Temple Stay is a cultural experience program that was designed to enhance the foreign travellers’ knowledge of Korean Buddhism. Visitors are welcome to stay at Buddhist temples regardless of their religious belief. A typical temple stay program allows for an overnight stay at a Buddhist temple with participation in Buddhist rituals, such as the ceremonial service of yebul, Zen meditation and a monastic meal called barugongyang. Depending on the temple, there may be other activities available, such as the tea ceremony, prayer bead crafts, hiking and outdoor meditation. While visitors may find more than a few Buddhist temples that host temple stays in Seoul, the majority of Buddhist temples are located in the southernmost part of South Korea.
There are a few pieces of etiquette that visitors need to follow, such as no shouting, no physical contact between men and women, no chewing gum, no drinking alcohol, no eating meat or fish, and no taking photos within the Buddha Hall. However, as long as visitors follow the rules, there are tonnes of Buddhist temples in Korea that have open doors to curious visitors...
By Sandra K. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Located east of Naksan Mountain at Sungin-dong, Jongno-gu in Seoul, the Myogaksa Temple is one of the more renowned Buddhist temples when it comes to temple stays. This temple has been offering temple stay since 2002, when many Buddhist temples in Seoul opened their doors to visitors for the soccer World Cup. Today, the temple stay program is titled "Free from All Anxiety". Visitors will participate in the usual routines of ceremonial service, Zen meditation and the monastic meal, as well as learn about Korean culture and history through the interesting and varied stories of the monks and nuns. It offers a simple one-day program in which guests learn about temple life, and a two-day, one-night program where visitors can get a feel of what it is like to live as a monk or nun. Aside from the usual ceremonies, overnight visitors can expect early morning hiking, lessons in making lotus lanterns and the making of the 108 prayer beads.
International Seon Centre
This seven story building doesn't look much like a Buddhist temple, as it is located in the middle of bustling Seoul. However, it is indeed a Buddhist Temple and it is run by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. This big old building is a global temple stay centre in which local residents and foreign visitors alike can experience the various practices of Korean Buddhism. Packages for this temple stay program come in one-day stays and two-day, one-night stays, as well as unique one-afternoon lessons on Sundays. Visitors can take meditation classes, Seon Culture classes, attend temple food lectures, converse over tea with monks, try their hand at Buddhist yoga and learn the meaning behind the Buddhist chant of Yebul.
The Yongjusa Temple is located on Songsan Mountain in central south Korea, just outside Hawseong, Gyeonggi-do. Its temple stay program aims to help locals and foreign visitors alike understand the meaning of filial piety. In addition to educating on Buddhism, it educates visitors on the importance of family. This particular temple stay program is one of the few temples in Korea that is a fine place to take the kids. There is a certain serene beauty to the surrounding area, as well as some beautiful examples of traditional temple architecture. Visitors can do a temple stay over the weekend, where they will be treated to various filial piety teaching activities, as well as the usual Buddhist practices of Yebul, monastic meals, Zen meditation and tea ceremonies.
Woljeongsa Temple is located on Odaesan Mountain in Jinbu-myeon, Pyeongchang-gun, Gangwon-do in central south Korea. It features beautiful classic Buddhist temple architecture nestled high in the peaceful mountains. Like other Buddhist temple stays, Woljeongsa Temple offers the traditional temple stay activities like meals and the ceremonial Yebul. However, it also specializes in Zen meditation and yoga, both of which the monks enjoy doing outside in the beautiful grounds. Other activities include peaceful hikes through the fir tree forest, touring the various temple buildings and trekking by the Odaecheon Stream. One special portion of this particular temple stay program is hiking to the Buddhist hermitage on Odaesan Mountain. This is where Buddhist monks and nuns go to be in seclusion and meditate.
The Donghwasa Temple is located in southern South Korea in the slopes of the Palgong Mountain at Dohak-dong, Dong-gu in Daegu-si. This particular temple runs a few different temple stay experiences, from the Buddhism experience, to the relaxation-type experience and the practice-focus experience. One of the major attractions at this temple is the Tongilyaksa Yeoraedaebul, or the Great Unification of Buddha statue that is eternally praying for the reunification of the nation of Korea. However, the great praying Buddha is not the only attraction at this temple. It is also home to two other Buddha statues: the Ma-ae Buljwasang (a seated statue of Buddha) and Biro-am Seokjo Birojanabulsang (Buddha of the Infinite Cosmic Light). During temple stays at Donghwasa Temple, visitors not only get a chance to see these statues up close, but take part in all the usual Buddhist temple stay activities. Visitors can stay at this temple for up to three-days and two-nights, where they can learn prayer bead threading, Buddhist yoga, lotus lantern making, woodblock painting and meditating under the stars of the clear night sky.
The temple stays held at Geumsansa Temple the highest ratings among temple stays in South Korea. Through extensive dialogue with the monks, visitors are afforded frequent opportunities to ask questions about Buddhism and to get to know the individual members of the temple better. The temple offers not just an experience in Buddhism, but the experience to get to know what small town life in South Korea is like. Geumsansa Temple is located in southern South Korea in Geumsan-ri, Geumsan-myeon, Gimje-si, Jeollabuk-do. The temple stay program allows for visitors to learn the traditional culture of Korean Buddhism. Aside from the usual temple stay activities, visitors have numerous chances to hike the ground alone or with other monks. The temple also offers other activities like Hwajeon Nori, which is a flower pancake folk game, tea making and rice planting and harvesting.
By Steve46814 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The Mihwangsa Temple allows for the longest temple stay program by far, with a maximum of up to eight days at the temple. The temple stay programs are extremely practice-focused with an emphasis on Seon meditation. Mihwangsa Temple is located in Dalmasan Mountain, Seojeong-ri, Songji-myeon, Haenam-gun, Jeollanam-do and is considered to be one of the most beautiful temples in the nation. Though this is a Korean temple, there are many opportunities at Mihwangsa Temple to learn classic Chinese Buddhism arts as well as experience the difficulties and triumphs that come with communal living. Individuals will be assigned a monk while groups will follow a group of monks as they go about their daily lives. They will work, eat, sleep and meditate alongside them.