Temple Trials (Or How I Spent My Weekend Like A Cold Monk)

It is finally here. The post you have always been wanting to read, but could never find. Or, you know, the post you don’t care about but are reading because of general interest or family obligation to me. What am I talking about, you ask with a mixture of fear and excitement? I am talking about my Temple Stay that I attended over the weekend of the 20th and 21st of December. This post will give you some idea of what to expect if you attend one and my thoughts on the whole thing.

We had to arrive at the temple by 2pm, so Marta and I set off to meet our friends Anna, Jenny and Karen at the bus terminal. Tickets secured and lunch eaten, we boarded the bus. It wasn’t long before we were out in the countryside heading towards Boeun and Songisan. And, to my surprise, there was a lot of snow everywhere. The weather here has been snowy but any evidence of it had all but vanished in Cheongju. The bus journey itself was uneventful, as most bus journeys are. We arrived at Songisan around 1pm and spent an hour walking towards the temple, stopping to take pictures.

DSC_0022 (edit)

We finally arrived at Beopjusa temple around 2pm, registered and were given some clothes (a vest and trousers that would make MC Hammer jealous) and assigned a room. I was sharing a large room with five other guys, all of whom were very nice. We didn’t have long to relax before we headed off to orientation and learnt about what the Temple Stay would entail. We didn’t have long to wait before the experience began. We had a great tour of the temple. However, I didn’t learn much myself as I was always close to the back taking photographs of things. This is one of my favourite shots that I took during the tour.

DSC_0056 (Edit)

This was followed by dinner (vegetarian, of course). We then attended an evening chanting ceremony, in which you bow to three great Buddah statues and the monks chant. This was an interesting cultural experience and definitely one of my highlights of the trip. The monks do this ceremony three times a day (early morning, late morning/early afternoon and night). We then attempted to make lotus flowers using paper petals and a cup. I abandoned mine before we left the temple the following day – it did not look good. It was then time to wash up and go to bed, ready for the 3am wake up to go to morning chanting.

The morning chanting was similar to the evening chanting, except with slightly more bowing and much lower temperatures  I was freezing in the room. We then met our monk host undertook meditation and the 108 Prostrations. I found this bit was perhaps my least favourite, I hate being trapped with my own mind for company and we had to sit silent for twenty minutes. The 108 Prostrations were also agony. I had hurt my back the previous week, so bowing 108 times did nothing to help it. After this, we had another meal (breakfast). I found the food to be OK but I am currently at my limit with Korean food, so I pretty much just ate rice. The best activity of this day was the traditional Korean tea ceremony. It is similar to those of China and Japan in someways but different in others. I definitely enjoyed learning about this part of Korean culture. Being British, I also have a special relationship with tea.

Tea Ceremony
Tea Ceremony
Tea Ceremony
Tea Ceremony

Finally, we undertook a meditative walk in the forest. This was an OK part of the trip for me but I was cold and once again, hated the silence. It was also quite chilly and we had already been awake for six hours at this point. I don’t have much else to say on this.

So what did I think of the Temple Stay overall? Well, I am glad I did it. It was a unique experience and I learnt a lot about Buddhism and Korean culture. But it is not something I would do again. I would suggest it is something everyone should try at least once, and indeed, many people on the stay had been to others before. It just was not my sort of thing is all.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this post. Check out my other photos from the trip.

I will write again soon.


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