Friday, 1 May 2015


Collage of activities from Gyeongju Temple
Many a times the hustle-bustle of a city life saps away all our energies and when fatigue sets in, it leaves us wanting for an outlet where we could rejuvenate our mind and revitalize our senses. At times all we need is a spiritual awakening where we could meditate to heal our troubled minds with stress levels hitting the roof top and depression getting the better of us.

And here's where the topic of this blog post begins...

In Part VIII of the Wow Korea Series, I shall introduce to all my readers the the concept of "Temple Stay Programs" in Korea which you can explore for your health, wellness and fitness as you heal in the peace and tranquility of Korea. While some of you may like to be a part of it as a way of discovering the Korean way of life through Korean Buddhism culture while others may like to experience this program as a once-in-lifetime opportunity on their visit to Korea and further chronicle this event in their diaries, blogs or journals.

In a simplified Q&A format,I shall take you through the Temple Stay Program so that you as a visitor are all clued up during your next visit to Korea.

Participants observing Yebul
What is a Temple Stay Program?
The program which began in the year 2002 is a unique opportunity for both Koreans and tourists to experience the lifestyle,rituals and spirituality of Korean Buddhism irrespective of religious beliefs. It is here you get a feel and an insight of their culture and religious beliefs when you get to stay at a traditional Buddhist temple and engage in daily monastic activities. 

What happens in a Temple Stay Program?
As the sounds of the temple bell resonate throughout the mountains,this stay is a refuge from all the noise and stress of city life as it renders a sense of peace and solace in the hearts of visitors as you go back in time and space when you devote time to your mind and body for meditation and healing. 

 Lotus Lantern craft
Generally a temple stay programs is an overnight stay at a Buddhist monastery where you can participate in Yebul (Ceremonial Service), Chamseon (Zen Meditation), Barugongyang (Monastic Meal), Dado (Tea Ceremony) with monks, outdoor meditation,lotus lantern and prayer bead crafts,folk games, hiking, painting etc.

a. Yebul means Ceremonial Service.It is held three times a day - morning, mid-day, evening and also features 108 prostrations.108 prostrations means 108 bows,it is a practice which is observed every morning where the body and inner consciousness become one. It is believed that there are 108 defilements in the mind and every bow takes away one defilement and clears up one compartment of the mind

Dado, a tea ceremony in progress
b. Chamseon means Seon (Zen) Meditation that is categorized into Jwaseon (seated meditation) and Haengseon (walking meditation).The art,science and theory of Zen meditation is the ability to keep a non-moving mind from movement to movement.

c. Barugongyang means Monastic Meal which is a ritual of eating in complete silence without any wastage of food.

d. Dado means Tea Ceremony which is one of the oldest customs of boiling and serving good tea.

108 prostrations
How many types of Temple Stay Programs are there and what are the charges?
In a nutshell, the Temple Stay Programs are broadly divided into three different categories namely - 

1. Relaxation-type: In this program,a tired body is replenished through Chamseon (Seon meditation) and a Buddhist ceremony. 

Barugongyang (Monastic Meals)

2. Buddhism experience-style: In this program,you get acquainted with the traditions and customs through -
a. Monastic meals
b.108 prostrations 
c. Lotus Lantern Craft
d. Relic visits

3. Practice-Focused: In this program, you have an opportunity to engage in daily activities at the monastery, participate in Buddhist rituals and have a chance to reflect on your inner-self through Chamseon (Seon meditation).

Other types of Temple Stay program are focused towards -
1. Traditional Culture Experience
2. Ecology Experience
3. Rural Village Exploration
Chamseon (Seon/Zen meditation)
Some temple stays have programs designed in niche areas like trekking, relieving stress, losing weight or even New Year celebration.There are a wide variety of programs for visitors and alike to choose from which are available nationwide all through the year. The cost of Temple Stay Program ranges between 20,000 Won (18.46 USD) and 100,000 Won (92.32 USD) depending on the number of nights of stay (generally between one to three nights stay). Most of the temples even provide uniforms to participants during their stay as a part of this program. It is one of the post popular programs among both locals and foreigners to this date. In fact between 2002 and 2011 alone more than 750,000 Koreans and 110,000 foreign nationals have participated in different temple stay programs from across the country. 

What is the protocol one must observe during a Temple Stay Program?
Observe good etiquette at the temple
Temples are not just a site of historic preservation but a space for personal meditation as well, thus one must generally keep quiet and be gentle with one another.

Thus the etiquette one must observe during your stay at the temple are:  

a. Refrain from shouting, speaking loudly, singing, playing music or running

b. Avoid alcohol, smoking, chewing gum, eating meat or fish. 

c. Eating and drinking in un-designated areas or while walking is not permitted.

d. Any physical contact between men and women must be abstained

e. Of course,it goes without saying that you must not steal

f. Photography inside Buddha Hall or other buildings are not allowed without taking due permission from temple authorities.
Participants doing the Hapjang
g. Hapjang i.e. putting palms together is a formal way of greeting in a temple. It is believed that this gesture brings the heart and mind together. It also represents lives of oneself and the others united by truth.

h. Chasu is the gesture of modesty and peace. It is observed by crossing hands i.e. by gently placing the left palm of the hand on top of the right and putting the hands just below the navel while sitting in the prayer hall in front of a monk. 

i. Before you enter a Buddhist prayer hall, you must take off your shoes.

j. You mustn't enter through the door of the prayer hall in the center rather take the doors on the sides. 

k. You mustn't walk in front of devotees in the prayer hall who are praying or in a state of Seon meditation

l. You mustn't replace the candles or incense sticks of others in the place they are put, instead one can place their offerings on the altar.

An excellent time for healing & meditation
What are the Temple Stay effects on undertaking this program?
Temple Stay is an excellent time for healing and meditation. The practice of 108 prostrations is known to relieve stress and anxiety,thus enhancing immunity, concentration and blood circulation. In fact going about executing the tasks of monastic activities in the serenity of natural surroundings leads to the recovery of both the body and the mind. It is here that you learn to experience nature with your five senses that you finally arrive at peace with yourself and others. Gradually you begin to heal yourself from all hatred, self-reproach, resentment and tension that are a cause of all illness. It is a perfect time to reflect on yourself when you forget dwelling on life's agony and forsake greed as this program gives you complete relaxation while at the same time replenishes your five senses. 

I do hope you found this post on the Temple Stay Program in Korea informative which you would include in your itinerary during your next visit to this fascinating country.

For those of you who missed out on the previous posts of the Wow Korea! series,click here for Wow Korea! Part-IWow Korea! Part-IIWow Korea! Part-IIIWow Korea! Part-IVWow Korea! Part-VWow Korea Part-VI and Wow Korea! Part-VII


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