|Many travelers are looking for more than the average trip in their vacation
these days. It isn’t enough to just go to a place and see the sights—the visitor
to a new country wants a different insight, a true immersion into a different
culture and maybe even a glimpse of things from a different point of view.
Temple stays are becoming part of the Korean tourist experience, so much so that
the number of temples in Korea offering such programs has increased to almost one
hundred. Choosing the right temple to experience Buddhism in can be a little
daunting, so to help with this, the Templestay Information Center has opened across
from Jogye-sa Temple, one of Seoul’s most important centers of Buddhism.
|The Templestay Information Center was designed by leading Korean architect
Seung H-sang, who says he "placed emphasis on embodying modern yet traditional
concepts of space." Its dark grey facade is discreet and elegant. The center features a
café offering a selection of teas and reasonably priced coffees, as well as vegetarian
sandwiches. The thirteen flavors of temple-made tea—including lotus leaf,
buckwheat, Siberian chrysanthemum and mulberry leaf—are named after the
temples where they are made. The café is a nice place to spend an afternoon while
looking over the various temple stay pamphlets displayed in the information center,
and it offers a great view of the comings and goings in front of Jogye-sa temple.
The information center itself is filled with useful material, while offering the public
use of two computers to check for replies to all those emails you sent to your friends
about the various temples you have found. The center also offers many souvenirs,
such as key chains and teddy bears dressed as monks, to help you personalize your
stay at one of the temples.
On the second floor is a shop selling traditional tea and temple clothing. Here you
can purchase packets filled with the various temple teas that are drunk by the monks.
Also, you can find the various tea pots and paraphernalia associated with the tea
ceremonies at the temples. Looking around, you will also see various temple-inspired
clothes for sale.
The third floor is occupied by seminar rooms, while the fifth floor is home to a very
popular temple food restaurant called Baru. This restaurant requires booking in
advance, so be sure to call ahead. This very small restaurant offers temple vegetarian
fare, with a menu of 10 to 12 items.
||What Happens on a Temple Stay?
|A typical day at a temple stay involves arriving in the early afternoon. Rooms and
uniforms are allocated before an opening ceremony and orientation. Then, by midafternoon,
visitors normally have a tour of the temple and a rest before dinner. In the
early evening, the first of the Buddhist services starts. Afterwards, tea is served and
participants converse with the monks and nuns who inhabit the temple. Bedtime is
usually around 9pm.
You are woken at 3:30am to take part in the pre-dawn Buddhist ceremony. Then, at
4am, you have sitting and walking seon (zen) meditation. Breakfast is eaten at 6am,
followed by community work at 7am. At 8am, after marveling at how much you have
accomplished by 8am on a Sunday morning, you take a hermitage tour. At 11am, you
have a closing ceremony and lunch. You say goodbye to your temple stay experience
at around 1pm.
|Korean Buddhism has existed for 1,700 years and is as full a cultural heritage as
any aspect of Korean life. It differs from other forms of Buddhism by its method of
seon meditation. In seon meditation, monks ask themselves, “Who am I?” When they
have a sufficient answer, they ask their instructor for the next question. Another
aspect of seon meditation, like other forms, is mindlessness, which is attained
through the repetition of a particular activity such as bowing, chanting or copying
sutras (traditional Buddhist texts).
Food is a big part of the experience at the temple. All of the meals served at temple
stays are vegetarian, and all of the food must be consumed so that nothing is wasted—
even the water used to clean the dishes is taken into the body.
||People of All Faiths (or None) Welcome
|Some of the different kinds of temple stays include temples specializing in certain
aspects of temple life, such as tea ceremonies, martial arts or mountain hiking. Some
temples focus on teenagers, giving them a structured and enlightened life. Others
have English camps for elementary and middle school students, as well as camps for
learning Chinese characters.
On these temple stays visitors have a more spiritual than religious experience. No
one is asked to give up a belief or faith to go on a temple stay. The temples welcome
people from all walks of life.
Temple life programs are also available at Jogyesa and Bongeunsa in Gangnam.
These are mini temple stays that allow people to experience a tea ceremony and seon
meditation. They are offered on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month at
Jogyesa and from 2—4pm at Bongeun-sa.
Come out of Anguk Station,
Line 3, Exit 6, and walk past
the Insa-dong entrance to the
next street, where you turn
left. You should see many
temple stores on the other
side of the street. Walk down
this street for about 100
meters and you will come to
the Templestay Information
Center, across the street from
-The article courtesy of Seoul magazine
by Derek Winchester
-Photographs courtesy of the Templestay Information Center
| ※ You can make a reservation for
a temple stay by visiting the "Reservations"
section of this website, or through