Attempting ‘Buddahood’ (Korean Temple Stay)

Since our arrival in Korea 8 months ago, we’ve heard so much buzz surrounding temple stay programs. It is a perfect opportunity for travelers to experience Buddhism, living amongst the temple’s monks for 2 long days and one short night. For me it was the chance to try to understand this fascinating religion that I know so little about. In the last 10 months I have visited dozens & dozens of temples spread all over South East Asia & Korea. I have been to temples in the middle of booming Bangkok, temples nestled up-high in Korea’s majestic mountains, and temples in Luang Prabang that give visitors a tingling mystical feeling with every step on the temple grounds.

View from Beomeosa overlooking Busan

Beomeosa Temple has been coined the “Urban Escape.” It’s located outside Busan’s bustling city streets, built just under the summit of Mt. Geumjeong. The temple and its many hermitages provide magnificent panoramas of the surrounding mountains mixed in with the pizzazz of Korea’s second leading city. Beomeosa Temple was built approximately 1,300 years ago! It was named after a legend claiming there is a golden well on Mt. Geumjeong that never dries up & a golden fish from Nirvana that played in the well.   
Our temple stay group, or family as our guides suggested, consisted of 18 people. Half were foreigners eager to learn and half were Koreans coming for a memorable weekend with their friends. The program began with an introductory speech from one of the grand master monks who also happened to be our teacher for the entire stay. The monk’s infectious grin never faded as he spoke to us about the teachings of Buddha and the Buddha that lies somewhere deep inside every single living thing, we just needed help finding and possessing it. First thing first, in order to practice Buddhism you must perfect the full bow. It is the ultimate way to let go of any ego and show utmost respect for Buddha. With my knees, elbows, and forehead all touching the prayer mat at the same time I felt like I was at the mercy of Buddha himself. 
Dinner time. Our first meal as a ‘monk’ lasted 2 HOURS. One hour learning how to eat and clean our bowls, and one hour for eating and cleaning. Rule #1, you must eat everything you place in your bowls and leave no waste. After eating in about 5 minutes flat, you pour a couple of tablespoons of clean water into your rice bowl, take your yellow radish and begin to scrub the bowl with your chopsticks. Sounds like a blast doesn’t it? Scrubbing a bowl clean with water and a radish? You pour the rice water into your soup bowl and scrub the soup bowl and repeat the process again for your side dish bowl. After all 3 bowls are “cleaned” with your radish, you DRINK the dirty water, and finish at all off by eating your sponge/radish. I felt like I was putting a straw at the bottom of the kitchen sink after washing dishes and sucking up all the dirty water and leftover bits! Koreans would just say, “ONE SHOT!” Thankfully, I learned my lesson at dinner and during breakfast I stayed away from all the foods with red pepper paste. It made the dirty water taste a little bit better. GROSS.  

Evening Ceremony begins with drumming on a sacred Ox Skin Drum

After dinner was evening ceremonies, it sounds so cheesy and so cliché and I kind of hate myself for typing it… but, I don’t know how I can begin to describe the evening ceremony as anything other than magical.  The calming ambiance of the 500-year-old temple with its faded and peeling paintings covering the walls and ceiling, the smell of burning incense, and the loud crisp chants of 20 monks all in perfect unison. It can’t be described as anything but magical.

Rhys and I @ Temple

Lights were out at 9:30pm with morning ceremonies starting promptly at 3:30am. For anyone that knows me… picture the words coming out of my mouth when our guides decided the best wake up call was flashing on the blinding fluorescent lights at 3:00am! Regardless of the time, there was awe in all of our faces at the sight & sound of the temple at such an hour. All that could be heard was the echoing sound of the monk’s wooden blocks as they signaled various bows and chants. After morning ceremony it was time for the bows. We did 108 FULL BOWS consecutively. My legs were shaking when we were finished. For every bow we strung a prayer bead on a piece of string, and now have our own hard-earned Buddhist prayer beads. The monk told us in training they must complete 3,000 bows!

I walked away from Beomeosa with a big smile on my face (and an aching my legs!) I didn’t feel like I had some profound spiritual experience, but I definitely have a new respect for the Buddhist religion. A religion that focuses on lowering yourself to those around you, a religion solely based on COMPASSION & not FEAR. For me, it is an experience I am grateful for, something I’ll remember forever & look back on and smile at… but something I’ll never do again. I guess, monks are just too hard for me! 


Mighty Buddha


5 Responses to “Attempting ‘Buddahood’ (Korean Temple Stay)”
  1. matt says:

    Cool picture of Buddha. Did you use photo editing software for that?

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] buddha temple’, & it lives up to its name. Smaller than nearby Beomeosa (where we did our templestay), Seokbulsa is often overlooked, but its unique nature should be  revered not rejected. Tucked […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: