COME & VISIT
Event & Activities
Many travelers are looking for more than the average trip in their vacation these days. It isn’t enough to just go to a place and see the sights—the visitor to a new country wants a different insight, a true immersion into a different culture and maybe even a glimpse of things from a different point of view.
Temple stays are becoming part of the Korean tourist experience, so much so that the number of temples in Korea offering such programs has increased to almost one hundred. Choosing the right temple to experience Buddhism in can be a little daunting, so to help with this, the Templestay Information Center has opened across from Jogyesa (Temple), one of Seoul’s most important centers of Buddhism.
The Templestay Information Center was designed by leading Korean architect Seung H-sang, who says he "placed emphasis on embodying modern yet traditional concepts of space." Its dark grey facade is discreet and elegant. The center features a café offering a selection of teas and reasonably priced coffees, as well as vegetarian sandwiches. The thirteen flavors of temple-made tea—including lotus leaf, buckwheat, Siberian chrysanthemum and mulberry leaf—are named after the temples where they are made. The café is a nice place to spend an afternoon while looking over the various temple stay pamphlets displayed in the information center, and it offers a great view of the comings and goings in front of Jogyesa (Temple).
The information center itself is filled with useful material, while offering the public use of two computers to check for replies to all those emails you sent to your friends about the various temples you have found. The center also offers many souvenirs, such as key chains and teddy bears dressed as monks, to help you personalize your stay at one of the temples.
On the second floor is a shop selling traditional tea and temple clothing. Here you can purchase packets filled with the various temple teas that are drunk by the monks. Also, you can find the various tea pots and paraphernalia associated with the tea ceremonies at the temples. Looking around, you will also see various temple-inspired clothes for sale.
The third floor is occupied by seminar rooms, while the fifth floor is home to a very popular temple food restaurant called Baru. This restaurant requires booking in advance, so be sure to call ahead. This very small restaurant offers temple vegetarian fare, with a menu of 10 to 12 items.
A typical day at a temple stay involves arriving in the early afternoon. Rooms and uniforms are allocated before an opening ceremony and orientation. Then, by mid-afternoon, visitors normally have a tour of the temple and a rest before dinner. In the early evening, the first of the Buddhist services starts. Afterwards, tea is served and participants converse with the monks and nuns who inhabit the temple. Bedtime is usually around 9pm.
You are woken at 3:30am to take part in the pre-dawn Buddhist ceremony. Then, at 4am, you have sitting and walking seon (zen) meditation. Breakfast is eaten at 6am, followed by community work at 7am. At 8am, after marveling at how much you have accomplished by 8am on a Sunday morning, you take a hermitage tour. At 11am, you have a closing ceremony and lunch. You say goodbye to your temple stay experience at around 1pm.
Korean Buddhism has existed for 1,700 years and is as full a cultural heritage as any aspect of Korean life. It differs from other forms of Buddhism by its method of seon meditation. In seon meditation, monks ask themselves, “Who am I?” When they have a sufficient answer, they ask their instructor for the next question. Another aspect of seon meditation, like other forms, is mindlessness, which is attained through the repetition of a particular activity such as bowing, chanting or copying sutras (traditional Buddhist texts).
Food is a big part of the experience at the temple. All of the meals served at temple stays are vegetarian, and all of the food must be consumed so that nothing is wasted—even the water used to clean the dishes is taken into the body.
Some of the different kinds of temple stays include temples specializing in certain aspects of temple life, such as tea ceremonies, martial arts or mountain hiking. Some temples focus on teenagers, giving them a structured and enlightened life. Others have English camps for elementary and middle school students, as well as camps for learning Chinese characters.
On these temple stays visitors have a more spiritual than religious experience. No one is asked to give up a belief or faith to go on a temple stay. The temples welcome people from all walks of life.
Temple life programs are also available at Jogyesa (Temple) and Bongeunsa in Gangnam. These are mini temple stays that allow people to experience a tea ceremony and seon meditation. They are offered on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month at Jogyesa (Temple) and from 2—4pm at Bongeunsa (Temple).
Jogyesa (Temple) is the center of Korean Zen Buddhism, as well as the headquarters of the Jogye Order the biggest order of Buddhism, in terms of the number of believers. Located within the cultural belt containing Gyeongbokgung (Palace) and Insa-dong, the temple is visited by average 400 to 500 foreign tourists a day. Inside the temple is a 500-year-old locust baeksong (white pine) tree, which has been designated as the Natural Monument No. 9. Daeungjeon, the main building of the temple is famous not only for its size, but also for its size and architectural beauty. The temple opens its door wide to visitors from 4 a.m. to midnight. You don’t need to be a Buddhist to participate in various, custom designed programs it provides for both foreigners and locals.
Located between Gyeongbokgung (Palace) and Changdeokgung (Palace), Bukchon was an elite residential neighborhood in the Joseon Dynasty. The area has a number of small museums and houses open for hands-on experience in traditional Korean culture and lifestyle. Most of some 920 hanok that dominate the landscape originate from around the 1920s and 30s, but the hilly maze of alleys in the area probably remains almost the same, as they were 600 years ago. Just strolling around the neighborhood for a day yields many pleasant surprises such as unique museums and workshops specializing in dedicated to traditional craft work.
Located in on the east side of Naksan (Mt.), downtown Seoul, the temple is the headquarters for the Kwan-Eum Order of Korean Buddhism. Located in Seoul’s central district, Myogaksa serves as a place devoted to the spiritual peace and enlightenment of the citizens. It runs various temple stay programs designed for people with differing backgrounds.
Surrounded by Bukhansan (Mt.), the temple of the Jogye order presents is a perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life, although the geographic location is not very far from downtown Seoul. Though the temple is not too big, the picturesque beauty of its surrounding natural environment brings peace to visitors’ mind.
There is an old temple near COEX, a gigantic, hip shopping complex located in southern Seoul. The historical jewel hidden in the urban jungle, which is called “Bongeunsa,” was opened as Gyeonseongsa in 794. It was renamed as Bongeunsa in 1498 and moved to the current location in 1562. The temple is running a temple stay program for foreigners, which starts every Thursday. You can also experience Zen meditation and tea ceremony here.
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