Thursday, November 19, 2015

Beopjusa Temple Stay

The famous Buddha statue in Beopjusa; over 100ft. tall
and made from pure gold. (notice our temple uniforms)
Even though I was raised Catholic, I wouldn't call myself a religious person, but that doesn't mean that I haven't given religion any thought.  In college, I actually took a world religions course and I enjoyed learning about the different beliefs and teachings of the world's more popular religions. Buddhism really intrigued me because it didn't seem like your typical religion, but more about a way of life.  Buddhism focuses on bettering oneself and striving for happiness by casting away negative thoughts (anger, jealousy, ignorance) and transforming that energy into compassion, peace and wisdom.  Buddhism plays a significant role in Korean history; with about 50% of Korea's current population identifying as religious, and among those, 23% calling themselves Buddhist, with Christianity being a close second.  Since being introduced from China around the year 372, Buddhism has been a major factor in shaping modern Korean culture.  

I was able to learn a little more about Korean Buddhism and its rituals during a temple stay I recently partook in.  I've been wanting to do a temple stay for quite some time, and the opportunity finally presented itself a few weeks ago.  My two friends, Lauren and Casey, and I traveled about 5 hours to Beopjusa temple, located on Songrisan mountain in Songrisan National Park.  Beopjusa, which means "a temple where Buddha's teaching resides" is one of the most famous temples in Korea because of its beautiful mountain landscape and its history, dating back to 553CE.  The purpose of Beopjusa's temple stay is to offer a relaxing and spiritual experience as well as insight into the traditional lifestyle practiced by Buddhist monks.

The main temple on Beopjusa
The temple stay is a weekend affair consisting of a schedule of activities to help you to better understand Buddhist culture.  Upon arrival, we were given a uniform (a vest and pants) to wear for the duration of our stay and we sat through a 45-minute orientation in which we learned about Buddhist principles and its influence on Korea.  We were given time to tour the area, which also happens to be a national park, and see the multiple statues and temples that can be found in Beopjusa.

Beopjusa park
The building we slept in (outside view)
Day 1 concluded with dinner, which was completely vegetarian because Buddhist monks practice a meat-free diet.  We were served kimchi stew, rice, and various vegetable-based side dishes. Although we were able to eat as much as we wanted, wasting is highly frowned upon, so while going for 2nd's or 3rd's is perfectly ok, you just better make sure to finish all the food you take.  There was a trashcan to throw food waste into if absolutely necessary, but it was accompanied by a sign that basically made you feel super guilty if you were to put anything into it; subsequently, it was empty.  While we were eating, we all noticed some weird looking tofu in our kimchi stew, and after questioning it, we were told that it was ham.  Casey (who is a vegetarian) was less than thrilled to find out he had eaten meat after believing that all food was supposed to be vegetarian friendly.  After this incident, both Casey and Lauren put their share of the suspicious-looking ham into my bowl because wasting wasn't an option and I'm not too picky about weird food.  The next day we eventually found out that the so-called ham was actually vegetarian ham made from beans; my vegetarian friend was relieved.  We were also required to wash our own dishes and clean up after                                                                                                              ourselves when we were done.

The inside view of our room.  We were given basic mats and bedding
to sleep on.
After dinner, we headed to bed to relax. The temple stay suggests a 9pm lights-out rule because there's an early morning (or late night...whichever way you look at it) itinerary to follow.  We had a 2:50am wake-up call so we could watch the outdoor Buddhist ceremonial drumming and bell ceremony (aka Yebool) at 3:15.  Yebool lasts around 30min and is performed by monks three times a day and each instrument that is used represents an aspect of Buddhist culture.  Afterwards, we went to the main temple and practiced meditating while the monks recited their morning chant.

Yebool, a traditional Buddhist drumming and bell ceremony
Once this was finished, we went to our own private room where we were taught how to do Buddhist prostrations, or full-body bows.  Prostrations are performed to purify the body, release bad karma and repent for any wrong doing.  Prostrations are done by bringing your hands together, then lowering your knees to the floor, followed by your elbows, the palms of your hands and finally your forehead. Once all 5 points (feet, knees, elbows, hands and head) of the body have touched the ground, you can then lift yourself back up to the standing position, and repeat again for a total of 108 times.  Yes, 108 times!!  We completed our prostrations in about 15 minutes, and remember this was at around 5am in the morning!  I actually kind of enjoyed the bows because we watched an informational video that explained the meaning of each one while simultaneously doing them; yes, they all have a special meaning!
Prostration demonstration; I completed 108 of these.

Tea ceremony with a Buddhist nun
After our bows were completed, we were able to go back to sleep.  We ended up skipping breakfast because we were so tired and not thrilled at our food selection, and sleep seemed like the best option. At 9am, we attended a private traditional tea and meditation ceremony with a Buddhist nun.  She informed us of the benefits of meditation and we were instructed in the art of meditating for about 20 minutes.  Then she proceeded with the tea ceremony, which was us basically just drinking traditional Korean tea and having conversation about Buddhist practices.  The tea ceremony concluded our temple stay.  I don't know if I necessarily felt refreshed afterwards (who can when getting up at 3am), but I did leave the temple with an increased interest in Buddhism and meditation and an appreciation for the monk lifestyle which is dedicated to living peacefully without the qualms of modern life.  If I have taken anything away from this experience, it has been to stop and slow down once in a while, and simply enjoy life.

Buddha carved into the stone.

No comments:

Post a Comment