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Templestay Information Center - Learn About a Truly Enlightening Cultural Experience


Templestay Information Center
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.
  A Nirvana for Tea Lovers
Tea ceremony at Geumsansa Temple.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?
Making tea at Geumsansa Temple.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.
  Who Am I?
 Eating Buddhist-style at Mihwangsa Temple in Haenam.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.
  Getting There
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 Jogye-sa.

-The article courtesy of Seoul magazine
-Written 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
Date 08/24/2009

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