South Korean Buddhist Temple Stay
Photos: Nayan Sthankiya
Text: Bruno Galindo
“Who am I? Why am I here now? Why am I breathing?” What matters, says the zen master to this week end’s group of youngsters, is constant introspection. The chosen ones, the participants at Kilsansga’s temple-stay program, are a bunch of men and women yet to hit their thirties, indeed part of Korea’s future. They are the ones who will deal with the country’s issues on economy, culture, science, technology and, yes, North-South Reunification. Outside, they wear American denim, tight fitting outfits, body piercing, Christian crosses, and have fun at the never-sleeping PC and DVD “bangs” in the 10.5 million populated megacity of Seoul. Here, inside the temple, all of them dress in the same grey monk robes and do their best to “feel, not think”, under the always watchful gaze of the Master and his bamboo stick.
Yet the most significant religion in this country of astonishing recent economical development, Korean Buddhism has assumed its responsibility to give some kind of enlightenment to those who live in an era of regional conflicts andWHO spiritually bankruptcy. During their short weekend, this elite group of young monks – highly qualified students in belonging to some of the most prestigious universities in Seoul – receive advanced training consisting of Seon – Zen – meditation, Buddhist history, intense prayer, eating discipline, collective cleaning, plus a 3:30 AM wake up call to pay respect to the Boddhisatvas. An interior journey that, as one of the participants defines it, “starts just when it finishes”.
* Nearest airport is Incheon. Taxis and buses are available at exit.
Prices for stays vary usually around 30,000 – 50,000 won for basic program including dinner and breakfast and tea robes are supplied. Expect no meat at all! Contact Kilsangsa office at 02 3672 5945-6. Website http://www.kilsangsa.or.kr/main.html (all in Korean with no english). Info on other temple-stay options at http://www.templestay.com/ (This is the main site to arrange temple stays all over Korea. Phone is + 82-2-732-9925, and email is firstname.lastname@example.org).
Temple stays are held all year every month. Best time to go would be spring or fall as the temperature is moderate. Fall would be the best as the scenery looks the best with the changing colors of the leaves.
Truly remarkable temple in the heart of Seoul, no need to travel outside of Seoul to experience an idyllic setting with a restful and meditative experience.