April 19, 2011

Temple Stay

A couple of weeks ago I went on a Temple Stay at the Hwagyesa Temple in Seoul. Hwagyesa Temple is in downtown Seoul and can be accessed from Suyu Station.

Temple Stays are a popular tourist attraction in Korea. During a Temple Stay foreigners can live at a Korean Buddhist temple for the weekend, learning and living like Buddhist monks. Hwagyesa's Temple Stay program was amazing at an affordable price. It cost me less then $30.00 to live at the temple for two days, along with all the programming (food included).

Here was our schedule for our weekend at Hwagyesa.

We had a very small group, only eight people. This made for a very intimate experience. We were able to speak freely in our group and interact with the Monks on a personal level. I could not have ask for a better situation to learn about meditation and Buddhist practices.

To start the weekend off, we were taken on a tour of the temple grounds by my favorite woman Monk . She explained some things about the buildings and paintings that covered them. Here are some pictures I took on the tour around Hwagyesa.

During our tour we were taken inside one of the smaller temples. It was filled with hundreds of miniature Buddha's. The Monk told us to look through all the Buddha's and choose the one we related to the most. This would be our Buddha for the rest of the weekend. The solo shot of a Buddha below is mine. Don't you see our resemblance.

We then were asked to write down a wish on a colorful piece of paper and tie it to a gathering of ropes. The Monk told us that the temple then prays for all the wishes to come true.

We were fed three meals during our stay at Hwagyesa. Breakfast, lunch and dinner all looked just like this.

The Monks at Hwagyesa only eat rice and home grown veggies everyday (vegetarian). You must only take the amount of food you are planning on eating because you have to clean your bowl with water and then drink it. Living a waste-less life is something most of us are not used.

Temple outfits were also given to us. I wish they would be appropriate for everyday life because they were some of the most comfortable clothes I have ever worn. However, they lacked all shape and fashion sense.

As you can see from the schedule we did around 5 hours of meditation. I had never learned the correct way to meditate before and I had never tried it for so many hours. We were told my the Monks that we were not supposed to think about anything. They wanted our minds to be blank and so we could listen to our inner selfs. Let me tell you, it's quite impossible for me not think at all. So meditating for 5 hours was a huge struggle; however, I am so happy I tired it. It was a great break from a busy life. Just having some quiet time alone with nothing, no music, cell phone, computer, really was relaxing.

Monks have to go on retreats twice a year, where they are silent for 3 months at a time. During these silent retreats they will mediate from anywhere between 10 hours a day to 48 hours straight. Insane.

Every night at sunset, a Monk does a drumming bell ceremony. We were asked to help him during our stay.

We also learned you have to be an early raiser to be a Monk. We woke up at 3:00 am (amendment to the schedule) for morning chanting and bows. Every morning each Monk does at least 108 bows. These bows are not easy. They take lots of energy and 108 of them is a full fledged work out. Our Monk leader that morning said she usually does over 300 everyday. Monks are in great shape.

After the morning chanting and our completion of the 108 bows, we went on a sunrise hike on the foothills of Bukhansan. We were asked to complete the hike in silence and enjoy the quiet world around us. It was breathtaking to see the sun rise over a sleeping Seoul with the Bukhansan mountains to our backs.

Overall, I had a very positive weekend and experience at Hwageysa. I learned more about Buddhism and meditation in a great environment. Not once did I feel like anyone was pushing religion down my throat or trying to convert me. The Monks were more interested in helping us think in different ways and open up to our own selves. I would totally recommend going on a Temple Stay if you are visiting Korea, especially at The Hwagyesa Temple.

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