Temple Stay in Korea: Everything You Need to Know
Are you thinking about doing a temple stay in Korea? With over 25 temples offering temple stay programs in English, the choice is all yours! This guide covers everything you need to know before your temple stay to make the most of your experience.
What is a Temple Stay?
Doing a temple stay in South Korea allows you to experience monastic life and the history and culture of Korean Buddhism at a traditional temple. It’s also a great opportunity for soul-searching and time away from our hectic daily lives to empty your minds, thoughts, and bodies.
Types of Temple Stay in Korea
Generally, there are three different types of temple stays in South Korea. Some temples offer all three types, while others might only offer one.
One-day Temple Stay
This program is great for people who would like to participate in a temple stay but cannot stay overnight or for travelers with limited time to experience the Buddhist culture of Korea. A one-day temple stay might include anything from a temple tour and meditation to conversations with a monk over traditional tea.
Experiential Temple Stay
The experiential temple stay program works differently depending on the temple, season, and number of participants. Visitors can experience various Buddhist cultural experiences, such as temple etiquette, monastic meals, 108 prostrations, making lotus lanterns, visiting cultural sites in and around the temple, and forest meditations or making wild green tea.
Recuperation Temple Stay
The recuperation program aims at relaxing your body and mind during your stay. Break out of your daily routines, breathe in the purity of the nature around you and recharge your batteries through meditation and Buddhist prayer ceremonies. Apart from the temple etiquette lessons, prayer sessions, and monastic meals, you can roam around the temple freely.
Typical Temple Stay Program
During your temple stay, you will be able to participate in a variety of different activities. The below list of activities are the most common at a temple stay in Korea.
Formal Monastic Meal (Barugongyang)
Sharing a formal monastic meal is very common during a temple stay. Participants eat together with the temple community three times a day. Temple food is strictly vegan and one should only grab as much food as one can eat – never wasting any of the dishes. At a temple, eating is a part of Buddhist practice and the people feel gratitude considering it is a tool on the path to enlightenment.
Thanks to the Netflix show “The Chef’s Table,” Baekyangsa Temple where Nun Jeongkwan resides has become the most famous temple for Korean temple food. At her cooking temple stay program, Jeongkwan gives a lecture on both recipes and philosophies of Korean temple food.
Seon is the Korean equivalent to the Japanese Zen mediation practice. Seon is all about turning your attention inwards and illuminating your true self. Many temple stay programs offer Seon meditation classes allowing participants to self-reflect and find inner peace during their stay. If you are looking for a temple stay with a focus on Seon meditation, the International Seon Center or the Lotus Lantern International Meditation Center would be an excellent choice.
108 Prostrations (108 Bae)
A prostration is a gesture used in Buddhist practice to show reverence to the Triple Gem: the Buddha, his teachings, and the spiritual community. The number 108 has a strong significance in Buddhism. There are 27 constellations in our galaxy and each has 4 directions, hence 27 x 4 = 108. Buddhist (as well as Hindu) prayer beads have 108 beads in total that are placed on a string after every individual prostration. The practice involved physically lowering our bodies and humbling our selfish egos before the universe in order to gain a deeper connection with the world. Performing 108 prostration bows is also an effective form of moving meditation.
Conversation with a Monk over Tea
This program involves having a cup of traditionally brewed tea with a local monk. Participants enjoy delicious tea, relaxing body and mind while calmly chatting with monks and exchanging thoughts and ideas.
Buddhist Ceremony (Yebul)
The Yebul ceremony takes place twice a day. The morning prayer starts just after 4 AM with the playing of the four Dharma instruments: the Dharma drum, Dharma bell, wooden fish, and cloud-shaped gong. Each of these instruments represents a group of living things on earth. Then, the monks flock to the main prayer hall of the temple and chant and pray together. The evening ceremony has a similar schedule and ends before bedtime at 9 PM.
Making Prayer Beads
Many temple stay programs in Korea offer prayer bead classes. These types of prayer beads are traditional prayer tools in Korean Buddhism. To make your own prayer beads, you thread 108 beads one by one onto a string thinking about your hopes and wishes for the future. The idea is to feel your soul coming together inside of your body as you count the prayer beads in your hand.
The Four Dharma Instruments (Samul)
As mentioned above, the four Dharma instruments have an important significance in Buddhism. The Dharma drum blesses all the animals the live on land, the Dharma bell prays for all the beings suffering in hell, the wooden fish blesses all the animals that live in the water, and the cloud-shaped gong is for all the birds in the sky. Two monks play the instruments in tandem in the morning and in the evening.
What to bring for your Temple Stay in Korea
Monks and nuns live very simple lives in the temples. Most temple stay accommodations are very well equipped with all the essentials you might need during your stay, but you should still bring some things for your temple stay.
Monasteries do not provide temple stay visitors with toiletries or towels. Be sure to bring these along with you, as well as a toothbrush and toothpaste.
Comfortable Outdoor Shoes or Hiking Boots
Most temples are located in or near mountains, so outdoor or hiking boots are a must to enjoy your temple stay and its natural surroundings to the fullest.
Warm jackets or thermal underwear
Mountain monasteries are much, much colder than you might expect – especially at night. Bring warm clothing to make your stay as comfortable as possible.
What You Shouldn’t Do in a Temple
As you might expect from a place of worship, there are certain things you can’t and shouldn’t do in a Buddhist temple in Korea.
Smoking and Drinking Alcohol
A Buddhist monastery is a place devoted to spiritual practice. This means visitors should refrain from smoking and drinking alcohol while doing their temple stay.
Clothing that is too short, too tight, too revealing, and open footwear
You will be provided with comfortable temple stay clothing for the duration of your stay. You should also wear socks at all times.
Singing loudly and shouting
The aim of a temple stay is to learn to listen to your inner voice. Please speak softly and be considerate of others around you.
Men and Women stay in separate rooms
While you can join a temple stay program with friends or a partner, only people of the same sex can stay in the same room.
Where to do a temple stay in Seoul
As of 2020, there are 26 officially recognized temple stay programs at temples all across Korea. All of these temples offer programs in English led by monks and staff who are also fluent in English.
There are seven temples in Seoul that offer temple stay programs: Bongeunsa, Geumsunsa, Hwagyesa, Jinkwansa, Jogyesa, Myogaksa, and the International Seon Center. All of these temples are easily accessible by bus or subway and surrounded by mountains.
If you are looking for somewhere special outside of Seoul, check out one of the nine temples listed as UNESCO world heritage sites: Beopjusa, Bulguksa, Magoksa, and Haeinsa. All of these temples also offer English temple stay programs for foreigners.
How to register for your temple stay in Korea
You can easily register for your temple stay online or visit the Templestay Information Center in Seoul.
- Visit the temple stay website: eng.templestay.come
- Choose a suitable temple and make a reservation by phone, email or website
- Confirm your reservation and pay the fee at the temple upon arrival
- Visit the Templestay Information Center near Anguk Station in Seoul
- Check out the temple stay brochure about available temples
- Choose the temple you want to visit and make a reservation at the information desk
- Confirm your reservation and pay the fee at the temple upon arrival
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