I wake up feeling like it can’t possibly be time for this alarm to be blaring yet. But it’s 3 AM, after all, and I can hear the big temple bell ringing already. It’s time for the morning prayer service.
My schedule calls this the “dawn yebul” but I think they’ve missed the fact that it is still dark out, and won’t be dawn for at least two hours. A group of us foreigners – most of us, in fact – stumbles across the bridge over the stream that put me to sleep last night.
We approach the main hall, where the first door we try is locked. Finally we get in and grab a prayer mat. I nearly forget, in my tired state, to do the customary three deep bows before sitting down, but I remember at the last minute.
The service is about a half an hour, and consists of chanting (which they didn’t have an English translation for, so we don’t join in) and a series of deep bowing and kneeling. Afterwards, we all go back and take a nap – morning meditation isn’t until 5:30.
By 8 AM, the time I normally get up, we have done the morning prayer, had a nap, done a bunch of deep bowing and then a half hour of meditation, had a delicious vegetarian breakfast, and had another hour of free time. The day seems limitless and endless.
We sweep the courtyard, walking backwards and making aesthetically pleasing arcs. I try not to think about all the tourists that will walk over it and mess it up later. Or at least I try to think about it in a “beauty is fleeting” sort of way.
The next hour is devoted to walking meditation in the forest. It’s absolutely gorgeous up here at Geumsansa Temple, in the mountains above Jeonju, South Korea. But I’m not looking at the landscape, I’m looking at my feet, pouring all my concentration into them (thinking foot, foot, foot helps).
When we’ve finished walking, we switch to sitting meditation. We’re just supposed to listen to the forest now, and it’s difficult for me not to fall asleep. The sounds of the three professional photographers that have been following us around help me stay awake. Meditation finished, we are arranged on some rocks by the river for a photo shoot. I think it will only take a minute so I get into the lotus position (something I’m not flexible enough for). But they don’t tell us to stop posing for 5 minutes, maybe more.
We have tea and ask the monk questions. Last night they told us this monk has a talk show on Buddhist TV. I like the way he is so open and inclusive. The question, “can people of other faiths pray here?” is met with “of course.”
All too soon, lunch is finished and it’s time to go home. I reflect on my short time here. Yesterday’s evening service and concert were wonderful. Today was full of quiet reflection. I loved being in the fresh mountain air and feeling closer to nature. I haven’t felt this spiritual (or more accurately, allowed myself to feel it) in years. The temple clothes were pretty comfortable, too.
Overall, my temple stay experience at Geumsansa Temple was wonderful. The photographers following us around to get shots for a new brochure were a little distracting, but not typical of the program. I can heartily recommend a temple stay for those of you with the time when you’re in Korea. It’s a great way to have an interesting cultural experience, and learn something about Buddhism while you’re at it.