Live Like a Monk: Temple Stay Programs

12

I spent last weekend without a phone, laptop, caffeine, meat or makeup.

While I could have used the caffeine, the other stuff wasn’t missed. I was too busy bowing, chanting, learning, enjoying the stunning natural landscape around me, and being silent – for once.

No, I didn’t join a cult or seclude myself in my studio apartment – I participated in a temple stay program.

These programs are run by Buddhist monks, and they offer visitors the chance to live like a monk for 2 days. Some stays are longer if that’s what you’re looking for.

I stayed at Magoksa Temple, which is up in the beautiful mountains of Chung Cheong Province. The temple was founded in 640, and the buildings retain all their original architecture and paintings, which makes everything very authentic. (Of course a few modern amenities have been added, such as electricity.)

Upon arriving at the temple, girls and boys are separated, and given their monk clothes, which you will wear all weekend.

These consist of baggy pants and a loose jacket-type shirt. It’s incredibly comfortable.

You need to provide your own clothes underneath (I suggest leggings, and a cotton shirt, or a hoodie if it’s cold) and shoes.

While you need comfortable and sturdy shoes for the walking and hiking, keep in mind that you will be taking your shoes on and off about 20 times per day, because shoes are not permitted in any of the temple buildings. (I learned the hard way – I wore Converse sneakers.)

And for the next two days, you will be doing the same activities as the monks. Please keep in mind that each temple is different, but here is a list of the things I participated in:

  • A tour of the grounds, including explanations of all the temples, statues, and paintings
  • Bracelet or necklace making with prayer beads, and a lotus flower lantern as well
  • Learning how to bow and recite some beginning chants
  • 3 vegetarian meals. Important note: The monks do not believe in leaving even one kernel of rice on your plate, so whatever you take, you must finish.  Also, the breakfast includes a really beautiful ceremony, as well as the intricate process of cleaning the dishes with water and a radish.
  • Tea time and a Q&A session with a monk
  • Ringing the gong and watching the monks perform the gong-ringing rituals
  • Bedtime at 9pm (you sleep on the floor, and again, boys and girls are separated)
  • Wake up time is 3 a.m. to begin prayers and chants
  • The long (but very worthwhile) process of doing 108 bows: this is an absolutely amazing leg workout. It was also incredibly moving, and by far my favorite part of the weekend. Each bow is for a specific intention, and there are 4 parts: repentance, gratitude, prayers, and vows.  I am in no way religious, but this was a beautiful, thought-provoking ceremony.
  • Meditation
  • Chores
  • A hike through the mountains,  which looked like some enchanted forest from a Disney movie.
  • Walking across stepping stones over a stream while blindfolded, with a partner to guide you.

As you can see, we did a lot in a short time… which is easy to do when you wake up at 3 a.m.!

I came into the weekend pretty skeptical and with little to no knowledge of Buddhism or eastern religion in general. I left really exhausted, but completely relaxed, refreshed and with a profound respect for the monks and their way of life.

It’s good to take a minute away from the chaos of everyday life (especially in a huge city like Seoul) and get back to the basics, while still continuing your cultural education.

The cost was about $75 USD, and is definitely a worthwhile endeavor for anyone traveling through South Korea.

Have any of you participated in Temple Stays or something like them?

Like I said, caffeine was hard to do without, what would be the one thing you would miss in a monk-life?

Share.

About Author

Claire is a recent college grad turned expat, who is currently teaching English in South Korea. When she's not exploring Korea and writing about it, Claire enjoys fantasizing about future trips, shopping, dancing, and drinking dangerous amounts of caffeine. She plans to move to Buenos Aires in 2012. You can follow her adventures at www.sokogigglygirl.wordpress.com.

12 Comments

  1. Incredible experience, expensive though. My cousin does something similar to this every year for months at a time in an ashram in India. She helps cook and clean in exchange for the stay. She just recently came back from one in which she had to be silent for 3 months – CRAZY! Well, I think it would drive me crazy, seems to be great for her!

  2. This sounds like an awesome experience. I’ve often wondered how I would be able to survive on an adventure like this. Since I don’t drink caffeine anyway, and I can easily go without the other things you mentioned, I think I might be OK. Maybe I’ll have to look into a temple stay like this in the future! Thanks for sharing your experience!!

  3. I’ve spent the past month chasing after monks, trying to pick their brains about monkdom…

    I think the early bed-time, early wake-time would be the hard part for me. I bet the gong rituals make up for it though… did you take a pictures or video? I’d love to see. Great post Claire!

  4. Sadly, my camera broke the week before, so I am picture-less! The early bedtime and wake up were nearly impossible, but getting to be a part of all the cool rituals and ceremonies made up for it.
    We asked the monk about his life and it was very surprising – unlike many other religions, monks decide to join the temple in their 30s and 40s, which I found so interesting. He also explained how monks either choose a life of meditation, where they are literally meditating for hours a day or they do administrative work for the temple.
    And I would recommend this kind of program for everyone! If I can do it, so can you!

    • hi claire.i got one question.if i whant to go to magoksa temple and live there for the rest of my life,what do i have to do ?they accept anyone ?

  5. my friend and I are trying to book a temple stay at the same place you did. How did you go about doing it as the website is only in Korean!! 🙂

  6. Yea would it be weird to go alone? Am thinking of going to really slow down my pace of life n hopefully to gain some innerpeace.

  7. Can you book this kind of thing through travel agents or vacation packages?
    how do you go about booking this kind of trip.
    Ive been feeling lately that this is something i really want to do, to get away and learn about this culture and find some sort of peace and stress relief.
    do they offer longer stays?

  8. Pingback: Viva como uma monja: Estadias em Templos Budistas - Eu Viajo, Ela Viaja

Leave A Reply