I have been looking back on some of my memorable travel times and one of my most challenging and disappointing was my “temple stay” in Korea. A “temple stay” is available at various Buddhist temples throughout Korea. These stays are for Koreans and westerners alike. They are intended as a way to understand Buddhism and a time for meditation and prayer. When I signed up for a “temple stay”, I had visions of being on a mountaintop, with a view and perhaps a little lake, spending the day walking, reading and meditating. Not so. I was disappointed to find myself in a small compound with chunky gravel in the yards and a view of rooftops and backyards.
The temple, however, was beautiful, with walls of golden Buddhas, large and small. There was no charge for the stay but there was a box in the temple for a voluntary contribution.
January is cold in Korea and the small heater did not provide me relief. I was too cold to sit on the floor for the meditations so I sat on a bench at the back, wrapping my jacket tightly around me. I was so cold that I could think of nothing else. The dampness went through my coat and mitts and scarf.
Come bedtime, I was shown to the female residence, called the “empty mind house”. I don’t know why it was called like this and whether this was favourable or not and I didn’t know how to ask. The dorm was simple but I was happy to snuggle on my western style bed under a thick comforter. Books were forbidden but I had snuck one in and read until they clapped for lights out. (I can’t believe that I, a mature adult, did this. But I did. I need a book before bedtime.) My only company was a Korean lady who did not speak English so I went to sleep quickly: no chatting. The school boys in the room next door(often classes are brought here for several days of instruction) laughed and hooted for a while but I fell asleep regardless.
At 3:30 in the morning, there was a knock on the doors to wake all of the guests for morning prayers and bows. Many bows. I could not move. I ignored the call and slept until I was once more awakened, a few hours later. I was told that breakfast was ready. I threw on my coat, gathered my bathroom necessities, and walked across the grounds to the shower and toilet house. It was cold and damp but the shower was nice and hot.
I got ready as quickly as I could and ran to the dining hall. Imagine my embarassement when I saw everyone, including the young boys, sitting quietly waiting for me before they eating. I rushed through the buffet, taking note of the instructions to be sure to take only what I could eat. One must finish the plate of food taken. I sheepishly slinked to my place, sat down and the signal was given for everyone to begin. I was the oldest one there and apparently the least disciplined. My imaginary bubble of this experience had really burst.
After breakfast, I gathered my belongings, and took the shuttle van to the train station. I was disappointed in a way. I had not lived my romantic view of this experience. I did, however, discover a new appreciation for the discipline of these Korean children and adults. If you go, let me know, and we’ll share thoughts.
Here is a link to an article I had written for Transitions magazine. I kept it positive, not wanting to discourage anyone from living this experience.