Temple Stay & River Trekking

Buddhism is hard work.  Let me sum up my weekend stay at Bapheungsa Temple with the reality of Sunday night: I went to bed at 9:00 and slept for 13 hours. 


Not that the experience wasn’t great, or insightful.  It began with a bus ride, as all Adventure Korea trips do.  The group was looking forward to getting out of Seoul, and to catching a glimpse of Korea that cannot be found in a bar or manufactured in a foreigner’s district; the mountains that greeted us upon arrival at our destination did not disappoint.  After adorning our comfortable, if unflattering, temple attire (think Aladdin meets Silence of the Lambs) we took a meditation walk, emptying our minds, focusing only on our footsteps.  When we reached the clearing we were rewarded with a spectacular sight; our host monk asked us to close our eyes in reflection and I was reluctant to miss a moment of the view.  Humbled by the towering mountains, we shouted at them to hear our voices and honour the dedication we would express over the next few hours.  That evening we also participated in a traditional tea ceremony, and discussion/question period.  We talked about dreams, and focus, and the power of positive thought.  We debated the ‘delusion’ of people who tend to focus on too many things, thereby fragmenting their spiritual energy.  Before bed we hiked up to the highest point on the temple grounds to perform the customary 108 prostrations while focusing on our own particular dream.  Each bow begins standing and ends with knees, elbows and head firmly on the ground, and for your conception I can only compare the feeling with an equal number of squats at the gym. 


The food over the weekend was simple but delicious, vegetarian and typically Korean: steamed rice and seaweed soup, with various kimchi and fruit salad side dishes.  Part of Buddhist belief involves being grateful for where the food came from and not just devouring it.  This practice was emphasized this weekend by silent meals and a traditional wooden-bowl breakfast, after which we cleaned our bowls using a piece of kimchi and then drank the cleaning water and ate the kimchi.  There can be waste, and no extravagance.


On Sunday morning, after a 3am wakeup call, mountain climb and more bowing, we napped, ate breakfast, and learned how to make lotus laterns. We also repeated our previously practiced 108 bows, this time in order to make Buddhist beads: one was placed on the string for each completed bow (I may have placed two or three at various times).  Then after lunch we had a nice relaxing walk along the river before heading back to traffic-infused Seoul and reality. Bummer.  For me, the weekend provided a new respect and slight awe for the Buddhist culture, although I think I actually understand it slightly less than I thought I did before. Isn’t that the ultimate effect of getting just a taste of something unfamiliar?


The truth is that the weekend was far from the relaxing retreat I had imagined, however, I worked hard for my enlightenment – my brief look into a simple, dedicated way of life –and I am all the more grateful for it.

Written by Melissa King