At the Purcari Winery in the village of Purcari, Moldova. Photo taken December 7, 2016.
Where are Kevin and Ruth right now? Purcari Winery, Republic of Moldova.

Where are they going next? Transnistria. The country that doesn't exist! Arrive December 8th.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Our Beomeosa Templestay experience!

When we were discussing our current trip with Korea Tourism's Toronto office, they asked if we were interested in taking part in their Templestay program. We had heard about it, and thought that it would be an interesting experience to learn about Buddhism and experience a day in the life of a Buddhist monk.

They have quite a few different programs available, but when we read about one that has a "trekking" option, we had the pen in hand, ready to sign up!

Templestay usually costs between 50,000 and 100,000 won ($55 to $110) depending on the options of the particular program available at each temple. Also, there are large temples, and small temples and so you have to make some choice as to what type of experience you're looking for. There are also specialty options that may be more or less expensive as well.

We had been doing a lot of reading of the many different choices, so when we saw that there was a hiking option at Beomeosa Temple near the city of Busan, that became our number one choice. We were signed up for Saturday, October 18 so we have only completed our stay there this morning. I figured we had better write this up while all of the info is still fresh in our minds!

We had received an email the other day, asking us to arrive at the Beomeosa Templestay house by 1:30pm on Saturday. We didn't want to risk being late because we were going directly from Yeosu, about a 4 hour travel distance. It turned out that the Busan bus station that we arrived at is very close to Beomeosa subway station, so we only needed to take the line #1 subway one stop to arrive at the Beomeosa station, that was a lucky thing that turned out in our favor. We then had to take the #90 bus from just down the road in order to get to the temple entrance.

At the entrance, we saw the listing of Temple "etiquette" and started thinking that this was going to be a pretty formal affair! (You can click on the photos to make them full size!)

Temple property rules.

We had to walk about 10 minutes (uphill, every step of the way) with our bags. We ended up putting them in backpack mode because dragging them on their wheels wasn't going to do it! Made it to the Templestay house a little early, where Pamela introduced herself as our translator.

The Templestay program is available to anyone, however the ceremonies and instruction are all done in Korean. They do have fluent translators available for English speaking visitors.

Pamela gave us our uniforms, and I was shown to the "men's" change room, while of course Ruth was off to the "ladies".

Ruth, in her "monk in training" outfit!

We were asked if we had any valuables to hand in, and they look after them for you because there are no lockable facilities otherwise. We were then told that we were free to wander the grounds, but to be sure and return by 1:55pm.

We hadn't really had lunch, so we sat and had a snack in the shade.

We also read a long list of the rules. They are a pretty strict set of rules, however for beginners they aren't actively enforced. (Huge sigh of relief!). Here's a few examples from the list...

  • Whenever entering or passing the main Buddha hall, face the direction of the Buddha statue, place your palms in front of your chest and perform a half bow.
  • Refrain from idle talk in any building where the Buddha is enshrined
  • Participation in temple meals is mandatory. Comments about the taste or quality are highly discouraged.
  • Abstain from running around, or rough or crude behavior. Try to refrain from individualistic activities.
There are 24 items on the list. Like most lists of rules that we come across, most of them are simply common sense. But there are certainly a few that are special to this place of serenity.

The place is starting to fill up.

When we were all there and organized, two monks came in to do opening ceremonies. One was obviously the headmaster and said that he had been there for 20 years. The other was also in training, and said that he was fortunate that he had been assigned to the headmaster for training.


Then we all sat in a circle and introduced ourselves. It was kind of comical getting him to understand exactly where Saskatchewan is! They spent quite a bit of time talking to us because he said that it's rare for a husband and wife to show up together. Usually, it's the man alone and he's even had men say that they came to get some time away from their wives!

Everyone got a laugh out of that. It turns out that monks have a sense of humor!

There were 15 people enrolled in our group. Five of us were English speaking, and the rest were Koreans.

After introductions, we were given a tour of the grounds. They had a photography exhibition going on which showed off some of the works that had been done by the monks. Monks have hobbies too!

The young monk who was assigned to our group.

The bell tower building that also houses the drum is about 400 years old. How did they build this stuff way back then??

Almost dusk at the temple.

At 5:30pm, we were called in for dinner. Now, meals are a pretty basic event at a Buddhist temple. Buddhist monks are vegetarian, but Buddhist practitioners are under no obligation to be the same. However, we are studying at a temple where the monks live, so all meals are vegetarian. 

The dining room. You have to sit cross legged at the floor level. 

It's a self serve affair.

Then you do the meal chant.

For some reason, the meal chant sounds a lot better in Korean! After we said the chant, we could sit down and eat. We were told that you have to eat in silence, and that you must eat everything on your plate. Every single grain of rice. There is no wasted food here! However, you are allowed to go back for seconds. So it's wise to take just a little of everything in case there's something you don't like. Then, go back for seconds, loading up on the things you like!

I'm sure you're looking for description of the food, however some things were not recognizeable to us. The rice was simply plain white rice. And there was a cucumber salad that I really liked. Oh, and of course kimchi. Sorry, can't be more descriptive! You won't starve, but for westerners it's certainly a different meal.

After dinner, we strolled around for a bit and saw some of the grounds with the lights on. 

These statues are made of paper!

Very cool!

Next up was probably my favorite part. The monks take turns playing the huge drum and bells in the bell tower. Really neat!

Is it ever loud. I'm sure you could hear it in the valley down below!

Then it was chanting time. We went to the main Buddha temple where we joined about a dozen full fledged monks for their chanting service. Oh! I forgot to tell you...we had already learned how to "bow", both the half bow, and the full bow when you go right to the floor on your mat. It's a pretty detailed procedure that certainly takes some practice!

Which we were about to get!

No photos of the chanting ceremony, but it was quite something. We weren't very good at the bowing though!

After that, we were led back to the Templestay house where we had a bit of a chore ahead of us!

Time for the prayer bead ceremony.

Not as simple as it looks. You don't simply string 108 beads into a necklace. You have to do 108 full bows...one every time you string a bead! And the monk makes a noise with a wooden clapper thing timing you so that you do it fairly quickly! Pretty hard on the legs, knees, and hips (and back!) but again, they don't force anything on you. You can go at your own pace. 

Hmm. It's only 108 beads!

Kevin. Never was very good at arts and crafts!

Ruth's finished product.

And Kevin's. Not bad, even if I do say so myself!

Then it was pretty much bedtime. Men and women are separated into separate rooms and you're given a mattress and pillow. I have to admit, I wasn't that comfortable, but of course a room full of men also has to include at least one snorer. Sure enough, I didn't get much sleep.

But also, we are woken up at 3:00am asking if we wanted to go to morning chanting service. Nope. Not me. Although a few of the guys did go.

As it was, we were getting up at 5:00am because we were going to be doing an early morning hike to the top of the mountain! Good thing we went to bed around 9:30pm!

Before we knew it, the sun was rising.

Breakfast was a similar affair to dinner the night before. But before breakfast, we had to do meditation. Only for ten minutes, but the monks can meditate for up to 12 or 14 hours per day. But they meditate for ten or 15 minutes, then take a break and then back to meditation again. Sitting cross legged definitely requires some getting used to. But, same as anything, if you do it gradually, you would get used to it.

Then we were off up the mountain.

This is an old fortress wall dating back to 1600 or so. And that's the mountain we're headed up! By the way we are already half way up the mountain from the temple at this point.

Ruth, in her "monk in training" hiking gear!

Soon, we could see the high rises of Busan.

My favorite photo of our monk, standing at the top.

And there's us!

And then we hiked back down.

It was a neat experience. Not without it's hardships of course, but I think that's part of the deal. I know that I haven't quite figured out the whole thing, and maybe I never will. But at least it has given me some insight to something that has always been a little bit of a mystery to us.

For more information on the Templestay program, and Korea in general, please visit the Korea Tourism Organization’s website at www.visitkorea.or.kr

Huge Buddha statue at Beomeosa Temple near Busan, South Korea. 




54 comments:

  1. Your header photo is once in a lifetime photo! Gorgeous.
    What a beautiful experience. The photos are so lovely and revealing. An experience you will never forget.

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    1. Thank you Paul and Marsha, I think this is going to be one of our all time favourites!

      Yes, it is definitely an experience we will never forget and I don't think my legs will either. ;-)

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  2. What an experience, and educational for me! Thank you so much for sharing! I am enjoying your trip too!

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    1. It was also very educational for us. This experience certainly gave us a better understanding of the teachings of Buddhism and what life can be like for a Buddhist priest.

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  3. what a very cool cultural opportunity...

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    1. That is one of the reasons that we decided to do this Templestay. We love to experience the culture of each and every country we visit and what better way than to spend time at a Buddhist temple.

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  4. Wait, you didn't complain noisily about all the gluten in the food, all the while ringing the temple bell? Who are you, and what have you done with the real Kevin and Ruth?

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    1. Nope, we didn't! ;-) Actually we were able to eat most of the food as it looked like it was gluten free, we stayed away from the noodles and the soup which looked like it made have had a barley base to it. And we every single bit of our food, not missing one grain of rice.

      Kevin really had to hold himself back on banging on that huge drum though!

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  5. I'm afraid I'm not up to all the kneeling and sitting cross-legged for long periods of time, but I certainly enjoyed tagging along. Thank you for sharing such a fascinating adventure!

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    1. There wasn't much kneeing, except for when you had to do the full bows but I have to admit the sitting cross-legged really did me in. They understand this and said it was alright to move your legs into other positions to stay comfortable, and I did this frequently, I am afraid to say.

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  6. If I sat cross legged on the floor, that's where I'd stay. I enjoyed the vist, from my computer screen.

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    1. I can guarantee you Bob that you wouldn't be staying cross-legged. You may not be able to get up from the floor once you are down but you wouldn't be staying cross-legged! ;-)

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  7. Sure glad it was you guys sitting on the floor and doing all that bowing. I loved sharing your experience with you but it's definitely not anything I would ever be able to do.

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    1. Yes, the sitting on the floor and the 108 bows were the most difficult parts but it was certainly a great experience and it gave us a better cultural understanding of Buddhism life.

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  8. So cool! What an amazing experience!!!

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    1. It's certainly an experience we will never forget, after all it isn't everyday that you get to spend the night at a Buddhist temple.

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  9. You guys are just having too much fun there.

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    1. I wish we had more time here though, there is still way too much that we want to see but we just won't have the time for it all.

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  10. Thank goodness they didn't make you shave your heads as part of the experience! :c)

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    1. Kevin would have been fine but somehow I don't think it would look so good on me even though I am in need of a haircut!

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    1. Thank you Chuck and Anneke! And, yes a very unique one for sure.

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  12. As an avid reader of your blog, this looks like the highlight of the trip. Way too cool. Now I am interested in Korea.

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    1. It is definitely up there for cultural experiences Chris, but the wedding is also one that we won't forget.

      South Korea is a beautiful country and is packed with really cool things to see and do and our four weeks here is not nearly enough time to see and do all the thing that we want to do. We have only scratched the surface. We can't understand why more people don't come and visit South Korea.

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  13. Fascinating experience ... thanks for sharing it in such detail.

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    1. Thank you Erin, we like to let people know what to expect or perhaps even to entice them to choose this type of cultural experience on their next visit to South Korea.

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  14. Very interesting! I would probably be crippled after that much cross legged sitting.
    If you get a chance to read a book called "How to see yourself as you really are" by the Dalai Lama it would all make sense to you.
    It's about the Buddhist goal of achieving enlightenment by removing the individualistic mind set of "I" and "me". Very challenging to our western way of thinking!

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    1. Luckily they aren't totally strict on the cross-legged sitting on us "trainees" because as much as I tried I couldn't stay that way for too long before I had to reposition my legs.

      I think we will have to look for that book. What you have said is exactly what they are trying to teach. And yes, I think it would take a while to change people's way of thinking.

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  15. Congratulations on finding this place and participating.

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  16. What a fascinating experience. The grounds and buildings look beautiful. I'm not sure my body could handle the kneeling and bowing, but it would be an amazing thing to experience.

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    1. The temple is beautiful and huge, unfortunately they had a lot of construction and restoration work going on so it wasn't as pretty as it could have been but this work must be done in order to preserve the temple buildings. It was interesting watching about six men hand painting all intricate designs on the building they were working on.

      The sitting cross-legged and the 108 bows pretty much did us in but it was a great experience all the same.

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  17. So much of travel is about "seeing" new places but it looks to me like you've taken it a step further and actually "lived" the cultural experience. And what an amazing insight and appreciation you've been able to gain of this society. Thanks for sharing and your photos are great!

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    1. When we travel we love to try and get as much exposure as we can with the locals and how they live their lives. To us it is almost more important than just seeing the country, it's the culture that makes the country stand out.

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  18. What a unique experience. Love the monk photo and the colored lanterns/lights.

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    1. Thank you Betsy! The photo of the monk standing at the top of the mountain is now one of our most favourite photos.

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  19. I love the sound of the hiking, the eating everything whether you like it or not - not so much. A stay at the Beomeosa Temple would definitely be an experience.My husband would never be able to sit on the floor in any kind of comfortable position so not sure he'd be game.

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    1. The hiking was gorgeous!

      Eating the food was fine because it was buffet style so you take only what you think you like and how much you think you can eat. We really had no problem with the food other than the fact some of it was not gluten free so we just didn't take those items.

      Sitting on the floor probably the hardest part, that and the 108 bows.

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  20. No idea if my first comment went through or not. I haven't done a temple stay in a long time, and they are fantastic experiences. The 108 bows can be grueling, and I must admit I have never it all the way! Nice to hear that you are enjoying your stay in Korea. I've lived here for almost 15 years. I in Daejeon, between Seoul and Daegu. Enjoy the rest of your stay!

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    1. No the first comment didn't go through, I find that happens to me the odd time with Blogger.

      We didn't manage doing the 108 bows either, I think we missed about a dozen of them or so but we certainly gave it our best effort. Luckily they aren't super strict on that and told us to do only as many as we felt we could physically and comfortably manage.

      You have a beautiful country to live in. We actually will be in your neck of the woods this coming weekend. We will be in Gimcheon, so not really too far away.

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  21. Your templestay was fascinating. I enjoyed going along with you and, personally, would have enjoyed making the bead necklace. Did you get to keep them?

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    1. Thank you Carole, is was a very interesting experience to say the least.

      Making the necklace was actually hard work, at least stringing the beads was. You do a full bow, then string a bead, then do a full bow, then string a bead until you have completed 108 bows. All of this is done while being timed by the monk with a wooden clapper thing. It was very tiring and quite physical but at the same time rewarding as you saw the beads going on. Yes we did keep the necklaces.

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  22. What a fascinating account of a special experience! Loved reading about it and seeing the great photos that took the reader there with you.

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    1. Thank you Irene! That is exactly what we were trying to convey with this blog post.

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  23. I read this post yesterday on my phone and knew I could not comment until I saw these pictures full size on my laptop. All I can say is WOW! What a fabulous experience. Your header picture is just beyond words. I would love to have done this. You both look great in the attire. You are definitely having once in a life time experiences. SO glad you did this so I could see it and dream about doing it myself.

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    1. Thanks Sherry, yes, it is definitely best to see the photos in full size. We loved that header picture too, it is now one of our most favourite photos over the seven years of our travels.

      It certainly is a lifetime experience and one we won't forget.

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  24. A few years ago, I had a mini-meditation experience at a Zen Buddhist monastery in Japan. It was only for 15 minutes, but after only a few minutes my hips were killing me which made it kind of difficult to concentrate on anything else. What type of monastery was the one you visited? Earlier this year we traveled in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia where they are Theraveda Buddhists. Supposedly, Theraveda Buddhists don't exactly believe in a supreme being, but as you experienced, Buddhists are all about the rules, so there clearly is an intense organized religion aspect. Nice photos. Speaking of photos, I thought of you when we encountered an ostrich in Australia two days ago. :)

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    1. Yes, the sitting was certainly hard on the hips, legs and our butts but generally we weren't sitting like that for too long at a time.

      Korean Buddhism consists mostly of Seon lineage, which is similar to India and Chinese Buddhism but closely relates to Zen.

      Too funny that you thought about us when seeing the ostrich! We certainly had some fun with our encounters with them.

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  25. This whole experience looks fabulous. I love the statues and the temple. The price is not bad either. Thank you for sharing!

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    1. The temple grounds were amazing, they would have even been more beautiful if it weren't for all of the construction going on but it has to been done in order to keep the buildings in good condition.

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