Remember back in May, when I first arrived in Korea, I was really amazed by the Latern festival to celebrate Buddha’s Birthday. I didn’t know that Buddhism was that common here. Well, the information online said that Buddism already came to the Korean peninsula (at that time in Goguryeo-Kingdom) from China in the 4th Century AD. It spread out through other Kingdoms and shaped it own form. Today, about 15% Korean still believe and practice Buddha’s teaching. That’s why you can still find and visit a lot of Buddhistish temples, statues, arts and events in Korea.
While visiting the Jogyesa in Seoul, I ran into a sign advertising for “Templestay” program. Because of my curiosity about the Korean Buddism, I’ve booked a two-night-three-day stay at the Naksan-Temple, to be able to experience more and also relax.
What is Templestay Programm?
Originally, Templestay was only a interim solution for the accommodation shortage during the Soccer World Cup in 2002. However, even after the World Cup, a lot of visitors were still interested in Templestay, the program continued and remains until today. Anyone, independt on nationality, religion, gender, who is interested in Korean culture, tradition and Buddhism, can experience himself the life in one of more than 40 temples around Korea. There are different options for you to choose: 1-day, 2-day or free style.
More information can be found on the Homepage von Templestay (available in En and Kr).
Briefly about Naksan-Tempel
As mentioned above, I’ve spent two nights and three days in the Naksan-Temple – 낙산사 (Naksansa) compound. The temple is located on the east coast, between Sokcho and Yangyang, in Gangwon-do. Checking on Naver Map, I could only see a small green area, but when I was there, it really blew my mind. It’s a huge wonderful temple with fascinating view to the East sea, even when it rained.
The Naksan-Temple was founded in 671 AD by Grand Master Uisang to pay homage to Bodhisattva Avolokitesvara – 관음보살 (Gwaneumbosal) and named after the Botanakga Mountain. It was believed to be the place where Gwaneumbosal earlier lived and taught Dharma. The beginning of the Gwaneum belief in Korea was marked with the foundation of Naksansa. Now a day, it is considered as one of the most important Gwaneum temples.
Starting with only one small temple – the Hongnyeoam Hermitage, this temple compound was continuously expanded, renewed and rebuilt. Lately, it was heavily destroyed by a fire in 2005 and again renewed until 2008. However, when you visit Naksansa today, you can still feel its unique spirits from more than a thousand years ago.
By the way, maybe you already notices, 산 (san) in Korean means bedeutet „Mountain“ and 사 (sa) is a „Tempel“.
In case you would like to visit Naksansa, here is the adress: 100 Naksansa-ro, Ganghyeon-myeon, Yangyang-gun, Gangwon-do.
There will be soon another post only about the Naksan Temple. Let’s continue here with the Templestay.
My Templestay in Naksansa
Reservation and check-in
To find out which temple and which program suites me best, I browsed on the Homepage of Templestay and could make a reservation quickly. The confirmation, as well as useful information for my trip came also after a short while.
On a Tuesday, I reached Naksansa from Seoul after a 3h-drive. The way was full with beautiful autumn mountain sceneries… The guard at the main entrance immediately could tell that I’m here for a Templestay because of my backpack and sent me to the Templestay office.
Ms. Lee from the Templestay Office gave me a very warm welcome on my arrival. She showed me the living quarters and handed over an uniform, which I should wear during the whole stay.
Living in Hanok
The quiet Templestay living quarters are located in the West, close to a green forest. All sleeping rooms, bathrooms and restrooms are separated in gender. But there are common areas, such as a common gathering room or on the yard that everyone can use. The whole quarters were built in Hanok style. Doors and windows are made from wood and Hanji, the traditional korean paper.
The sleeping room is about 12 m2, very simple and clean and should be shared with other participants. In this room, you can sleep, study, relax, read, write, etc. on the floor.
Despite the cool rainy autumn weather outside, it was warm and comfortable in the room, because the floor heating was on.
A tour around Naksansa
After putting on the uniform and gathering my mobile phone, I met Ms. Lee again in another Hanok building. There she introduced me with other participants, shared with us the program’s information, rules and schedule, as well as taught us the temple etiquette. Of course, we also learned how to make a full bow for our further activities in the temple.
Since mobile phone was prohibited during the stay, I also had to hand over it to Ms. Lee. But a camera was allowed.
Afterwards, Ms. Lee led us through the Naksansa’s compound, told us about the history of the temples, buildings, as well as about Gwaneumbosal and his teaching. “The power of the Gwaneumbosal vow is believed to work in a mysterious way, connecting people together. She uses her mighty power to help sentient beings”.
Having temple food
After more than one hour walk around Naksansa, we reached the dinning hall at 5:30 pm, on time for dinner. Monks, temple staffs and visitors can have food here together.
There was a buffet with rice, hot soup and different vegetarian dishes.
Having food is also to achieve enlightenment in the temple. You should eat each spoon slowly, with respect to all, who have brought you this food.
After finishing the meal, you need to wash and clean everything you’ve used.
Chanting ceremony – Yebul
Shortly after our dinner, at around 6pm, I heard the sound of the bell from 범종각 (Beomjonggak). In total, the bell was chimed 33 times in the evening to call everyone coming to the 예불 (Yebul) in all Buddha’s halls.
Yebul is one of the most important ceremonies of temple’s daily routine. It is to pay homage to Buddha and Bodhisattva, as well as to practice their teaching. In Naksansa, this chanting ceremony is held three times a day at 4:00 am, 10:00 am and 6:25 pm.
During Yebul, everyone can join the chanting led by a Buddhistish monk, repeating Dharma, making full bows, meditate, etc. to achieve enlightenment.
Take time for myself
I decided to have a temple stay not only to learn more about the Korean Buddhism, but also to have time for myself. By listening to Dharma, having a quiet time to walk around the temple compound, listening to the nature, watching people come and go, or just enjoying the silence around me, I felt really relaxing. No mobile phone, no stress, no hustle disturbed my thoughts and dreams.
Before departure, I sent myself a postcard from Naksansa. This card should reach me after 6 months to recall this wonderful dreaming time at the Naksan-Temple. It also should also remind me to keep on dreaming, reflexing my life and try harder to make my dreams come true.
It’s now time to return to the daily life. After put the sleeping room back in order, I returned the uniform to Ms. Lee and said goodbye.
I am really thankful to be able to spend my time there, to learn a little more about Buddhism, to relax and think about my life. Hope I will be back someday…
Some tips for your 1. Templestay
- By heart, I recommend you to experience a Templestay in Korea, if you’re truly interested in Korean tradition, culture and Buddhism. If you only have short time, try the 1-day program. The 2-day 1-night program often features an additional event, such as making Lotus lantern for Buddha’s Birthday, Caligraphy, Meditation, etc., which is also worthy to join. When you really want to be relaxed and have time to dream, choose the free style option, take your time and stay longer.
- Prior to your Templestay, you can find a lot of help information, as well as great support from the Templestay-Office.
- Don’t forget to take a camera with you, since you have to hand over your mobile phone during the stay. Something to read and write for a longer stay would be helpful, too.
- In the upcoming November, 2018, where the fall leaves will color Korea mountains into red, there is a special offer for foreigners. During this month, you will have to pay less for your visit at any of the available temples around Korea. More information can be found on the Templestay’s Website.
I wish you will achieve the enlightenment…
In case you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me 😊.