On Saturday September 23rd, a group of forty eager people set off on a three hour journey to participate in a Temple Stay at the Geumsansa temple. Twenty people were going to join in a temple stay and the rest in a Seowon house. I will tell you all about the Temple stay.
Upon arriving at the temple, we were greeted with a beautiful mountain backdrop. We were led into the temple and given our clothes for the weekend. A comfortable pair of blue tracksuit pants and a matching top, not the most fashionable statement. However, I guess the whole point of the weekend is to give up your material possessions. We were told to take off our jewelry and sunglasses, and basically leave any material possessions inside.
Mr. BJ You, who was our translator for the weekend, was a wonderful companion to have with us. He explained everything and went out of his way to make sure we had a wonderful experience away from our bustling, busy lives.
The atmosphere at the Temple was so serene and peaceful. Looking around, all we saw was nature accompanied with gorgeous temple buildings. Everyone is there to worship and meditate.
We were first given a lesson in bowing. There are two types of bowing, a full bow and a half bow. When the monks were chanting, a rhythmically striking wooden bell would tell us when to bow. Over the course of the weekend we had lots of practice in these types of bows.
The head monk then joined us in an orientation in the main Buddha Hall, where we got our first chance to practice these bows and give respect to the Buddha. This hall was a gorgeous long rectangular structure that had a main front door, where only the head monk could enter, and two side doors. To enter the building everyone had to bow three times. Inside this building were five massive golden Buddhas sitting in the lotus position. In between each Buddha were smaller, standing Buddhas. Behind the sitting Buddhas were intricate paintings. The detail in each Buddha and the paintings surrounding them could make you stare at them for hours. The colors were so rich and intense. Practicing Buddhists came to pay their respects and offer money or rice to the Buddha. It was inspiring to watch little old ladies get up and down from the floor bowing in respect.
We were then led on a tour around the temple grounds. We saw the largest indoor golden Buddha in Korea and got to make a wish on the iron foundation base. Only one wish per person though, as anymore is greedy and that is what Buddhism stands against.
We were taken up to a stone pagoda where we could see the entire temple area and told that this area was the most spiritual on the temple grounds. There were many small side buildings that were so intense with their artwork and Buddha statues. These buildings were also filled with lotus lanterns on the ceilings. We were shown the gongs that were to wake us up the next morning. The three gongs consisted of an iron gong, a huge drum, and a wooden fish bell.
Dinner that night was in the dining hall where each person ate in silence. While most were in silence, there were a few who couldn’t leave their normal practices behind. Dinner consisted of rice, Kim chi, and vegetables of course. Monks are vegetarians and do not waste anything so everything had to be eaten. But since we were the foreigners, they gave us reprieve that night and told us it was practice for the morning. We all had to wash our dishes, as all work at the temple is communal.
Our lovely monk who was in charge of the temple stays had a green tea ceremony with us that night. Lucky me, who doesn’t eat rice or vegetables, got to eat some really good cookies. The tea ceremony was lovely with each detail explained to us along the way. Our monk was a sweet man, who joined the monk community 32 years ago. He was very friendly, answered all of our questions, and kept smiling throughout the ceremony.
When question and answer time came, we were informed that he loved being a monk but did not always like to wake at 3am. Washing his clothes was also not a regular activity he liked. We were then left to go to sleep at 10pm for our 3am wake up call.
Usually, many of us are not even asleep at 3am so waking at such an hour was an experience not to be forgotten. We were awoken by the gongs being struck, or that is what we were supposed to hear. For those of us who didn’t, we got a wake up call from our other friends. We were dressed in our blue tracksuits and walked in the pitch black to the main Buddha hall for some early morning mediation. It was such a wonderful experience. We saw hundreds of stars and got to hear the beating of the bells and gongs. When the monks joined us we were surrounded in the hall with their deep chanting echoing inside of us. When we finished there we were taken up the hill to the most spiritual center of the temple and performed sitting mediation. This was awesome. We were sitting in the beautiful clean air and starry sky listening to the wooden bells and chanting monks all over the grounds.
While sitting meditation was not the most comfortable position, it was still an experience I will never forget.
We were then led in walking mediation to the front of the temple grounds to take a picture in the dark so we could prove we were awake at this time. I am sure it will be a sight to see with all the bed head going on.
For breakfast, our lovely monk led us through a meal ceremony where every single piece of food was not to be wasted. It was lovely to see the way each step of setting up your bowls and eating had a purpose. Breakfast was again rice and Kim chi with a mixture of vegetables. We washed our bowls with water that we drank so not to waste one drop of anything. We even ate the radish that was wiped over the bowls to cleanse them.
After we ate, we were led to communal work. This consisted of us using straw brooms to gather up the leaves that were falling over the temple grounds. Other workers came around after us to pick them up.
108 beading mediation came next. This is a form of meditation where the final result is a beaded necklace or prayer beads. Everyone was supposed to do a full bow for each bead but since we were foreigners we were once again let off the hook. We only had to do one bow for every 3 beads. Some of us took this seriously while others sat back and just enjoyed the process of watching others do it while making their own necklaces. It was nice to have a memento of our time there and something we made and put our effort into.
Then came the time to leave the temple. We packed up, cleaned our shared bedroom, and headed over to have one last meal. Yet again, it was rice, vegetables and Kim chi. This meal included watermelon that I decided to try. Our monk came in to say goodbye and told us that such an experience will stay with us and him for the rest of our lives. This was very true. You might think monks have it easy meditating all day. First of all, meditating is hard. Secondly, they do the same routine everyday for their whole lives. Lastly, they get up at 3am everyday! It was an eye opening experience that I think everyone should take so as to see exactly what life is like when being devoted to the Buddha, as well as to enjoy some spectacular scenery and breathtaking setting.