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A break from city life

2012/02/25 | 278 views |  | Permalink | Source

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Night falls at Yongmunsa Temple in Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi-do Province. The comforting sound of a bell drifts across the mountain, bringing peace to temple visitors. Here it is possible to focus on yourself, far away from the hustle and bustle of city life. While snow covers the land in winter, we invite you to spend a night in a temple to clear your body and mind.

Review of Yongmunsa Temple Stay

Upon arriving at Yongmunsa Temple, I took part in the temple stay program to experience the life of a monk. The one-night, two-day program consisted of orientation, lectures, bell-striking, a Buddhist service called yebul*, early-morning baekpal chamhoe service*, meditation and yoga.

Day 1 From room allocation to the first meal (14:00-18:30)

The temple stay program started after we were allocated a room and changed into the clothes provided by the temple. We were given an orientation tour of the temple by a monk, who discussed a 1,100 year old ginkgo tree standing at the entrance to the temple, a three-story stone pagoda, the Daeungjeon Hall (the main hall in a temple where the statue of Buddha is found), and the other buildings. Then, we had an orientation on the rules and manners to be observed in the temple, such as the bowing method, posture, and their meaning. Then, the monk in charge of the temple stay program gave an engaging lecture on Buddhism. Explained with simple theories, the lecture was easy to follow and enhanced my understanding of the religion. Following the lecture, we took our first meal at the temple. Vegetarians will be happy to learn that temple food contains no meat or fish. One of Buddha's teachings is that all living creatures should not be harmed. The food came with delicious side dishes such as dumpling soup, seasoned vegetables, fritters, and fruit, making up for the lack of meat. After finishing the meal and washing the dishes, we took a stroll around the temple, which was quiet after sunset, and rested.

Bell-striking and bedtime (18:30-22:00)

After sunset, the temple bell was struck to signal the end of the day. It is a signal to let go of all pain and worries and find peace and awakening. The bell is struck hard enough that the sound rings across the mountain, a spiritual and moving experience. With a clearer spirit, we took part in the evening prayer called yebul with the monks. During yebul, we paid tribute to Buddha, reflecting on ourselves and making resolutions. The yebul is open to everyone, regardless of religion. Now came the time to practice the bowing method we learned during orientation. We read aloud the Banyasimgyeong Sutras while bowing to the sounds of the wooden gong. Before going to bed, we enjoyed tea with one of the monks in the laid-back atmosphere. All the temple stay participants sat together, sharing the stories of their lives and asking questions to others. The dialogue was further enhanced by the sounds of water flowing in a nearby stream and the warm tea served by the monk. The dialogue continued after tea time until it was time to go to bed.

Day 2 Early morning prayer and meditation (04:00-07:00)

The sound of a bell filled the air in the early morning. At 4 a.m. in the city, most people would still be asleep. But temple life starts early in the morning. After a quick wash, we took part in the early morning prayer, fighting back our yawns. Next, the baekpal chamhoe, the essence of the temple stay program, began. Also referred to as baekpal bae, baekpal chamhoe consists of bowing 108 times to the sounds of a wooden gong as the 108 words of repentance are read out, allowing one to think of oneself, become considerate of others, and wish for peace for all living things. We soon found ourselves sweating and feeling pain in our backs and knees, but it was a meaningful time for reflection. Meditation and yoga followed in a warm quiet room. The monk's calm directions helped us relax the body and let go of all tension. Though it was still early in the morning, we got to use our muscles and move joints and felt our minds become clear. A delicious breakfast followed this physical and spiritual practice.

Hiking on Mount Yongmunsan, lunch, and departure (07:00-12:30)

After breakfast, the group went on hiking on Mount Yongmunsan. The frozen valley streams and the snow-topped mountain were beautiful. Though the weather was chilly, it felt great to see the sun rising in the sky and breathe the fresh air. We were engaged by the explanations given by the monk on the cultural assets on the mountain and his demonstration of Shaolin martial arts. We then came back to the temple and took a rest until lunchtime. After the meal, we changed back to our own clothes. As we took off the blanket cover and folded the temple clothes, we felt sad to leave the place so soon. A monk saw us off as we left the temple and came down the mountain. This was the end of the short but precious temple stay program, which allowed me to reflect upon myself.

* The temple stay program at Yongmunsa Temple may be changed due to special circumstances at the temple or due to seasonal and weather conditions.

Tips on Temple Stay!

1. The temple stay programs are available in two types: the "rest" type available during the weekdays (Monday through Friday, one-night two-day program) where participants enjoy free time between meals and Buddhist services, and the "temple life experience" type available on weekends (Saturday and Sunday) where participants experience the daily life of a monk. You can choose the type that best fits your preference and schedule.

2. The content of the temple stay program may differ by temple.

3. Some temples may have residing interpreters for temple stay programs offered to foreign visitors, so check in advance the availability of interpretation at the temple. This may be an important consideration for some who want to maximize their understanding of the program.

4. Family participants should check in advance to confirm there is a room available for families. Couple participants are not allowed to stay in the same room. Room allocation is random and based on the percentage of male and female participants.

5. Temple stay clothes are provided at the temple. In the winter, participants may wear their individual jacket or overcoat.

6. Based on demand, some temples may offer a two-night, three-day rest program.

Definition of Buddhist terms

* Yebul: The Buddhist service where participants show tribute to Buddha and look back on themselves. You will read out the Banyasimgyeong Sutras and bow to Buddha. The services are usually held twice a day, once in the early morning and once in the afternoon after sunset.

** Baekpal chamhoe (commonly known as Baekpal bae): This is a time when you look back on yourself and all of your relationships and decide how to live and behave. The main ritual is to bow 108 times to Buddha.

* Meaning of 108 The six human sensory organs produce 18 judgments and 18 feelings about all things in the world. Combined, these 36 circumstances occur in the past, present, and future, making the total 108. The pains, sorrows, and bad feelings felt in the 108 circumstances are reflected upon during the 108 bows.

* Article from Korea Tourism Organization ( )

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