Monday, October 7, 2013

"I vow to let go of all worries and anxiety in order to be light and free."

A few months before I came to Korea, while doing research and reading numerous blogs, I came across a post which mentioned a temple stay. I decided this was a "must do" and added it instantly to my mental "Korea bucket list."  The temple stay program, which is for a couple days, allows people to learn about the life of Buddhist monks as well as experiencing the 1,700 year history and tradition of Korean Buddhism.

Temple stay: I begin with a quote:
"The road to a mountain always leads to the temple; the road to the temple eventually merges with the road to the nature. Leave all worldly suffering behind, let the nature breathe into you. Reflect on yourself; 'Tis the time for meditation and moderation. The temple stay gently reveals the wisdom of monastic life for those who visit. It is a healing process invoked by seeing yourself, bared in the midst of the nature and made aware to every passing moment. Take a moment to rest your mind and body in the idyllic beauty of a serene temple and be introduced to your true self, the inner you. This special moment here and now is the temple stay."

The program began with an orientation where we learned about several types of temple etiquette (such as chasu: how to walk around the grounds, greeting monks, rules of lining up and being silent, how to enter the Buddha hall, etc) and watched a short video displaying an outline of the program. Suited up in our temple clothes the first task was making a lotus lantern. Watching the monk's moves we pasted the petals one by one...each of us creating our own masterpiece. Following that we had some free time where I strolled around the grounds capturing photos of the temple and surrounding buildings.


Later that evening we had dinner, which consisted of only vegetarian/vegan food. We had rice with a few different side dishes such as; potatoes, radish, spicy leaves with peppers, mushrooms, with a welcomed treat of pineapple. It was pretty delicious.

That evening we had the opportunity to strike the very large bell.  This is done every morning and night. We learned there are four sacred instruments: the Brahma bell, the Dharma drum, the wooden fish, and the cloud-shaped gong. "They represent the ardent Buddhist vow to save all beings in the hell realm, all land-bound and winged animals and water born creatures by delivering Buddha's teaching." We then went to the evening service in the main Buddha hall.  Following the rules of etiquette there was much to think about upon entering......where to go, and what to do. We chanted with the monks and participated in the prostrations. This is how to prostrate (full bow): kneel down to the floor, lower body to the floor with hands on the floor, touch the floor with forehead, flip and lift palms up to ears, flip palms back down to the floor, lift forehead away from floor and kneel back up, put palms together, and stand up gently. It can get pretty intense.

Once this service concluded, we participated in walking meditation. Out in the moonlight, with our hands together fingers pointed upward and holding them around our center "chi" area, we circled the pagoda numerous times. As we walked we were to think of wishes/prayers we had. We concluded the night by having tea time with the monk. This was our opportunity to ask whatever questions we may have had concerning Buddhism, him, his lifestyle, etc. It was an enjoyable time for all involved and cured the high levels of curiosity among us.

The second day we were awakened by the resonating sounds of the gong at 3:00 a.m.  The 3:30 a.m. service was optional; but several of us chose to attend.  It was similar to the evening one, but included many more bows. We were definitely beginning to feel a bit sore (haha).  Around 5:00 a.m., we had meditation that was followed by the monastic formal meal. This entailed us to be in 2 silent lines as we retrieved the food from the cafeteria and carried it up to our meeting building, setting up the trays, pots, etc. As we sat in our 2 straight lines, we carefully folded our towels and ties, arranged our bowls and utensils, and began our meal with someone serving water into each person's bowl. After swishing the water around precisely in each bowl to rinse it, the soup was then served followed by rice, and lastly vegetable dishes that were situated among 4 people so that we could serve ourselves.  There were specifics to where the chopsticks and spoon should be when we completed our meal along with how we had to eat everything in our bowls. They believe in no waste. When the food was finished we were to keep one piece of radish to use to clean the bowls. First, we were given some tea in one of our bowls and then water was poured once again.  This water was then moved from bowl to bowl for washing. It was quite a process! At the end the final water is poured into a large pot. This water was to be free from any food particles because it is given to the hungry ghosts and they can't have any solid food. They actually pour this water in a special area near the cafeteria. Of the 2 lines our water was the cleanest. The other line had bits of rice and full pieces of radish, therefore, they received dish washing duty.

Later that morning we went for a little stroll in the woods.  It was a beautiful morning to take a walk down the path. We visited a "love tree." This was a tree that was dying and became connected to another tree which allowed it to survive. There was a small wooden deck overlooking the forest and we stopped for a bit.....taking some group photos and just relaxing.

Later we gathered together once again to learn how to make the bead necklaces/bracelets. We each had 108 beads and were to do 108 prostrations...thinking of a worry each time we put the bead on the string. We we taught the meanings of the various buildings throughout the ground and then separated throughout them to complete this challenging task.
This day finished with lunch and we soon thereafter departed our separate ways back to the outside world; perhaps a little more enlightened, happy, de-stressed, refreshed, and ready to tackle life once again.

Feeling revitalized by the self-journey, I decided to hike within the surrounding provincial park to the peak of a nearby mountain. I hadn't hiked in way too long a time. I was missing it so much, and my body/mind definitely needed it. This proved to be an excellent ending to this restorative weekend.

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