Words and photos by Stephanie and Ryan Hedger
Spring is the season of rebirth. As the trees and flowers begin to reemerge from their recent slumber, a feeling of renewal and lightness blankets the Korean peninsula. Nature cycles through the seasons much as humans do, and in the months following winter, people typically begin the same slow stretch.
Like with New Year’s resolutions, this time of the year beckons us toward self-improvement and the newly perceived possibilities inherently awakened by the changing season. In the months of March and April, we come back to life alongside the flora and fauna of this beautiful country, and we might have just the perfect suggestion for kicking off spring in a fitting way: a templestay in one of South Korea’s many Buddhist temples.
Templestays are programs organized and promoted by Buddhist orders in Korea to promote Korean Buddhism by simply allowing insight into the customs and daily life of monks. While on a templestay you keep (loosely) the same schedule as a Buddhist monk living at a temple. You wake up at 3:30 a.m. for prayers, eat what the monks eat, wander the grounds in walking meditation, do activities like making lanterns or prayer beads, and have tea chats with monks. Obviously, you are never required to do anything that makes you uncomfortable, but the programs are designed to give you a taste of what Buddhist monks in Korea have been practicing for hundreds of years. You wear special clothes, learn to walk in certain ways, and see many of the customs in a very lighthearted and enjoyable way. Buddhists are not known for their severity, and we were constantly told that if any activity was too much to handle or we were not interested, we were free to step out.
With these activities aimed to introduce you to a simpler way of life and experience such an integral part of Korea’s culture, a templestay acts as a perfect way to be re-introduced to the world after a long, cold winter. In this way, we highly recommend enrolling in a templestay program this spring. Not only does this type of program provide that gentle nudge toward something new or out of the ordinary that many of us desperately need each year, but it also taps into a sense of consciousness and mindfulness of our surroundings. After a long winter, it is important once again to reconnect with the environment from which we have all been hiding for months on end. A weekend at a temple provides this opportunity in spades, through walking the grounds of the temple and eating food grown by the monks and nuns. In every aspect of these programs, participants should be directed toward purposeful living, which is largely missing from our lives as we “survive” winter. This type of program, when done with an open mind, should be the jumpstart most of us need as the ground begins to thaw.
In modern times, the life of a Buddhist monk can seem archaic or even strange, but there is more to it than meets the eye. While learning and participating in these programs, you are likely to forget what you are not doing – sitting at home waiting for the weather to change. Sure, this may seem like a ploy for us to drag you out of the house, wake up before sunrise, and wear your legs out through prostration, but a weekend doing these activities is all but guaranteed to get even the most reluctant person into the spirit of spring.
To make reservations and participate in a templestay program in your area or at a beautiful temple you have always admired, visit this link: https://eng.templestay.com/