Asia Society Korea Travel Series 3 – Temple Stay
Asia Society Korea’s Travel Series helped brush up your historical knowledge last month with a trip to the Independence Hall in Cheonan. This month we will unleash your inner Zen with a temple stay. Buddhism was introduced to Korea by China 1,700 years ago in its meditative form, commonly known as Zen. While a recent national census showed that today less than 50% of the Korean population shows an affiliation to a religion, Buddhism is still practiced by 15%, and by many others more passively. May 22nd was Buddha’s Birthday and a national holiday in Korea; thus, swarms of people visited Seoul’s temples and the lantern festival at Cheonggyecheon.
Despite growing in popularity over recent years, many people still do not take the opportunity to experience a one-night stay at one of the many temples throughout Korea that offer the service. Thankfully, the Cultural Corps of Korean Buddhism has made it incredibly easy to organize a stay online in English (https://eng.templestay.com/). With almost forty temples throughout Korea to choose from, you can pick the location and itinerary that suits you best.
It is important to note the temples welcome people of all backgrounds and the programs are tailored to each individual. Some include physical challenges while others pick more laid-back approaches. Each temple designs its own schedule based upon the location and spiritual focus. Common activities include meditation, prostration, crafts, tea ceremonies, walks, and cooking.
While it is possible to simply spend a day at a temple, you should stay the night if you really want to embrace the full experience. All of the temples offer basic but clean accommodations with private and shared rooms. You do need to follow traditional protocol and sleep directly on the floor as floor mats, blankets, and pillows are provided. On arrival, you’ll also receive your cozy cotton outfit to be worn throughout your stay and shoes, naturally, are not worn indoors. Most temples have communal toilets and bathrooms, which are clean and modern.
The monks and nuns live by the sun so expect an early night and pre-dawn chimes to awaken you. The Yebool ceremony starts around 4:30am and pays respect to the Sakyamuni Buddha, Bodhisattvas, and all of his disciples. Visitors have the chance to simply observe the Buddhist chanting and process of self-reflection or participate before enjoying the sunrise.
Another great part of the stay is the chance to enjoy some Buddhist cuisine. The rich vegetarian diet ensures you will eat extremely healthy meals during your stay. Many of the temples grow or forage for their vegetables in the surrounding area. Meal service is generally buffet style and you can feel free to eat as much as you want; but be sure to finish anything you take as wastefulness is frowned upon.
There are, as mentioned, a host of temples to choose from and each is special in its own way, so it would be unfair to pick a favorite. We, at Asia Society Korea, would recommend getting out into the mountains to have the most relaxing temple stay experience, but for those on a tight schedule Bongeunsa and Geumsunsa are both conveniently located in downtown Seoul. Whichever temple you decide to stay at, you’ll be sure to relieve stress and reflect upon life in a beautiful setting that forces you to take some time for yourself.