Temple Stays in Korea

For those living and working abroad in Korea, one way to really get to know the roots of the culture better is to go on a temple stay. These weekend visits are offered regularly in Korea and are organized by local hiking and culture groups. Even though these trips are so common and such a good way to experience a part of the culture, I still hear frequent enough misgivings from those who are perhaps a little intimidated by actually undergoing the experience. Below I have compiled a list of common things to expect from a temple stay and a few tips to help you get the most from the experience.

* Arriving at the temple, you are likely to be taken on a tour of the grounds, stopping to learn the history and purpose of each building the greater temple houses.

* Most temples offer fun activities for temple stay guests. You can expect to do things like make lotus lanterns, a beaded bracelet or necklace, or candle making. A temple stay that I went on even had blindfolded stepping stone partnering in the river surrounding the temple.

* All temple stay guests are issued a set of standard temple garments – usually loose fitting pants and a jacket. Do be mindful of the weather and plan for possible chilly evenings in the mountains where many temples are located. Bring extra layers from autumn through spring.

* All meals will be served in the traditional style of the temple. You can expect a simple meal similar to a bibimbap with a soup. All meals will be vegetarian. Occasionally you will find a temple that frowns on guests bringing outside food onto the grounds, but this sort of thing will be made very clear by your temple stay organizers before departure. Not a single grain of rice is to be wasted at the temple, so keep this in mind as you take your servings. For at least one of your meals you will do the traditional cleaning of the bowls, cleaning each bowl meal bowl with warm rice water and, sometimes, a bit of radish, drinking the rice water in the end.

* Sleeping quarters are separated into male and female, each sleeping in their own large room together. Temples will provide blankets and pillows. A temple that I went to even let us use the mats meant for bowing for some extra padding while we slept. Do not expect this everywhere, and be sure to thank your hosts if this extra perk is offered.

* Expect to wake up and be ready for the day around 3 or 4 in the morning at the temple.

* The 108 bows are not a myth, as some of my fellow temple stayers assumed them to be. After a bit of instruction, you will be expected to perform them as a group. No one is going to take great offense if you don’t manage all of them due to health problems or handicaps, however. A temple stay that I attended even played a recording explaining the purpise of each bow.

*Be sure to wear comfortable sneakers or hiking shoes that you can slip on and off easily. Constantly tying and untying shoelaces will become annoyingly tedious as you make your way among the many small temple buildings.

* Please respect the culture and the purpose of coming away on such a trip and don’t try to sneak any alcohol onto the temple grounds.

* Remember to be possibilities on you temple stay. Stays are overseen by a particular monk or monks of the temple who spends a lot of time explaining every step of your experience. There will be time to ask questions together as a group, or individually as you hike about the temple grounds. Feel free to really explore any questions you may have about temple life, Buddhism, or the path to monkhood.

Posted by | Comments (2)  | May 4, 2011
Category: Asia

2 Responses to “Temple Stays in Korea”

  1. Temple Stays in Korea | Travel Guide And Holiday Says:

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  2. John Bartmann Says:

    I just did this for the first time yesterday. I had this moment where I was standing, dressed in robes at 4.30 am after 108 bows and an hour of chanting, sweeping the corridor in the quiet darkness, alone, quizzically thinking, “how the hell did THIS happen?”

    expect to step out of the ol’ comfort zone.