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Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Temple Stay, Korea

As I start my second year in Korea I feel an awesome sense of tranquility in the air. The fear of the unknown has disappeared and the anxiety of meeting new people and creating some sort of life here has gone. It’s sort of become home now, well, a home away from home. The last year was incredibly bizarre in the best and worst possible way, and so here I am about to embark on my second year with a hell of a lot more knowledge, and understanding of what it is I’m actually getting myself in to. After the madness of the previous year I wanted to mark the occasion by doing something truly relaxing, and so I thought what better way than to spend a night on my own with a bunch of Buddhist monks in the middle of nowhere. Worse things have happened right? Right!

Temple Stay programs are literally everywhere in Korea, and so its pretty easy to track one down if you’re interested in doing one. I went through the Temple Stay website and found an awesome little place in the midst of Mount Palgongsan near Daegu. And so, my weekend began...
Donghwasa Temple

As I walked up the long pathway on that cold and frosty morning back in February, small perfectly round snowflakes began to fall upon my head. The higher I climbed the more snow I saw, and the less I could feel my legs in the freezing cold temperatures. The air was crisp and there wasn't a person in sight. My ear drums felt strange with the lack of noise they are usually accustom to in the city. As I reached the top I wasn't really sure where to go as there was absolutely no one around. Thankfully after about 10 minutes of evaluating my options a small Korean man popped his head out from one of the temples and spilled off a bunch of words I didn't quite understand, except one... ‘Sarah’? Phew!


Temple Stay this way...

Meditation Room

I was shown to my room and supplied with a less than desirable monk uniform (a mandatory requirement) and there I was, left alone in the middle of this mountain with only my thoughts for company. For the first few hours I just sat there staring into thin air, expecting to have some sort of revelation. Nothing happened of course but it was extremely peaceful.
 
My Room

My accommodation block

At around 4pm I took a trek through the forest to the monks eatery. The food was genuinely awful but it was great to have a meal with these people and experience what they do from day to day. Shortly after this, I was met by a lovely lady called Jamie who brought with her a wealth of knowledge about the temple, and the fascinating religion of Buddhism itself.

We headed up to the main temple of Donghwasa to take part in the bell ringing ceremony and to do some chanting with the monks in the evening. It was extremely peaceful and everything moved at a very slow pace, which was pretty much how the rest of my stay went. I took part in some light meditation and sat outside watching the millions of stars and listening to the sound of silence that night, and I couldn't quite get over how quiet it was. At times I felt for sure there was a problem with my hearing. Funny what solitary can do to a person.

Instrument Pavilion

 Drum...played for 10 minutes at a time.

  Massive GONG! Hit 28 times in the morning and 33 times in the evening. This symbolizes the 28 heavens and 5 hell's reflected in the Buddhism religion.

I awoke the next day and wandered around the temples at the ungodly hour of 4am. It was pitch black and there wasn't a soul to be seen. Watching the sunrise over the huge Buddha statue that sits in the middle of this beautiful temple was an incredible experience, and it was made even more special by the lack of people that would usually be flooding this popular location. To mark the end of my short trip I participated in the making of some prayer beads, which consisted of me bending down on all fours whilst chanting to ole mate Buddha 108 TIMES! My knees have never felt such pain!

108 Prayer Bead Bracelet

Lanterns...

...so many lanterns!

Ole mate Buddha Himself!

Donghwasa Temple, Mount Palgongsan

The weekend went by far too quickly but it was fantastic just to spend sometime away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and quite literally take a moment. I would definitely recommend doing a Temple Stay to anyone. It was a truly fulfilling experience that I hope to do again sometime in the future.

For more information on Temple Stay programs in Korea, check out this website: Temple Stay, Korea

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