The South Korean Temple Stay Program:
It’s 5.30 am, you just woke up from your good night sleep and from the near distance, you hear the sound of the drums BOOM, Ba Ba Ba, BOOM. You just through a glimpse to your neighbor lying next to you silently asking ‘is it really already time to wake up?’. Less than 5 minutes later, you sit in a temple full of Buddhist monks chanting, praying, and meditating.
If that sounds like an experience you would like to have, the South Korean temple stay program can offer it to you. But keep on reading it doesn’t stop there.
Find your ‘True-self’
In a South Korean temple stay, you will live with the Buddhist monks as if you were one of them. Well almost, at least you will try. Arriving at the temple, the first thing to do is receiving your outfit. For the most tourists, this is just a good opportunity to snatch a selfy. But this is the actual traditional clothing the monks wear. After that, it is time to relax and enjoy the surroundings. Be prepared to do a lot of this, and depending on the temple location it can be more or less exciting. Mindfulness is the keyword of this experience. It may be challenging to find enjoyment in sitting around but this is part of your temple stay. Many temples are located in nature and trailheads are directly on the doorstep.
Therefore, temple stays are not only perfect for quiet time lovers but also an opportunity to enjoy the nature around it. For example, one amazing temple is located on the south entrance of the Byeonsanbando National Park. The program schedule remains equal but you can imagine how different this experience is to a temple stay in downtown Seoul.
Types of Stays
There are different programs offered by most temples. If you are around South Korea for a while keep checking the temple stay website. Frequently amazing deals for around 10k – 15k Won can be found that includes a full program. These are offered to foreigners to introduce them to the South Korean culture and sometimes used to ‘spend the surplus the temple made the previous calendar year’.
Generally, there are three different programs:
The one-day program is more of a tour of the temple with a meditation session, here you will only get a quick peek in the real life of a monk in South Korea. Experience-oriented and Rest-oriented are mostly offered for two nights. Many people will arrive Friday evening and leave Sunday morning. In these stays, you will truly feel the vibe of the spiritual places going through your body and mind.
An every-day monk experience
You are expected to be one of the groups of the monks, therefore, getting up at 5.30 to pray is part of the deal. There is a ritual that you will be taught on the first day in the afternoon, this way you know the basics of the prays. For now, I’ll say this, there is a lot of bowing and going up and down, it’s almost like a morning exercise. For roughly 20-30 minutes, the session takes place. It all ends with another 10 minutes of drums and music. Now that you are awake, it’s a perfect time to reflect on your life, at least that’s what the monks say. Anyways, breakfast is not served until 7.30 am.
After breakfast, you either have activities organized through the ‘Experience-oriented’ Program or you will just rest. Many activities will to some extent include a meditating purpose such as making friendship wristbands whereas the process of making it is meant to calm your mind. Or else, use the time for a little walk.
Noon, it is time for lunch. It should be noted that every mealtime is also a time to meditate. Therefore, silence should be kept by all participating members. Additionally, since we should be grateful for what we receive, prayers are a must before eating. The vegetarian buffet is for many foreigners the reason to do this experience and it definitely worth to be mentioned. Though be reminded, it is very much disregarded to have food left on your plate. You can get as much as you want but be respectful to what is served to you.
The afternoon is similar to the morning between meals, used for rest, or your own chosen activity. Until you will be served dinner at 6 pm you must entertain yourself. There might be a tea ceremony or other meditation practices, it all depends on the temple and your stay. Most certainly, there is another organized evening prayer before you are asked to turn off the lights around 9.00 pm
The foreigner surrounded by monks
Yes, of course, there is a certain type of awkwardness involved. You might feel some discomfort as this is their religion but remember within the Buddhist as well as the South Korean culture these exchanges are very important. These stays are special to you if you treat them in a special way. Don’t expect to be arriving in a hotel and your bed is being made for you. Remember to be respectful towards the members of the community and ask the monks if you have questions. They are more than happy to provide you with a mindful answer.
Find all information to your next temple stay in South Korea HERE
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The South Korean Temple Stay Program
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