Getting to the Gwanhga bus terminal on the 3000 bus from Sinchon took around 2 hours, 30 minutes longer than I had anticipated after reading an online article. Either way it was quite simple, except for working out how to pay. It turns out I needed to, at the start and end of journey, swipe my T money card. This is an ‘Oyster’ like card I use to pay for the underground and many other transactions like pay-phones and vending machines.
At the bus station it was time to use T money to call the temple to see if somebody could pick me up, else it would be a very rural bus ride, which I didn’t really fancy.
A very friendly guy who lives at the temple and works in the office to support the Temple Stay visitors picked me up 10mins later. He was so helpful and into Zen, in the evening he perform the most purposeful tea ceremony for me. He really was in the zone.
I arrived at the temple at 2pm and had 2 hours before orienteering, which is a fancy word for an introduction to the temple. The guy who picked me up showed me around to give me feel of the place and then introduced me to one of the monks who was about to make tea for another temple stayer. This monk was very smily and articulate in English and, as it turns out, Korean because he was originally from India. His knowledge and the way he explained information was outstanding, he first answered a question from the Korean guest before answering mine on how to control pain with the mind. He explained that pain is only registered in the mind and the mind is always changing. You can ( and I think he has ) sit in the same position and not move for hours and you will go in and out pain, the skill is mindfully watching the sensations change and move, don’t get involved with it just sit and watch it pass. It makes sense and is a simple method that takes some practice and trust. This is like much of buddhism the idea and solution is simple. The application, though possible, takes some practice.
The orienteering was a more detailed tour of the temple along with an explanation of our routine and what we could expect during our stay. Our schedule was:
2:00 p.m.: Arrival & Check-in
4:00 p.m.: Orientation
6:00 p.m.: Dinner
7:00 p.m.: Evening Chanting
7:20 p.m.: Lecture of Basic Buddhism & Korean Seon meditation
8:00 p.m.: Practice Sitting Meditation. (20min)
9:00 p.m.: Sleep
04:00 a.m.: Waking up
04:10 a.m.: Morning Chanting (108 prostrations)
05:30 a.m.: Sitting Meditation (20min)
06:30 a.m.: Breakfast
07:30 a.m.: Walking Meditation / team work
08:30 a.m.: Tea time and talks with the guide monk
09.30 a.m.: Copying Sutras at the library or Gogeong Seonbang
11:00 a.m.: Rice offering to the Buddha and Chanting
12:00 a.m.: Lunch
12:30 p.m.: Cleaning rooms & Check-out
The monk who delivered this schedule and showed us around was originally from Russia and has been a Korean monk for the last 12 years, he is also fluent in both Korean and English. I feel we both connected and had a lot to talk about, especially during the walking meditation when we discussed the suffering of two dears we saw in a compound, the mother dear was particularly distressed by the fact her child was on the outside and clearly pinning for her. I asked the monk the ethical case for me opening the the gate and releasing the penned animals. We had an interesting conversation about not knowing all the facts and concluded it best to leave the situation as it was.
Some interesting rituals I needed to remember to enter with my right foot in to the temple so I would be facing the Buddha statue to bow. The other was that only the chief monk, known as the abbot, could use the main double door to the temple. The Abbot turned out to be the Monk from India who I had tea with not long after I arrived. Another thing to remember was that the monks enter and are served first for food and when ever we see a monk we should bow.
Whilst in the UK and exploring buddhism, I found that chanting was not really for me and this retreat was exactly the same. This temple stay had the least amount of chanting out of all my options, which is why I was drawn to it. The first chanting session in the evening only lasted 20 minutes followed by a 20 minute meditation before bed at 9pm. This was a good time to hit the sack because meditation and chanting started in the morning at 4am. I was fine with the meditation, however I do find mornings easier for this exercise, the evening meditation took more effort and concentration.
My bed was surprisingly comfortable seeing that it was made of futon type cushions. My alarm woke me up at 3:50am and I had a quick shower before moving to the temple. From here the day flowed really nicely into breakfast, rest, an hour meditation walk, calligraphy, tea ceremony and the final 20 minute chanting of the retreat before lunch and packing up to leave.
As we finished our tea the friendly Russian Monk shared with us that today was a special lunar calendar day for koreans so we will be having an hour long chanting and praying session, which would all be in Korean. I found this challenging and had to say to myself ‘that this too shall pass’ and not last for ever, which at times it did feel like it would. It was good spiritual practice in how to reduce suffering, especially when it over ran by 15 minutes.
Kindness and friendliness has been a theme of my stay in Korea and all the people here were no different. An example of the kindness I have experience in everyday Korean life is the day before yesterday it started to rain and a man came running over to share his umbrella with me so I did not get wet. A few times when I stopped to look at my map individuals have offered to help and even take me to my location. At the temple everybody was really considerate and helped me through the etiquettes and saved a place for me a meditation, chanting, lunch and generally looked out for me.
The food was very simple, which I liked alot. I found the prayer we would say before any food a little ‘different’ to what I have said before. I liked parts of it, but was unsure about one of the line about not be worthy to eat it.
All in all I really enjoyed my stay, in particular I liked laying on my bed after I switched the light off and could hear the Crickets and see the differing shades of the night sky as I drifted off in to my slumber. Conversing with the monks was another highlight.
What I learned from stay:
Not knowing when something is going to end is a challenge for me, though I know it will end. It can be a long work meeting or a Korean Chanting session I still need to support myself through overrunning events.
I really respect commitment. Raimund Rover and the Russian Monk who learned new languages to achieve their dreams. I am starting to think that I need to commit to something, but what?!
I am learning alot about myself but also reinforcing beliefs that I have known for awhile this visit to the temple gave me space to notice how far I have come on my inner journey since I have started travelling.