You hear nothing but the sound of crickets and birds chirping as you gaze at the sun starting to peek through far off in the distance, along with the tranquil sound of water trickling down the stream nearby.
Sound like a dream? Well, this is a sight you may be able to witness when you experience a temple stay in Seoul.
What is a Temple Stay?
A temple stay is a unique cultural program that gives participants the opportunity to experience the life of Buddhist practitioners at traditional temples. You can search for your true self and become one with nature, clearing your mind through meditation, prayer, and various activities. Korean Buddhism is a way of mind that helps rejuvenate the soul and body.
Programs are currently offered at more than 50 different Buddhist temples in various parts of Korea. Each temple has its own program and activities based on its location and particular spiritual focuses. You will follow a structured schedule as you learn the prayers, eat vegan food, and attend the morning and evening ceremonies. Religious or not, everyone is welcome to stay for as short as a day to a whole week.
1. Yebul: Ceremonial Service
‘Yebul’ is the most important event in the daily routine of Korean temples, with people paying their respects to the Buddha enshrined in the Dharma hall three times a day. The teachings are repeated before dawn, at 10:00 in the morning, and in the evening. It is the main ceremony that regulates the day so it is attended by everyone in the temple compound.
The Heart Sutra and Buddhist chant are read aloud, 108 prostrations to the Buddha are executed, and the Dharma drum, Buddhist bell, wooden fish drum, and cloud-shaped gong are stricken in order. The prostrations symbolize a fresh start, ridding you of greed, anger, and ignorance as you learn the precise etiquette and actions for bowing.
2. Chamseon: Zen Meditation
Zen is known as ‘seon’ in Korean. Chamseon is a form of meditation that allows people to reflect on themselves. There are two forms of meditation that you can choose from, which are ‘jwaseon (seated meditation)’ and ‘haengseon (walking meditation).’ Monks will instruct you on the proper posture.
Jwaseon will have you sitting quietly as you focus your mind on finding peace at heart, usually taking place on temple grounds. On the other hand, haengseon will be held outside as you walk slowly and steadily around a beautiful nature spot.
3. Barugongyang: Monastic Meal
Barugongyang is a unique and special way of eating in Korean temples. Meals are eaten in complete silence and not a single grain of rice or drop of water is wasted. You only put on your place what you can finish. Be careful not to slurp or make any clinking noises with your utensils as you eat.
As it is against Buddhist beliefs to hurt animals, the food is vegetarian and made up of mostly seasonal vegetables which will cleanse both the body and soul. However, stimulating foods such as onions and garlic are avoided as they are thought to create heat, distracting the mind from meditation. Barugongyang teaches the importance of eating food with care and appreciation. You are free to go for multiple rounds as the idea is not to go hungry, but rather simply not to waste.
4. Dado: Tea Ceremony
‘Dado (tea ceremony)’ is one of the oldest customs in Korea that involves the process of boiling and serving tea. Traditional tea clears the body and mind, and the ceremony focuses on spiritual awakening which symbolizes purification, absorption, and meditation. Making the tea and washing the cups is all part of Buddhist training.
To enjoy the tea, start off by focusing on the sound of water boiling, then relax as you breathe in its soothing fragrance and see the soft and subtle colors. Lastly, feel the warmth of the tea radiate through the cup as you slowly savor the taste.
Temples Offering Temple Stay Programs in English
As temple stay programs have become increasingly popular among foreigners, more and more places are conducting their programs in English so people can understand the meaning and beliefs behind the practices.
1. Jogyesa Temple
The head temple of the Jogye order in Korean Buddhism is Jogyesa Temple, located in the heart of the city in Insadong. The temple grounds are surrounded by urban buildings, a great escape from the big city for both locals and foreign tourists and convenient to visit. It is specially packed with visitors during the Lotus Lantern Festival when the entire courtyard is embellished with paper lanterns.
Take a look at the temple stay programs offered here!
2. Bongeunsa Temple
This 1,200-year-old temple in Samseong-dong, Gangnam was the head temple for Seon Buddhism during the harsh oppression of Buddhism by the Confucian-favoring Joseon Dynasty. You may think that most temples are located in the secluded countryside, but Bongeunsa has mass appeal as it is set against the backdrop of the modern skyline with Gangnam’s towering skyscrapers and flashing lights.
You can find out about the temple stay programs they have through this link.
3. Geumsunsa Temple
Geumsunsa is located in the north of Seoul and belongs to the Jogye Order. Thriving with over 600 years of history, this venue is one of the largest Buddhist temple complexes in Korea and literally means ‘golden mountain temple.’ It features a three-story building called Mireukjeon that contains the world’s largest indoor statue, which stands at 11.82 meters.
To find more about the temple stay program details, click here.
4. Hwagyesa Temple
Located at the foot of Samgak Mountain in the north of Seoul, Hwagyesa Temple is surrounded by beautiful mountains and landscapes that create a serene atmosphere to help visitors escape from urban life. A small water spring named Oktakcheon next to the temple is famous for its supernatural healing powers for the skin and stomach diseases. Legends say the spring was formed from crows pecking away at the rocks.
Check out the temple stay program schedule here.
5. International Seon (Zen) Center
The International Seon (Zen) Center is a meditation and Buddhist propagation training center as well as a learning facility for Buddhist cultural practices. Its overall aim is to promote awareness of the value of Korean Buddhism and its practices to the global community. It is located in Mokdong. Book a temple stay experience at this location here.
Book a temple stay experience at this location here.
6. Gilsangsa Temple
Gilsangsa Temple is situated on the southern side of Samgak Mountain in northern Seoul. First registered in 1995, some of the buildings have been remodeled though most still preserve their original state. Many people frequent the temple as it is conveniently located in the heart of Seoul. It also serves as a downtown cultural space, offering many programs like classes on Buddhist teachings, temple experience, and temple stay.
You can find the temple stay program schedule here.
7. Myogaksa Temple
Myogaksa Temple is to the east of Seoul in the quiet residential district of Jongno-gu, Sungin-dong. Established by Monk Taeheo Hongseon in 1930, it is tucked away in the foothills of Naksan Mountain. The location was chosen based on Feng Shui, with the belief that by being situated on Naksan Mountain, it would bring peace and happiness to the residents of Seoul.
Find out more about the temple stay program here.
+) Temple Stay in Incheon, near Seoul: Jeondeungsa Temple
Jeondeungsa temple is located at the Ganghwa Island, which belongs to Incheon city. The temple is well known for having a long history of around 1,700 years. Since the location is a little way off the city center of Seoul, you will feel calmness and serenity. How about getting out of a bustling city and leave for a temple that has a beautiful nature?
Check out more about the temple stay here.
Temple Stay Etiquette & Tips
Temples are a site of historic preservation as well as a personal meditation. Therefore, it is very important to keep quiet and adhere to the rules and regulations.
1) Refrain from speaking loudly, shouting, running, singing or playing music.
2) Physical contact between men and women is strictly forbidden.
3) Eating and drinking in undesignated areas or while walking are prohibited.
4) No chewing gum, drinking alcohol or eating meat or fish
5) No Smoking
* Use the correct side doors to walk into each building. Never enter through the middle as this is for the monks only.
* Whenever you meet someone, greet them with a half bow. You must also bow towards the Buddha when entering and leaving the temple.
* ‘Chasu’ is the posture used when walking within a temple or in front of a monk, portraying a humble mind and silence. Fold your right hand over your left hand at the center of your belly to achieve this posture.
* For Yaebul, enter the main hall through the side door and do three full bows facing the Buddha before sitting on your mind.
So how about it? Find peace in a peaceful environment away from your clamoring and fast-paced lifestyle, even if it’s just for a day or two. The temple-stay programs will give you the chance to experience and witness something that’s completely different to what you’re used to – and you’re going to love it.
Check out the list of temple-stay experiences we offer here and don’t forget to bookmark Trazy.com, Korea’s #1 Travel Shop, to find the best deals and fun things to do in South Korea!
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