This is What Happens When You Sleep Among Monks.

At the end of the day most world religions come down to teaching one thing – love.

Disclosure: I was not paid or compensated in any way by anything or anyone mentioned in this post. All opinions and thoughts are my own and may not reflect other people’s thoughts and experiences.

Although I was disappointed  with being placed in the middle of a major city  for my teaching position, I have been determined to make the best of my time in Korea by going on trips outside of the city on most weekends.  My second weekend away from Daegu was spent at Guinsa Temple for a temple stay. Templestay.com defines a temple stay as ‘a unique cultural program which lets you experience the life of Buddhist practitioners at traditional temples which preserve the 1700 year old history of Korean Buddhism.

Despite growing up in a religious household with a father who literally holds a Bachelor’s degree in ‘Bible Studies,’ I don’t consider myself a religious person. I left the church at around 16 because there were several conservative philosophies that I didn’t agree with. Regardless, I continue to hold many of the moral values that I grew up with close to my heart and they help me make decisions that I feel are right. At the end of the day most world religions come down to teaching one thing – love.

Religions fascinate me and as a lover of nature and meditation, I’ve found myself being curious about the Buddhist religion. Not saying I’d become a practitioner but, I can appreciate it as an observer.

Here’s a breakdown of how my temple stay went…

SATURDAY

Checking in – I was late and missed orientation

My first bus ended up hitting traffic just outside of Daegu and I missed my transfer bus in Danyang. I ended up being an hour late because of this.

When I arrived the rest of the group had just finished orientation. Apparently, this is an introduction to the Buddhist religion, the history of Korean temples and a meet and greet with the guides and monk that would be hosting us for the weekend. They also teach you how to bow correctly which to me, seems comparable to a modified burpee.

I was given a uniform to wear for the weekend and learned that I’d be sharing a small room with 3 other girls. I’d also be sleeping on the floor Andong style (traditional Korean accommodation).

Temple tour

Guinsa temple is located on a mountain in Sobaeksan National Park.  It looked beautiful and secluded in all of the photos I had seen, this is part of the reason why I chose Guinsa temple out of so many temples for my temple stay.

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We had two volunteers as our tour guides. One of them was a former Korean English Teacher who decided to take some time to be a worker at the temple. They walked us up the steep hill that the temple is built on explaining things we saw along the way.

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Anytime we walked into a temple, we would have to take off our shoes and bow 3 times (remember, burpees) before making a wish.

Photo Credit: Guinsa Temple staff

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There were several opportunities for us to make wishes during the tour. Our first wish was after rubbing these elephant tusks. My wish was for my friends back home that were getting married that weekend. I so wish I could have made it.

Photo Credit: Guinsa Temple staffDSC02871

We also stopped to listen to watch and meditate to a Monk banging on a bell 30 times. After that we poured water on a baby Buddha’s head, a Buddha’s Birthday ritual.

Photo Credit: Guinsa Temple staffDSC02887Photo Credit: Guinsa Temple staffDSC02892

 Dinner

Temples serve vegetarian food and it’s all cultivated and made by the workers on and around the property. This was a really delicious meal of self-serve bibimbap.

Free-time to explore

It was Buddha’s Birthday weekend so there were lots of extra lanterns and parade floats scattered throughout the temple. Most of them were located at the temple’s highest point.

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Making lotus lantern

We paired up and glued a bunch of papers onto a paper lantern to convert it into a lotus lantern. This was actually really time consuming. There was a pair that actually finished two lanterns- they were Koreans that had lantern making experience already. My partner and I were the only other group that made two lanterns instead of one, because we stayed late.

Photo Credit: Guinsa Temple staffDSC02921

Once our lanterns were finished we tagged our wishes to the bottoms of our lanterns and hung them  up. I felt rushed (as I do in most situations here in Korea) and didn’t really think out my wish. I ended up wishing for ‘Happiness.’

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SUNDAY

Wake up at 3am for a morning ceremony

I had no idea that so much goes on early in the morning temples. This explains why I never really see monks at temples during the days. They do all of their worshipping and work in the very early morning hours when the rest of the world is asleep. There was even a large group of people that stayed at the temple over night to chant through the night until about 6am. Something many buddhists do once a year for a spiritual cleanse.

We got up at 3am to attend the morning ceremony at the main temple. It was REALLY hard to get up because I barely slept. I blame the rock hard pillow that was basically a sandbag.

The group got together and started walking to the main temple. Myself and this other guy were the slow ones in the group struggling to get up the hill that early in the morning. We fell so far behind that we were separated from the group. I followed him assuming he knew where he was going.

We made it to the top of the temple and realized were were in the wrong place. At this point I’m sweating like a maniac from climbing all the way up and it’s a bit chilly. Not a good combination on no sleep.

We rushed down the hill and eventually found the building where the ceremony was taking place. I made the mistake of sitting with the men (women and men are separated when at a temple ceremony). Anyway, I followed everyone’s lead and there was A LOT of bowing (remember, modified burpees). I now understand why older Korean people are so fit.  I must have bowed like 200 times at that ceremony despite being covered in sweat and a bit exhausted.

I wish I could have just observed rather than actually participating in the ceremony. I had no idea what everyone was chanting, I had no idea what I was bowing to, I just went through the motions to be respectful.

I will say, hearing the monks singing and chanting and banging on those drums was really beautiful.

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Nap time

Back down the hill. It was absolutely necessary for me to take that nap at this point.

Breakfast

We walked up the hill again to the dining hall. At this point I was starting to feel really weak and sick from all the climbing on almost no sleep earlier that morning. I walked into the dining hall and seriously threw up in my mouth. The smell of Korean food that early in the morning on top of my physical state was too much for me. I had a small cup of soup and tried my best to recover for the meditation walk.

Meditation hike with a monk

I was in no shape to do any kind of hiking but I pushed myself through it and it was so worth it. The hike itself was so beautiful and peaceful – after the initial climb.

Photo Credit: Guinsa Temple staff

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We had a few minutes when we got to the top to sit down and meditate. After that, one of the volunteers walked some of us through some standing yoga while the rest of us relaxed and soaked in the scenery.

Photo Credit: Guinsa Temple staffDSC02975

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Tea time with a Monk

This was the highlight of the weekend for me. First off, having never attended a tea ceremony, it was really cool to learn about the process and participate in this Korean tradition.

Tea time was an open forum where we could ask the monk questions and she’d engage us in conversation as well. She addressed each of us individually and I swear when she was talking to me it was like she could see my soul. It’s believed that when one reaches the level of Buddha, you can read people and even see your own past lives. Our monk was not at that level but she sure as hell had a strong presence and some kind of magical powers.

At one point she asked us all to hold hands and chant. This sounds creepy and cultish but it was so, so, so beautiful. I teared up a bit (but no one noticed). After this, we finished our tea, posed for some photos and packed up to head home.

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Photo Credit: Guinsa Temple Staff and the Italian couple in our group738c86f1-4c7b-4719-b3fa-dbba91e69d55

Final thoughts – It was a really great experience and it gave me a lot of insight to the Buddhist religion and the life of a monk.  I wasn’t completely prepared for the constant climbing of the mountain (I ended up getting very sick after I got home from this trip from pushing my body too far). If I were to do it again I’d make sure the temple was on flat land 🙂

To book a temple stay and for more information on temple stays, visit templestay.com

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How to get to Guinsa Temple from Daegu…

I took a bus from Bukbu bus terminal to Danyang. At the Danyang terminal, I transferred to a bus to Guinsa. This second bus ride was no more than 30 minutes. The bus drops you off at the very bottom of the mountain which is the entrance to the temple.

 

 

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