Within the hustle and bustle of Seoul lie many peaceful Buddhist temples. Last Saturday, CIEE students and CIEE Seoulmates, local volunteer college students, participated in a temple stay at Hwagyesa Temple.
Upon arriving, we stripped off our outerwear and put on our temple uniforms, a light blue robe. Our lovely monk guide then showed us an explanatory video to our stay for the day. During this tutorial, we learned about a monk's daily schedule, such as sleeping at 9pm and waking up at 4AM. Thisis a level of discipline that many strive for but cannot achieve. As visitors, we could only attempt to do this. Although we could not become monks in a day, we were able to learn about Buddhist practices such as meditation, prayer, and greeting.
When praying, one is not praying to a god, but for one’s well-being. As our introductory video said “the only person who can make you happy is you.” Thus, practicing prayer is a form of self love, respect, and discipline. Moreover, when meditating we must put our hands in a specific way and rest them on our lower belly and sit in a way our shoulders can relax. Because we were beginners, most of us kept our eyes closed during meditation, but actually it is practiced with almost-closed eyes, to remain aware of one's surroundings. As for greeting, when encountering a monk or another visitor it is custom to greet them, showing respect and acknowledgement of others.
The great principle of Buddhism is gratitude and love for all beings in the universe, and this is exemplified through the daily practices we were taught. Like many other religions, we had to pray before and after eating. Our monk guide also told us to refrain from talking about the temple food and to not leave any food behind; thus not being wasteful and being grateful for what was provided.
After lunch, through making lotus flower crafts (which were real cute), we learned about the meaning of lotus flowers in Buddhism, enlightenment and self-awareness amongst the mundanity of society. It is also symbolic of rebirth. Lastly, we participated in a tea ceremony with traditional rice cakes (ddok) and green tea. Overall, the temple stay was a great opportunity to relax away from the city and learn more about Buddhism.