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.
- 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?