On Wednesday, May 9th, we arrived at the Jeondeungsa Buddhist Temple on Gangwhado Island for a “templestay” (one word). The monastery is situated in the calm, scenic hills of Mount Jeongjoksan. As soon as we arrived, we were given monks’ clothes to wear for the duration of the stay (they had to get special pants for me) and shown our rooms for the night.

For the evening, a monk instructed us in some of the procedures for prayer and meditation in the temple. We also practiced for our Baru breakfast ritual in the morning. As the sun was setting, we all filed into the main temple (about 20′ x 20′) and “prayed” with the 10 monks at the monestary as they chanted in unison. I was not expecting such a moving and intimate experience. I did not know that all of the monks would be there and allow us to be with them during their dusk prayer time.

After the chanting, our guide monk taught us about how to meditate. After doing a variety of stretches, some of us got into the lotus position (not possible for me) and had quiet meditation for about 45 minutes. The monk advised us to find and focus on our “true selves” and not to close our eyes but to focus just a few meters in front of you. I was a little doubtful that I would be able to concentrate on much during this time, but I found that it was very beneficial to me. I’m not sure that I “found myself” but in a way, I did. I won’t go into detail as to what I thought and contemplated, but I did connect with something internal that helped me to refocus myself on how to be an effective leader on this trip.

After meditating, we had about 30 minutes to walk around the temple grounds. The lanterns were lit up and I got some nice photos.

We were required to go to bed at 9:30 because we would be getting up at 4:00 the next morning. At 4:30, we returned to the main temple and participated in the same prayer chanting we witnessed the night before. After that, we went to another temple to complete 108 prostrations. We were all a bit worried about completing these prostrations, because, for some of us, it is very uncomfortable. Holding your hands together in prayer, you go down to your knees (on a pillow, thankfully), place both hands on the floor (right hand first), place your head to the ground, turn your hands up in supplication, raise your head, lift up your hands into the prayer position (left hand first), then stand up (holding your hands together, if possible). It’s quite a workout on both your thighs and ankles. For a newcomer, 3 is a bit difficult. 108 is a workout.

Throughout each of our prostrations, a narrator spoke a supplication of some sort. I particularly connected with some of the supplications dealing with the alleviation of suffering (a central theme in Buddhism).

After our prostrations, we had a breakfast in the Baru tradition. This breakfast has formal procedures (that we were taught the night before) and must be completed in complete silence (you must try to not even make noises with your utensils). You also must absolutely eat everything you take. In fact, they give you water that you rinse out each of your 4 bowls with and you then drink that water. Buddhist monks believe in appreciating gifts from nature, God, etc. and feel it disrespectful and inappropriate to waste anything.

Our monk told us that there are 3 causes for suffering int he world: desire, anger, and ignorance. He also said that monks only take enough food for what their body needs for sustenance. Eating for pleasure (i.e. desire) is not their aim. During my stay at the monastery, I wondered if this was possible, because the food (all vegetarian) was some of the best I’ve had in Korea, so far.

After breakfast, we went on a walk to the top of the mountain. The temple is on an important site for the Joseon Dynasty (who ruled Korea from 1392-1897). The emperor used this site for his palace to avoid the invading Mongols. He was unsuccessful.

After our hike, we had a wonderful farewell tea ceremony with our monk. He gave us each a pearl-like bracelet and thanked us for coming. He couldn’t have been any more welcoming, patient, and sincere.

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On to our next destination, Chuncheon.

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