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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Legends of the Hidden Temple

By: Brittany S

Even though the temple I visited didn’t have any Mayan Temple Guards or Blue Barracudas (man, wouldn’t that be cool?), it did have its own legendary features.  I recently visited Haein Temple (해인사) near Daegu, S. Korea.  Here is general temple information:

NO—you will not be converted or encouraged to convert (or do anything else you are against)
YES—you will learn a little bit about the teachings of Buddha
NO—you don’t have to be Buddhist to participate
YES—you will be expected to follow the temple rules

Picking Your Temple
We chose Haien Temple because it is one of the top 3 temples in Korea.  It also is a World Heritage site (designated by UNESCO), as it houses the Tripitaka Koreana in its original building.  Not only was it an important within Korean culture and Buddhism abroad, but worldwide, as the particular technique for preserving such works is notable as well.

And, they spoke English.

My suggestion would be to pick a “foreigner friendly” temple if you are not fluent in that country’s native tongue.  There are a lot of deep, philosophical talks that take place and your tourist-level language fluency may cause you to miss out on a lot.  As an added bonus, look to see if the temple is renowned (like the one I visited).   It is also wise to map out the travel time and methods to and from the temple.  To get to Haien Temple from where I live (north of Seoul), it took about 5-6 hours by taxi, bus, subway, local bus, and foot.  Imagine doing all of this with a heavy bag on your back on a hot summer day; not ideal.  It isn’t as if you get to go to the temple and rest.  You will take on tasks that are both mentally and physically challenging.  So please consider how much energy you will need to travel to certain distances.

Typical Schedule
All temple stays are not exactly the same, but they are usually variations of one another.  My temple stay schedule was as follows:

View from the top that I took AFTER I caught my breath.
First Day
15:00~16:00 : Registration & Orientation
17:00~18:10 : Learning Temple manner
18:10~18:40 : Temple Dinner
18:40~19:10 : Evening ceremonial service
19:10~20:30 : Tea time
20:30~21:00 : Lights out

Second Day
03:00~03:15 : Getting up & Wash (in silence)
03:15~03:30 : Dawn Service(in Silence)
04:00~05:00 : 108 bows
05:00~06:00 : Seon Mediation (in Silence)
06:00~07:30 : Temple Breakfast
07:30~08:30 : Temple tour of Haeinsa
08:30~09:30 : Hermitage Tour
09:30~10:40 : Cleaning & Closing

When we first arrived (after the grueling hike up the mountain to the temple), we were pumped.  This’ll be fun!  We had no idea how much WORK it would be!  When we discussed temple manners, we were informed that we should:
·         walk in a straight line with one hand in the other.  There’s no rush to get there before the next person.  We are all in this together.
·         neatly arrange our shoes when we take them off to enter the building.  Be considerate; if your shoes are all over the place, someone could trip.
·         walk, clean, meditate, and eat in SILENCE (I seriously feel like this was the hardest part for some of the foreigners.  We did a lot of talking with our eyes because we needed to share SOMETHING).  If we are always communicating externally, we don’t give our internal voice a chance to speak.
·         eat ALL the food we put on our plate (even if we don’t like it).  We must be thankful for the food we have been given and not be wasteful.
·         use our “mind” at all times (they say the mind is in the heart, not the brain).  If you’re always “mindful,” then you will realize we are interconnected and our actions impact everything around us.
·         bow when entering and leaving the temple as well as when we see a monk.  It is a sign of respect at the very least.
My friends and I in our temple clothes. Comfy!

Meal Times
I sat there trying to scarf down my food and gagged most of the time.  Basically you can avoid this by not getting as much food as I did (I thought they wouldn’t be filling so I got a lot so I wouldn’t be hungry later) and then you can eat slowly.  Also, if there is something on your plate that you don’t like, you won’t have that much of it to eat.  The funny thing is, I did the SAME THING at both meals!  *sigh*

Both ceremonies were great.  Four monks took turns rotating out on the Beopgo (Large Drum).  We stood in silence and watched them play.  This drum is supposed to be like the heartbeat of the temple in a sense.  It is supposed to energize us all.  The thrill was wasted on me, as we were not allowed to take pictures/videos (whoever took this video was sneaky haha. I found this on Youtube).  When we attended the morning ceremony (at 3:15 no less), I felt it.  I no longer felt sleepy and was awestruck at the vitality of these monks at such an early hour.  I stood with one hand in the other, silently appreciating this moment. 

Meditation and 108 Prostrations

Prostrate:  1—to bow or cast (oneself) down, as in submission or adoration  2—exhausted physically or emotionally

When they told me I was gonna have to do 108 Buddhist “up-downs” literally at the crack of dawn before eating, I thought I was gonna fall out (or hide in the back and sneak away).  However, it wasn’t that bad.  We were instructed on how to prostrate (stand with hands together, kneel, hands on ground above your head, forehead to ground, palms up and raised to ear, palms down and back to ground, hands together, kneel, stand up…yep, a lot of steps and I left two out) so I went for it.  I had a little trouble keeping a straight face when the lady next to me kept diving like an ostrich with her head in the earth, but other than that, it was relaxing and a wonderful reflecting time.  I found a blog that lists the English translation of all 108 prostrations.  We did these to humble ourselves.  We emptied ourselves physically so we could pour into our minds.

They told us that meditating would be harder than the prostrations and all I heard was “hmm, sitting will be harder than up-downs…yea ok.”  They were right.  Sitting a particular way for an extended period of time and trying to concentrate on NOT thinking about things is a bit challenging.  However, the worries that did bounce around in my mind during this time were put to rest.  I felt rejuvenated after we finished.  I can’t think of the last time I was in that silent of a place.
Keep your tongue pressed to roof of your mouth, too.

Temple Tour
I’ll just say this: the temple was on a mountain and where we were staying was the LOW part of it.  Let’s just say when I finally got to the top, I was waiting on someone to cue the Rocky music.  The most shameful part is that our guide did this effortlessly.
Somehow, I think using this booth will be much cooler than a regular one.

I loved the temple stay and plan to visit another famous temple in Korea.  If you have the time and willpower, sign up for a temple stay!

Just in case you are interested in staying in Haien Temple, you can make a reservation here

I still think the temple was missing something...I'm just sayin'.

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