Guided by a monk, visitors take a walk around the grounds of Songgwang Temple near Suncheon, South Jeolla Province.
/ Courtesy of the Cultural Corps of Korean Buddhism
By Do Je-hae
Autumn is considered the best time to visit Buddhist temples in Korea, most of which are nestled in the mountains, providing a refreshing retreat for both body and soul.
The Jogye Order, running many of Korea’s oldest and most prominent Buddhist temples, recently published a list of temples that run programs that combine meditation, exercise and rest for templestay visitors.
One of the special features of the season’s templestay programs is the opportunity to enjoy the fall foliage while trekking in the nearby mountains and valleys.
Templestay programs usually include monastic formal meals with healthy vegetarian dishes, tea ceremonies, morning and evening chanting and “Seon” or Zen meditation. The communal Buddhist meal, or “balwoo gongyang,” is a unique ritual eating that requires eating in absolute silence without wasting a single grain of rice.
This year, the Joyge Order is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the templestay program ahead of the 2002 FIFA World Cup co-hosted by Korea and Japan.
Here are some suggested destinations.
Baekdam Temple, Gangwon Province
This temple was founded in 647 during the reign of Queen Jindeok, the 28th ruler of the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C. — 935).
Baekdam Temple is located in the mountainous province’s Mt. Sorak National Park. The temple is one of the most popular destinations for templestay visitors because of its indigenous habitat. It offers a trekking course and meditation programs that include tea ceremonies.
Baekdam Temple is famous for its association with Manhae Han Yong-un, a renowned poet and an avid nationalist activist resisting Japanese colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula, who once resided in the temple. Today, the temple has the Manhae Monument Hall in commemoration of his spirit.
Naeso Temple, North Jeolla Province
Naeso Temple is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in the nation, located in the district of Buan, North Jeolla Province. It was founded during the Baekje Kingdom in 633.
The temple provides trekking courses through nearby Mt. Naebyun starting with a two-day program that also includes lessons on making vegetarian temple cuisine. The highlight of the temple is the Haewuso, meaning “the place to purge all worries.”
Baekryun Temple, South Jeolla Province
This temple is over 1,000 years old and is famous for its nearby Chilyeon Waterfall, where clear water flows through a thick pine forest and winds through a series of rock formations. The temple offers a three-day meditation program that includes a tour of the waterfall. The famous scholar Dasan lived nearby during his exile in the early-19th century, and some have suggested that the influenced his writings on Korean Buddhism.
The templestay registration fee ranges from 50,000 to 100,000 won for a two-day program and from 100,000 to 120,000 won for a three-day program. For more information, visit www.templestay.com or call (02) 2031-2000.