October 27, 2017

2:30 AM. In our six days stay in Korea, it was our earliest call time. We had to wake up early because we are to join the 3 AM 108 Buddhism prostrations prayers ceremony. Personally, I didn’t sign up for it, but it was an opportunity to experience a different culture. Still groggy, I roused myself up from my deep slumber to prepare for the ceremony. I was practically dragging myself. The slap of early autumn breeze which greeted us when we stepped out helped in waking up my slumbering cells.

Together with my companions and Frank and Jessica, we made our way to the main temple hall. The nims were also making their way to the main hall for the ceremonies. Entering through the left door, we were greeted by the strong whiff of incense which made the room feel warmer. We automatically went to get cushions while waiting for the ceremony to start.

A nim led the morning prayers, chanting prayers as we prostrate facing one Buddha statue after the other. We were not able to make out any of the chants but we nevertheless followed the nim’s guidance. We bowed 36 times before the main statue before doing the same to the two other statues located on both sides of the hall. We thought that it was going to take some time to complete the 108-bow cycle but it was over in a jiffy. Moreover, my friends and I didn’t find it physically taxing unlike our friends who experienced physical pains following their 108 Prostrations the week before us.

A tranquil session between participants and the sunim. Photo taken at Beomeosa by Ziv Nadcop.

So what is the 108 Prostrations for? Apparently, in Buddhim, practitioners must bow 108 times to free oneself from the 108 defilements or the sources of sufferings.

Following the ceremony, we returned the cushions and headed back to our respective rooms to continue our stalled sleep. At around 6 AM, I was roused once again by the abrupt movements of my companions. They woke up early to explore the area further. Well, we did plan on climbing the mountains around the temple. Moreover, morning walk are always healthy.

However, we must reenergize ourselves first. Before heading out for our morning stroll, we headed to the mess hall where we were again greeted by a plethora of healthy meals. Voraciously, we feasted on the healthy food. Just like yesterday, the Korean ahjummas adamantly took charge of cleaning the dishes. Despite the language barriers, we were slowly learning more about Koreans and their culture.

After our healthy meal, we headed out and walked around the area while garbed in our temple clothing. We were joined again by Jessica and Frank who both happens to be outdoor enthusiasts. Jessica, like Voltaire, is looking to sharpen her picture-taking skills. As the temple is surrounded by mountains, it wasn’t difficult looking for places to explore. We began with the park beside the temple where we met some cute puppies and their mother.

Tie a red ribbon round the old pine tree 🙂 
Morning treks are always healthy alternatives to sedated lifestyles.
Many believe that Seoul is a but another concrete jungle, that it has forsaken nature. That is not the case as it found the perfect harmony with nature. This is the morning view halfway through Bukhansan.

Beside the park are tall pine trees. When we made out the starting point of a trail going up to Bukhan mountains, we decided to climb up. The climb, although not technically difficult, was challenging nevertheless because we were not in our proper climbing gears. After climbing for a couple of minutes, we reached an open spot where we can view parts of Seoul. The autumn breeze and the fresh air rejuvenated our tired bodies as well. We snapped some more pictures and drunk in our environment before heading back to the temple to prepare for our check out.

Before going back to our room, we took the time the snap more pictures of the temple and its environs. There is a tranquility to the place that appeases the soul. It is also a great place to snap pictures for keepsakes. The serenity appealed to me greatly but it was unfortunate that our stop is brief. It was only Jessica who is going to stay for one more day while Frank, just like us, is to check out on the same day.

We see a wall, we pose. 
Whatever path you take, always walk the path of righteousness.
We’ll see each other again someday, Jingwansa.

Back to our room, we prepared our things and changed to our regular clothes. It was indeed a brief stop but despite the brevity, it is one that is enlightening. We also gained more insights on how monks live. When all our things were ready, we headed to the administrative office to settle our account.

When we booked our temple stay in Jingwansa through eng.templestay.com, we were very lucky because they had a promo. From the usual rate of around 70,000 Won for a one-day, one-night weekday stay, we got to book for a meager 10,000 Won each! Yes, a whopping cut of 60,000 Won! The temple stay rate in Jingwansa is actually one of the highest in Korea because its reputation. I guess all our stars aligned that day in our favor.

For keepsake, the coordinator handed each of us a book about temple Buddhism and a recipe book for temple food. As a token of our gratitude, we gave her the dried mango we purchased before flying to Seoul. Indeed, it was a pleasure to have experienced temple stay in Jingwansa. I hope I can come back someday and stay for a longer period.

Here’s an example of Korean temple food culled from the keepsake given to us.
Our keepsake from our Jingwansa temple stay.
A final glance at Jingwansa before waving goodbye.

Excerpts from Questions and Answers: Understanding Korean Buddhism published by the Association of Korean Buddhist Orders:

  • How does Buddhism differ from other religions, in particular, Christianity?
    • While other religions rely mainly upon that which is outside of oneself, Buddhism stresses the importance of relying on one’s own strength, as well as outside help.
  • Then why do Korean Buddhist monastics wear gray?
    • Gray is the color attained by mixing black and white, and is worn to signify the “Middle Way” that does not lean toward any opposite extremes.