Temple stays: Contemplation, culture
By Mark Edward Harris
Buddhist temples offer op- portunities for introspec- tion, self-discovery and communing with nature.
In South Korea, temple stays are a flourishing cottage industry. The Korea Tourism
Organization (KTO) bills the temple stay
as a unique cultural program that lets foreigners and domestic travelers experience
the life of Buddhist practitioners, a lifestyle
that preserves the 1,700-year history of Korean Buddhism. Visitors are welcome for
full-day, overnight and extended stays.
A comprehensive list, in English, of
Korean temple stays appears on the Tem-plestay website ( eng.templestay.com). With
its extensive descriptions and its direct-booking option, this site is the most efficient way to research potential temples and
book visits for clients.
Although the goals of the temple stay are
the same, each temple has its unique character. Here are some examples:
• Seonunsa Temple, on the slopes of
Mount Dosolsan near the Yellow Sea, dates
to the sixth century. The temple is known
for its worship of the Ksitigarbha Bodhi-
sattva and for its annual camellia festival.
Through the practice of dado (tea ceremo-
ny) at Seonunsa, it is said that one can find
true stillness and tranquility in a cup of tea.
Left, monks perform prostrations at Seonunsa Temple in North Jeolla province. The temple, on the slopes of Mount
Dosolsan near the Yellow Sea, dates to the sixth century. Above, the Seokguram Grotto in Gyeongju province.
are said to cultivate an awareness of internal energies while leading practitioners to a
greater sensitivity to external energies.
Several South Korean tour operators offer packages that incorporate temple stays.
Aju Tours has a two-week, inclusive Korean Buddhism and Temple Tour (www.aju
with an English guide.
Highlights include temple food for lunch
and a Yeongsanjae ritual at Bongeunsa
Temple in Seoul; a full-day visit to Mount
Seorak National Park, including Gwonge-umseong Fortress; an overnight at Naksan-sa Temple, which includes a tea ceremony,
a temple dinner and an early morning
worship service; and a visit to Andong, the
home of Korean Confucianism.
A full-day tour of Gyeongju includes
Bulguksa Temple, Seokguram Grotto and
Royal Tumuli Park, while a tour of Busan
takes in the Beomeosa Temple and the
city’s famous fish market.
From Mount Jiri National Park, the
tour visits nearby Cheonghakdong Village,
Hwaomsa Temple, Songgwangsa Temple,
Nakan Folk Village, the beautiful Boseong
Tea Terraces and Suwon Hwaseong Fortress.
Aju Tours works with U.S. travel agents
on a net deal basis, leaving agents to determine their own markup.
A temple stay gives participants the opportunity to “search for their true selves”
and get in contact with their original nature by allowing them to clear the mind.
I have overnighted at some of the temples mentioned above and can vouch for
the meditative benefits of the temple stay
and martial arts experiences. While walk-ing along a peaceful forest path and living
in the moment, I have found, I can listen to
my inner voice. Multiple prostrations in the
wee hours of a morning help one harness
inner desires and let go of attachments.
For some, this reconnection can serve
as a positive turning point for returning to
“the real world.” For others, just spending
a few days in peaceful surroundings away
from cellphones and day-to-day issues can
Temple-style restaurants are available
throughout South Korea.
For those in Seoul, Sanchon (www
. sanchon.com) in the Insadong neighborhood is at the top of the list. It is
a mecca for vegans and vegetarians in
the capital. Born out of Buddhist beliefs, its vegan cuisine makes full use
of Korea’s wild vegetables, roots and
herbs to delicious effect. The restaurant is the creation of former Buddhist
priest Kim Yon-shik.
Sanchon, in Seoul’s Insadong neighborhood, makes
ample use of Korea’s wild vegetables, roots and herbs.
Also in Seoul is Baru ( www.baru
. or.kr), run by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. Baru’s modern take
on tradition packs in flavor, from spicy
fried mushrooms to crisp, sweet dried
Chaegundaam ( www.chaegundaam
.com) in southern Seoul is part of the
Hanmiri restaurant group. Its stylish
decor takes a page from feng shui. In
addition to vegetarian options, the restaurant features beef and fish dishes.