As mentioned before, I went to stay at Myogaksa (묘각사) temple, which is on Mt. Naksan in Seoul. There was a large group of us going from Soonchunhyang, but we went in separate groups on the train to make it more manageable, organization wise. My group arrived at the temple just before 2:30 which was the set arrive-by time. We were given the orange Buddhist uniform to change into, and then filled out various forms and were introduced to the rest of the participants. In total, there were about 45 people, and 21 or so of them were from my school.
The first order of business was to begin to understand Buddha, and what it means to people. We learned about the 6 states of feeling and what it means to be enlightened. After that, we all participated in ringing the bell that begins the evening ceremony, which we also participated in. There was a lot of chanting, and the temple, called "big chanting room" (I swear, I'm not making this up) was beautiful, with sculptures, paintings and paper lotus' all over the room. After all this, we got to do our 108 prayers (6 feelings/sensations (36) and then 3 more for past, present and future (3x36=108). This whole thing was done in silence, and each prayer equaled a bead on our very own prayer necklace. Let me assure you, 108 prostrations is hard work. My knees are killing me, but it was worth it.
This was followed by a lovely vegetarian dinner. I could actually eat everything and that is shocking. First meal I didn't have to worry about death since I arrived in Korea! Huzzah! (vegetarian with actual meat/seafood/fish allergies-the deathy kind). The only rules about dinner were this-No talking; and eat everything on your plate. Sadly, many people found this to be quite difficult. I, however, did not. The food was delicious!
A brief meditation session followed the meal, and then it was off to bed at 10:00.
Wake up time the next day (today) was a brutal 4:30AM. We washed and then met at the bell again to ring it for the early morning ceremony. We did not do the morning ceremony this time, but instead met inside for 40 minutes of meditation, this time with the temples Zen master. It was good, but hard, and I may be too old for sitting still for 40 minutes cross legged. However, I did do it, much to the dismay of my legs and hip joints. Again, totally worth it.
Following the meditation was a vigorous walk through the mountain and small forest behind the temple, which was beautiful, and cold. We made it to a viewing pagoda just as the sun was rising. It was breathtaking. Random fact-All-save one-temples in Korea are on a mountain. We strolled back down the mountain, and then met for breakfast, which was just as delicious, if not even better, than the dinner before.
A tea ceremony followed the meal, and then it was time to change and head home.
Overall, I had an amazing time, and I learned a lot about Buddhism, and how it affected Korea. It was a great experience, and I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Korea.
Oh, and one other amazing thing about the temple stay? We met a couple from America who were at the temple in order to learn about Buddhism and Korea, so that they could teach it to the young Korean boy they are adopting. They get to meet him on Tuesday, and I wish them all the luck and good fortune in the world. It was an amazing, beautiful story, and I am happy to have been able to share that.