Buddhism is one of the dominant religions in South Korea. This is very evident in the number of Buddhist temple that the country has. Some of these temples offer a program called “Templestay” to let other people experience the life of Buddhist practitioners. These practitioners have helped preserve the 1700-year-old history of Korean Buddhism.
Templestay is a unique cultural experience program that is being offered to have an appreciation of Buddhism in Korea. It also seeks to reach the younger generation for them better understanding of the rich history and culture. As a non-Buddhist foreigner who was born in a Catholic country and grew up in a Christian household, I have had little knowledge about Buddhism. Most of my knowledge about it, I just learned during my history class in middle school.
When my university told us that we would experience a templestay at Guinsa Temple, I had a mixed feeling of emotions. It was my frist time and I didn’t know what to do or what to expect in there. From our school in Nonsan, it took us roughly 4 hours to arrive at Guinsa temple. It located in the heart of Sobaeksan National Park. It is the headquarters of the Cheontae Order of Korean Buddhism. They also preside over 140 temples across the nation. The temple has a 5-story main sanctuary and over 50 chambers that can accommodate up to 10,000 visitors. The visitors can experience templestay from day trips to two-day programs.
A short templestay includes chanting, meditation and tea ceremony rituals. During our two-day stay at Guinsa, we were welcomed by Buddhist monks, who did some orientation and showed us a brief history of Buddhism in Korea.
The monk taught us how to make DIY prayer beads at the Interactive Hall. At the end of the program, the prayer beads were given to us as a gift.
We also experienced doing meditations while climbing the stairs all the way up to the temple on top of the mountain. We had to walk through a lot of stairs that I even lost count of it so make sure that you bring water when you do this too. But your tiredness will surely be paid of once you get to the top and be marvelous at the sight of one Guinsa’s most beautiful buildings – the Daejosa-jeon or the Founders Hall.
Reminder that while doing the walking meditation, you should observe silence and avoid making any unnecessary noises in order no to disturb other people who are meditating too.
We also had the chance to experience the traditional meal similar to what the Buddhist monk eat at the temple. In general, temple food prohibits meat and they usually eat vegetables. In Guinsa temple, the vegetables that they are from their own harvest. During the formal dinner, there are certain steps on how to do it, which utensils to use and where to place them. Do not worry if you’re familiar with the steps because the provide a laminated cheat sheet that you can follow.
Ideally, you should finish everything that you put on your plates and leave no trace, even your soup. If you are planning to do this, make sure that you will only get what you can eat. After eating and washing the ballwoos, you will place all the utensils in its original state when you receive it and wrap it again in a piece of cloth.
The same rules apply when you are inside the sleeping quarters. The rooms for men and women are on separate floors. Some rooms have its own restrooms but there are also common restrooms. There are no beds but there are quilts for you to use in sleeping on ondol-heated floors in a Korean traditional way.
Here is a sample two-day program:
Templestay is best is for those who want to know about Buddhism through experiential activities regardless of religion because at the end of the day, it is about love and respect for each other despite our cultural anddifferences.
Tel: 043-420-7425,7397 / Fax : +82-43-420-7399
Guinsa Temple Address: 73, Guinsa-gil, Danyang-gun, Chungcheongbuk-do
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