My family loved Korea, and they also loved learning about it through several different experiences. One of the best was enjoying a templestay. We spent a night at the Haeinsa Temple. It was really beautiful, and although it was snowing and a bit chilly, that only helped us focus on meditation.
Posing with a happy monk in our uniforms
The Haeinsa Temple is one of Korea's three largest monasteries. It is also a UNESCO heritage site because it houses the Tripitaka Koreana, which are wooden blocks with buddhist scriptures engraved on them from the 13th century. It is the oldest and most complete edition of the Buddhist cannon, and the reason it has been in such great condition for so long is because of the library it was built in, which can maintain a pretty static temperature because of the construction. Also, the carved wooden blocks are covered in a special laquer and framed with metal.
We were excited to visit the temple but had some trouble getting there with all of our material possesions to drag along. We had suitcases for the trip to Jeju and Japan directly after the stay. No, we did not take the bus behind us in the picture, we took a taxi but he was a bit confused and dropped us off at the bottom of Gayasan Mountain, and so we had to trek up. It was beautiful weather during the day though!
Our living quarters
When we finally arrived though, we were warmly greeted and showed to our room, which was downstairs luckily, so not too much more dragging of the suitcases was necessary. It was a nice large room with a beautifully warm ondol and sleeping pads for the four of us. We had our own bathroom too! We quickly changed into our monastery clothes and prepared to begin the program.
A bell and drum we woke up to in the morning, the monks were brilliant musicians
First we were taught some general rules, no yelling in the monastery, etc. Then, we were treated to dinner in the dining hall. It was great vegetarian food, and very satisfying after our journey.
One of the gates leading up to the temple
Next we had our first experience actually inside the temple. We sat and bowed with monks as they chanted the evening service. They had immaculate rhythm and it was very peaceful. Next, we had a tea time question and answer session with one monk and a translater, and then we were off to bed at 8 PM.
A statue to do a walking meditation around
Our second day was a quiet one. We woke up around 3 AM to attend a silent dawn service with the monks. After that was the 108 bows, which wasn't as hard as it seems. The bows are full bows, so you start sitting, stand up, touch your forehead to the floor and then stand again. You get into your own rhythm though, and your momentum helps as well. Phew! When we were finished we were served an even more delicious temple breakfast, then we completed some communal work. The communal work was cleaning the inside of our warm rooms since it was snowing outside in the early morning. After that we had a very friendly guide show us around the temple grounds for a tour. By 10 AM the program was finished and we returned our monk clothes.
Outside another walking meditation, you walk in between the rows of paper and think of just one hope or wish.
We were happy to change into out warmer everyday clothes but a bit sad that our stay at Haeinsa had ended. We had a lovely snack of fruit and honey with the monk though and really learned a lot about buddhism. I highly recommend it!
After graduating from Emerson College with a BA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing, Ariel Rosen looked back on the semester she spent traveling around Europe and decided she must explore Asia. Her teaching job with ChungDahm April in Busan allows her to experience South Korea firsthand and with the bright enthusiasm of all the children she teaches. She is overjoyed to share a class with them and finds herself learning more from them and the big beach city around her everyday.
Read Ariel’s blog here: http://arieldrosen.wordpress.com/