For a nice, soothing, yet tiring day and night at a real Buddhist temple.
A templestay is where you get to stay at a temple for three to four days (longer programs are also available), follow the daily routines of Buddhist monks and learn more about the culture and overall religion. In a nutshell. Technically they are not Korean per se, but they did become very popular since the 2002 Korea/Japan World Cup. The program was introduced to promote traditional Korean Buddhist culture. The Korea Times did a special series about templestays around the country back in 2009 and I was the lucky reporter who was in charge of the project. Thanks to the series, I got to experience various templestays, both out of Seoul and in, and take a look inside the Buddhist culture.
The temple shown here is Weoljeongsa Temple, which is the head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. It was founded in 643 and is located in Pyeongchang, Gangwon Province. The same area where the Winter Olympics will be held in 2018.
Programs vary but there are some basics. First of all, enjoying and appreciating nature. Most temples are located deep in the woods: the perfect opportunity to turn off you phones (they make you do this), escape from cars, swarming groups of people and any commercial aspects of the big city. You also get to wear a special uniform during the program, which helps you focus on the more important things. Like waking up early. really early. 4 a.m.? Then comes various activities, like walking through the forest without speaking a single word, different types of meditations, community work such as sweeping the temple grounds, tea ceremonies and Buddhist traditional ceremonial services.
Even if you are not a Buddhist, the templestay can be a liberating and interesting experience. It may be related to the “religion” Buddhism, but its programs and teachings are not overwhelming nor is it difficult/complicated to follow. It’s mostly about the basic concepts of Buddhism itself: harmony and meditation. (I still have a hard time meditating. I’m not quite sure I even understand what it is exactly.)
To follow the strict schedules of the templestay for three to four days, or for some even weeks, it takes time, effort and patience, and it takes that same amount to really feel, appreciate and understand the overall purpose. By the end of the day, I really did notice the small details of daily routines: I hope it doesn’t rain because I don’t want to sweep the ground again (noticing the weather and looking up at the sky for a change), finishing every little crumb on my plate because I don’t want to get “scolded” (appreciating food and all the efforts put into it through the process) or not checking my phone every three minutes (becoming more aware of my surroundings rather than the small, square frame of my phone). Small steps but it does become a habit after a few days. Think of spending weeks, months or even years practicing such a process.
- About Templestay by the Korea Tourism Organization
- Night at the Temple (A very close look into the program. A night to remember indeed.)
- Templestays with Creative Ideas
- A Taste of Templestay in Southern Seoul (Bongeunsa Temple is right in the heart of Seoul. They have both a templestay program and a shorter/easier program called templelife. Great if you don’t have much time and are staying mainly in Seoul.)
- Insider Guide: Seoul
- Come, Stay and Discover (A bit more about the history)
All photos by rachelsanghee