Last November I left for an impromptu trip to Japan and Korea because work was slow and my parents already had their Japan trip planned out. I chose Korea primarily due to how close it was to Japan and knew a friend from highschool teaching in Seoul. I hit up Busan, Jeju Island and Seoul (in that order) spending a total of 3 days and 3 nights doing Temple Stay on Jeju Island . It was my first time traveling alone and I was eager to find an escape after four years of university and the instability of freelancing in my career. I was just hoping for a peaceful stay on Jeju and have some time to reflect and meditate.
I arrive at around 1pm and was led to the room where all the uniforms were stored. Everyone who lived at the temple or participated in temple stay wore very similar clothing. This consisted of a basic cotton shirt, vest, and pants. You are also encouraged to wear minimal jewelry and makeup.
After changing into my uniform, I instructed to go to Do Guan's office where we drank tea, and chatted for a while. I was given two books on the history of Korean Buddhism and the basic daily schedule. Yes..you read correctly, the first morning chant was at 4:30 IN THE MORNING. I instantly regretted signing up for 3 days and 3 nights of temple stay. However, by the end of my stay, I was happy that I didn't just do a 1 night layover (which is what most people choose to do). Instead, I received a more extensive experience of temple stay and fell into a nice routine of attending chants, meditating, and learning to be by myself in silence.
There were about 3-4 rooms designated for people doing temple stay. I went during off season and the weekday (Mon- Wed) and encountered only 1 other person participating in the program. This allowed me to get one big room by myself and a have the freedom of sleeping at whatever time I wanted. The room is heated through the floors which made sleeping surprisingly comfortable despite the hard surface.
Every day at 4:30 in the morning and 6 in the evening, everyone will gather in the main praying hall to pray. 5 -10 minutes before the each chant, someone will ring the bell a couple times to let everyone know to make their way towards the main hall.
When I realized how early the opening ceremonies were, I instantly wished I stayed for 1 day and 1 night. What's the fun of waking up at 4:15 in the morning and being unable to access the internet (there was wifi near Do Guan's office but none where I slept) or go anywhere at night because the buses don't run at night? The ceremonies seemed long running for about an hour. The monks would chant, hum, and bow in harmony for about 20 minutes. Most of them leave after that while 1-2 monks to continue to lead the prayer. Attendees have the option of praying along if they know Korean, prostrating, or meditating on their own. By the end of my stay I was happy that I chose to be there that long. It allowed me to get a more extensive experience of temple life while learning to meditate to the soothing sounds of monks chanting.
One of the activities included stringing 108 beads to create a wooden necklace. The number 108 is significant because each bead represents the mental condition or sinful desires that can be overcome when praying and bowing with the beads. It is also used to keep track the number of prostrations you do.
Yes, you guessed it, Do Guan and I went to a mini temple to do 108 bows/prostrations. By the time I got to 60 my legs were shaking, and when I hit 80, I'm pretty sure beads of sweat were running down my face. These weren't regular bows where you bend at the waist but a bow that consisted of 5 main steps. First bring your palsm together, kneel, prostrate your entire body to the ground, kneel, then stand up.
After the bows Do Guan takes me on a hike to the sea, which is a totally brilliant idea after doing 108 prostrations and feeling like my legs are going to give out on me.
We sit on rocks facing the water and teaches a 3 minute meditation routine. Spend 1 minute freeing your mind for everything, leaving all worries and stress and focusing on stillness. After that, spend 1 minute envisioning all the good and kindness in the word wishing that no harm would come to all living things. Finally, spend 1 minute thinking about all the people you love and the happiness that they bring to each other. The meditation exercise marked a very pivotal point during my stay as it left me teary eyed and filled with emotion. I can't pinpoint exactly what I was thinking or feeling, but it was definitely one of those moments that you carry with you for the rest of your life.
During your free time, you are encouraged to meditate and/or take walks around the temple by yourself. I ended up spending 1 day traveling and sightseeing on Jeju Island which is a whole other post on its own. Overall this experience has been life changing and I highly recommend those who are curious or interested in another culture, spirituality, or meditation to give it a try.
Whew! That was a long post. Hope you guys enjoyed it and hope you all have a fantastic week!