I had been wanting to do a temple stay for a while: a friend of mine told me about her great experience participating in one a few months ago, so I added it to my list of things to do during my year in South Korea because it would be a great way to learn more about Buddhism and Korean culture. After my six month mark hit, I realized I only had six months left to start checking things off that list; I also realized that I hadn’t done anything new and cultural in Korea since June, so I was extra determined to make it happen.
The purpose of a temple stay is to learn more about Korean Buddhism by spending 24 hours in a temple to give you a small glimpse of what the life of a Buddhist monk or nun is really like. During the temple stay, you will do things like hear informational lectures about Buddhism, make prayer beads, participate in ceremonies, and of course, learn how to meditate. You will also eat like a vegetarian, sleep on the floor, and wake up at 4:30 in the morning. I enjoyed all of the different parts that made up the temple stay itinerary. There were two parts, however, that I found to be particularly challenging: the 108 prostrations and meditating.
In case you were wondering, a prostration is is a gesture used in Buddhism to show reverence. I’m not going to go into a detailed explanation of what a prostration is when I can just link you to this short Youtube clip…
Done watching the clip? Ok good. Anyway, one of our assignments on Saturday was to make our own Buddhist prayer beads, but there was a catch: we had to do one prostration before stringing each bead, totaling 108 prostrations altogether. I didn’t think this task would be so hard at first, but after the 20th prostration, my legs started to burn because I was basically using them to lift up my entire body from the bowing position back to standing. I was determined to do all 108, though, which left my legs feeling like jello by the time my prayer bead was finished.
On Sunday morning, we woke up at 4:30am and began our meditation which was to last 40 minutes. Again, 40 minutes of meditation didn’t seem so hard at the time, but once we actually started meditating, I changed my mind: First of all, the meditation position is pretty uncomfortable if you’re not very flexible (that would be me), so sitting like that for even 10 minutes starts to hurt after a while. Second, the purpose of meditating is to clear your mind and focus on just being in the present, rather than the past or the future. Some advice the nun who was leading the temple stay gave us was to repeat the word “nothing” over and over again in our heads while meditating. I tried this, but it didn’t distract me from my head full of racing thoughts: things I needed to get done when I got home, Halloween weekend, my boyfriend’s upcoming visit in a couple months, etc. I could not get my mind to just stop and focus for the life of me. And on top of everything, we had just woken up and my legs were painfully sore; being sleepy and in pain made it even harder for me to focus and find my “Buddha mind.”
After participating in the templestay, I have a new found respect and appreciation for Buddhist monks. For one, Buddhist monks will do up to 3000 prostrations at a time which takes them up to 12 hours! I could barely do 108, much less 3000. Also, I’ve realized that there is so much more to meditating than I ever imagined, like body positioning, discipline, and extreme focus. Even though I left the temple stay with sore quad muscles, rather than the ability to meditate on command, I’m still glad I went because I feel like I learned a lot and it was a good experience. One thing I learned about myself over the weekend is how much I tend to focus on the future, rather than living in the present: I’m always trying to plan things out and thinking about my next step, rather than focusing on the now. After realizing this about myself, I’ve decided I want to adopt the Buddhist mentality of ‘living in the present’ as one of my own mentalities, because I think it’s a good mentality to have not just for me, but for anyone.