All year we have been curious about doing a temple stay at one of the Buddhist temples in Korea. After doing extensive research on many of the hundreds of temples in Korea we thought Beopjusa Temple in the Sogni mountains would be the perfect place to unwind from our city life and humble ourselves living like a Buddhist monk for a day.
About Beopjusa Temple
Situated in Songnisan Park between mountains rests the majestic Beopjusa Temple. Beopjusa is a popular temple for foreigners to do templestay and offer everything in English.
Once you have been to one Korean temple you will notice that all the temples here are pretty similar with the architecture, design, and layout. What some temples offer that vary include either Buddha statues or different landscape and backdrop.
Beopjusa is located next to a stream that connects to a water reservoir and small waterfalls. The two noteworthy sites here are the giant standing golden Buddha statue and the five story wooden pagoda.
The standing Buddha is called Geumdongmireukdaebu and stands 33 meters (108 feet) tall. Below the enormous statue is actually and underground indoor place of worship. As you spiral around the center you will see hundreds of smaller golden and light blue Buddha statues until you reach the room where you can pray.
The other noteworthy site at Beopjusa is Palsangjeon, the five storey wooden pagoda. We were told by a volunteer at our temple stay that this is Korea’s only wooden pagoda and is considered a national treasure to Korea. Most pagodas are made of stone at temples. You can enter the inside of the pagoda and walk around the center of the monument all four sides and see 8 facets that tell the story of Buddha’s life. Surrounding these paintings are white Buddha statues.
Our Templestay Experience
We waited until the last few weeks we had left after our year plus stay in Korea due to the beautiful fall weather and the changing of the leaves. This the time of the year the weather is nice and really beautiful with all the different colors of autumn.
We thought we picked the perfect weekend for this experience, boy were we wrong. The temple stay never informed us that there was going to be a Korean Pop festival held at the temple during our first day. Not exactly relaxing when there is blaring music and old Korean hikers drunk dancing all over the temple. We were very disappointed our first day due to the festival and because of the festival times changed on the ceremonies in which we were not informed and missed the monk drum ceremony as well as most of the evening prayer in the main hall.
Imagine trying to meditate or relax with crazy koren pop music in the background? Not to mention the people attending the concert left trash all over the place. After feeling a bit defeated we saw the humor in the situation and just sort of laughed it off. Here is a good example of the kind of music that was playing in the background.
One of the perks was actually the accommodations. We stayed in a hanok style hostel in Jeonju’s hanok village and loved it last winter. We again got to stay in a very well kept hanok and it was cozy and clean! A bonus of course is the heated floors. So after the festival moved on and packed up we had a wonderful night sleep in our comfy little home for the night.
Temple Stay Activities
-Check into hanok and get settled. Check out the temple and walk around the grounds until orientation.
-Orientation to familiarize you with basic temple rules and itinerary. Also, instructions on how to correctly bow.
-Meditation walk with a monk. This was actually with the temple stay employee, not a monk, and beginners at meditating could not clear out the loud festival music.
-Dinner with the monks. We had a soybean tofu soup, rice, and vegetable & kimchi sides.
-Yebool evening ceremony beginning with drumming and bell striking before prayer in the main hall. We missed a lot of this because they changed the time without notice due to the pop festival.
-Lotus flower lantern making with the templestay group.
-Lights out at 9:00 pm
-Morning Yebool drum, bell, and prayer ceremony at 3:30 am. This was much more of an authentic experience since attendance only included the monks and temple stay participants. During prayer you must bow in sync while listening to soothing chanting from the monks.
-Breakfast was left overs from the previous night.
-108 prostrations with temple stay participants. Each of the 108 bows are representative of a vice or worldly tie that the monk constantly attempts to release themselves from. We worked up a little bit of a sweat but found this experience to be rewarding. We were able to reflect on our own lives and realize we could try harder to think of others more and be less selfish. It was a humbling exercise.
-You had a few hours to rest before meditation with a monk. We were lucky to have the temple’s only nun explain the basics of meditating. Together everyone mediated together for 15-20 minutes.
-Ceremonial tea and talk with the nun. She spoke pretty good English and answered any questions on Korean Buddhism and meditation.
-Tour and explanation of some of the structures throughout the temple.
-Lunch with everyone at the temple. We realized that the temple will serve anyone who shows up on time for a meal. There were hundreds of people in line for the free mountain vegetable bibimbap meal they were serving. Luckily since we were temple stay participants we were able to cut in line. This was the best meal during our stay.
-Buddhism likes to appreciate all the hands it took to make your meal from the person who planted the seed to the person who cooked it and put it in front of your face. You must bow in appreciation to your food before taking your first bite.
-The first note also goes hand in hand with the next one. They do not waste food. They will serve leftovers the next meal and you must clean your plate completely. This is a practice they feel very strongly about. Meals are served buffet style, so only put food on your plate you know you will eat.
-Wash and dry your dishes thoroughly. No one is left doing all the dishes, everyone is responsible for their own.
-Be quiet. No loud laughing or conversation here to keep the calm atmosphere. This was harder for us than we thought! We are very talkative!
-Couples may not show signs of affection on the temple grounds.
-Bow out of respect anytime you cross paths with a monk or nun.
-Wear the outfits the temple stay provide. They are these loose fitting vests and Aladdin looking pants that are traditional clothing. Everyone has to wear them so no need to feel silly.
This is something we have been wanting to do for awhile. The first day started off a little rough with all the distractions from the loud music and concert stage in the middle of the temple grounds. But the second day was a lot better and had more of an authentic experience for your basic temple stay. We happened to do the come on a fluke weekend, so learn from our mistake and double check that there are not festivals going on when you book your temple stay. After finishing we really were happy that we fit this in our last weeks in Korea. We recommend checking out a temple stay while you are in Korea if Buddhism or the temples interest you at all.
You can use this link to help you decide which temple stay is right for you as well as a place to make your reservation. Make sure you share with us your experience!
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