We headed out of the big city this weekend to exchange the busy noise and overindulgence for peace, quiet and simple living. A long, expensive cab ride following a frustrating set of directions (for other travelers heading to this temple, the directions on the website are NOT correct, you should just call for directions) we finally arrived at the bottom of the hill leading up to the temple. As we reached the top of the road, hidden quietly in the fog was Lotus Lantern International Meditation Temple. Consisting of about 10 buildings, including the Big temple, our warm rooms, a tea cottage, library, and meditation room, several gardens spread about, 2 dogs and only a few people to tend to all the doings around the grounds, I felt at peace as soon as I arrived.
Eric and I slept in separate rooms, as the rules of the temple and we quickly changed into our practice clothes (grey baggy pants and match vest) and were greeted by the Russian monk that would guide us throughout our stay. We were to call him only "monk" and he spoke great English as well as fluent Korean, he had been studying in Korea for 6 years. He explained this was just a brief introduction into Zen Buddhism which is practiced in Japan, Korea, and some parts of China but is different than Tibetan Buddhism. We learned how to bow when we entered the temple, what all the different chants were, practiced meditation, and were allowed to ask many questions. We were silent in reflection most of the night and were instructed to eat and walk in silence (although the three Hispanic women that were also doing the program did not respect this rule, blah blah blah!) After chanting, meditation and eating a vegetarian meal grown on the compound, we drank some tea before heading to bed around 830. I was exhausted from my week of speaking tests at school so I was welcomed this opportunity to sleep my warm bed on the floor of the heated house. I was even more thankful for the early night the next morning at 4 am when the gong began to chime and we rose, quietly making our way to the temple, which looked mystical in the dense fog of the early hour. We bowed and the monks chanted and the Gold Buddha looked happy as they offered their beautiful voices. Nothing else in the world would make me get up at 4 am and it is a morning I will not soon forget, each moment so vivid.
After a day full of meditation, breakfast(which was the same as dinner, rice, many side dishes of veggies, soup and fruit), reflection, a walk around the temple (which revealed a Christian church less than 500 meters away, built only 2 years ago, a common thing to find near Buddhist temples now) a calligraphy lesson and a tea ceremony with the monk it was time for the afternoon temple. Along with the normal chants and bowing, the midday temple also includes the 108 prostration chants which is 108 different blessings and 108 bows. I am proud to say, besides the monks, Eric and I were the only people to complete all 108 bows and it was not easy, my legs are a bit sore today! But it felt great to be able to do them all, even though my poor knee was not happy about it... It was beautiful, challenging and a great experience. After lunch (yup, you guessed it, the same as dinner and breakfast, but still just as delicious!) it was sadly time to head home and I found myself almost dreading going back to the hustle that is called my life. Though I am not sure I could live the Buddhist monk life -no drinking, no marriage, no meat - the ideals of the religion are not just rules, it is a route to a simple life and ultimately happiness. To them Buddha is not "God" but an image of what we all have the potential to be, happy and free from suffering, an enlightened being, who can transcend above all the bullshit and be at one with themselves. That is my ultimate goal in life, to just be happy.
After this weekend I am more interested in Buddhism than ever, especially with its roots and ties to psychology, my true passion. The temple stay program is funded by the Korean government to attract interest in Korean culture, since Buddhist influence can be seen in many parts of the country but Confucianism and Christianity are now more predominant. This was experience was a bit touristy for me but I think it was a great temple for a beginner. I will most definitely try several other temples in Korea and am glad I know the proper etiquette. And I strongly urge you to open up your mind and experience something new, you may be surprised that everything you have always believed is not always the only truth.
Everything is based on mind, is led by mind, is fashioned by mind. If you speak and act with a polluted mind, suffering will follow you, as the wheels of the oxcart follow the footsteps of the ox. Everything is based on mind, is led by mind, is fashioned by mind. If you speak and act with a pure mind, happiness will follow you, as a shadow clings to a form.