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!
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.