one of the english teachers who i share an office with invited david and i to accompany her on an overnight stay at a temple on the weekend of october 8th and 9th. through limited conversations in the days leading up to the temple stay, i figured out that david and i would be sleeping on the floor (in separate rooms), that the buddhists only serve vegetarian food, and something about how the showers were all together in a large, open room. david and i had no clue what we had signed ourselves up for, but kept telling ourselves that it was only for 1 night (we could always forego the showers for such a short time period anyway), and it would be an experience that we may never be able to have on our own.
so, my coworker kyenam picked us up at 10 AM on saturday morning and drove us 2 hours south to a gorgeous, remote, coastal area of korea. the temple, called mihwangsa, was in a village called haenam, built into the side of dharma mountain, overlooking the sea. it was a breathtaking locale. there was a special harvest festival going on, with hundreds of paper lanterns strung up between bamboo poles with prayers attached to each lantern. a giant, 500-year-old painting of buddha was unveiled (apparently they only get him out once a year) and there was a huge celebration that lasted late into the night, complete with traditional songs, dances, and a gigantic game of tug-of-war. we were the only foreigners around for the overnight stay, and it was amusing to notice that somehow david’s name had never been properly conveyed to the administration at the temple. so, when we got our nametags and when we looked at our room assignments, both of david’s simply stated “Mr. Breeann.”
sleeping wasn’t ideal for either of us in our separate rooms, especially since many of our roommates snored, but it didn’t last long anyway, because at 4 AM a monk starting banging a gourd by way of alarm clock. we bundled up and shuffled out in the cold, black morning and proceeded to go to temple, meditate, and do a yoga session before the sun had even made it’s journey into the sky. david and i were friendly observers, attempting to participate when we could, and my coworker was kind enough to translate bits and pieces for us, but still we walked away confused by the reasoning behind some of the rituals and routines the monks did.
in the end, we laughed at some of the quirky/awkward things about the weekend, and we certainly were not any closer to becoming buddhist, but we were glad we went. it is fascinating to learn about a way of life so different from my own, and i could learn a thing or two from their lives of simplicity and discipline. it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, as they say. and anyway, watching a monk text, or wear adidas socks under his traditional robes, or play tug-of-war (or seeing my husband in a nametag that says “Mr. Breeann”) is priceless.