian wall which depicted various gods from the religions before Buddhism was spread throughout Asia. We all sat on pillows behind the monks while they chanted. They chanted in Korean and we were left in the dark, but it sounded quite nice. Once the ceremony was finished we meditated for about an hour. I really liked the meditation, however I still do not understand how Koreans can sit cross-legged for hours on end. Maybe if you start when you are young it is easier, but I have been at many a dinner sitting on the floor with my legs asleep. So needless to say it was difficult to keep a clear mind with aching legs. We eventually switched to meditation while lying down (I think that it was to appease us foreigners). After the meditation we did 108 postulations, or in layman’s terms we bowed 108 times for all the bad things we have done. Some of these were the basic “I am sorry for doing wrong to others,” to more bizarre statements that I don’t think that I have ever been guilty of e.g.- “ I postulate in repentance for having thought that what I smelled was correct.”
We made some lotus flower lanterns and went to bed early.


On the walk to our sleeping quarters 
The next morning we woke up in the dark, it was about 4:30am when the drums started off. After a night on the floor, getting up was difficult. I managed to get up, put on my monk pajamas, and make it just in time for the morning chanting ceremony. After the chanting was over we meditated for a bit longer than last time. Being exhausted and having to sit cross-legged was a bit difficult. After meditation, we did a bit of cleaning up around the temple. People on their way to monkdom have to work for a few years at a temple before they start studying to become a monk.
 Once we were done with our chores, we had a monastic meal. Once someone becomes a monk they get their robes and a set of bowls that they will keep for the rest of their time as a monk in life. We were given 4 different sized bowls and sat in a rectangle around the room. 
The food was located in the center of the room and we each took turns giving everyone: rice, rice water, soup, kim chi, and vegetable condiments. The monk told our translator what we were to do at each step of the way. We had to refrain from talking during the meal and no food was to be wasted. Once we were finished eating we cleaned our bowls with a yellow radish and some rice water. Once we had cleaned each bowl two people came around and collected the rice water in a big pot. They told us that they collected the rice water to feed “the hungry ghost” which is one of the forms that people are reincarnated into. It can only get nourishment from the rice water because it has a long skinny throat. Apparently this is a very painful stage and we needed to be careful that there was not any left over bits of food floating in the rice water, as it could get stuck in the poor ghost’s throat. Now this may seem a bit odd, but ask yourself does it seem as crazy as a guy building a boat in his back yard for all the animals in the world?

 Once the bowls were clean and the rice water was collected we went on a nice hike up the mountain that the temple was settled under. The view of Seoul from the top was amazing. We wrapped up our time at the temple by drinking tea and asking the monk any questions we had for her. Korea’s take, as well as every other country’s take, on Buddhism is unique. For example female monks are able to do everything that a male monk can. The robes and their bowls are not the only possessions that a monk can have, many of them have smart phones and I have seen one driving a car in my town. Our monk explained that they are allowed to have things as long as they are used to help other people.
I left the temple tired and hungry, all that meditating and bowing is hard work. I was happy with the experience that I had at the temple, spending the day with a monk gave me a better insight into Korean Buddhism. I don’t think I will be converting any time soon, but I was very pleased to have the opportunity to see what temple life was like first hand.

            If you are in Korea and are looking for a good temple stay I would recommend the one that I went on. Here is the link -> http://www.geumsunsa.org/

Also shouts out to Josh Davidson for the pics!

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