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Temple Stay Gaining Popularity With Creative Ideas

By Han Sang-hee, The Korea Times, Aug 27, 2009

Seoul, South Korea -- Koreans, like most holidaygoers in the world, look for new ways to spend their summer breaks every year. In 2009, the vacation goers' sense of adventure has turned toward the zen, at temple stays aimed for families.

<< Children learn Chinese characters during a temple stay program at Mihwang Temple in South Jeolla Province.
/ Courtesy of the Cultural Corps of Jogye Order of Korea Buddhism

The temple stay, which began as a national campaign to provide accommodation during the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup Games, has evolved over the past years. The basic temple stay is simple: Getting up early in the morning to practice Buddhist ceremony services, the "balwoo-gongyang," or meal ceremony, the meditation and the 108 bows. But now, temples have come up with creative ideas to attract more visitors, both adults and children.

Numerous temples arranged programs fit for children and students this year, offering them a calming experience in the temple, plus some interesting educational gains as well.

One of the most popular was the Chinese Character Schools offered in Mihwang Temple in South Jeolla Province, Buseok Temple in north Gyeongsang Province and Geumseon Temple in Seoul.

The schools consisted of classes that teach Chinese characters and traditional culture, offering participants the chance to explore ancient activities, games, food and Chinese characters that are important in understanding the Korean language.

``My daughter first said she had a hard time, but when she started to tell about her stay and studies, her eyes twinkled and got excited. She loved it and she learned a lot, not only her studies but also how to appreciate the peace and quiet of temples,'' a mother who sent her daughter to Mihwang Temple's program wrote on the temple's Web site.

Another participant wrote on Geumsun Temple's Web site that the program ``helped her open her eyes'' and hoped those who are seeking peace get to join as well.

Equally, these programs didn't forget the essence of temple stays where many had prepared soul searching and many busy yet depressed students and adults visited to seek direction in life.

``Although we had to follow a very tight schedule, we could free ourselves from all the attachments to society and realize what we should do with our future. We have learned so much through the simple routines of everyday life,'' a participant wrote on Songgwang Temple's Web site.

These summer programs are likely to be on offer next year, so check with the Chogye of Korea Buddhism Cultural Corps at www.templestay.com.

What to Look for In Fall, Winter

Summer has passed, and now comes the season of colorful leaves and the gentle breeze. Enjoy the beautiful seasons of fall and winter at temples with your family this year, and, of course, experience a bit more than Zen. Due to the Influenza A (H1N1) virus, some temples have postponed or canceled their plans for the latter year, so be sure to contact them and check if they are still continuing the programs before deciding.

The Lotus Lantern International Meditation Center in Incheon is one of the most famous places where you can learn the Buddhist ways and also English. By request, you can participate in an only English-speaking program at the center. Temples stays are possible all year round for both Koreans and foreigners. For more information, visit www.lotuslantern.net.

One of the most important lessons Korean parents want their children to master is ``hyo,'' or filial piety. Where would be better than a temple where there are no televisions, Internet access and comic books? Pyochung Temple, South Gyeongsang Province, has a children's program that focuses on hyo, while Yonjoo Temple, located in Gyeonggi Province, offers a program called the Filial Piety Education Program, where children, and also their parents, can learn how Koreans lived with the elderly, particularly their parents, in the past. This program will be especially effective when both children and parents participate, as it includes sessions like talking about relationships within the family, the roles and duties each family member holds and also about the ways to soothe colds and uncomfortable relations. The education program will be held from Sept 26 to 27. For more information, visit www.pyochungsa.or.kr or call (055) 352-1150 and www.yongjoosa.or.kr or (031) 234-0040.

Ssanggye Temple in South Gyeongsang Province will prepare its Winter Summer Buddhist School during winter vacation. The students are limited to 120 and children in kindergarten and elementary school can attend. According to the temple, the overall aim of the school is to enable children to express their feelings freely, and learn to help others and more about Buddhism. Participating students will also get to spend time at the Ssanggye gorge and learn how to live the simple life of a monk. For more information, visit www.ssanggyesa.net or call (055) 883-1901.

For hiking lovers, Naeso Temple would be the best place to visit. The temple in North Jeolla Province holds a hiking program between regular schedules fit into the temple stay. The two-day program includes most of the activities carried out in other temples, such as 108-bows and Buddhist ceremonial services, but it also includes hiking up Mt. Byun. The four-hour hike will help participants enjoy the beautiful scenery around them, and also discover how small their problems are in the presence of mountains and woods. For more information, visit www.naesosa.org or call (063) 583-3035.

Bubheung Temple in Gangwon Province is a place for those who are in need of direction. The Mondangyeonpil program is all about dreams, as it carries sessions that help participants think about their future, perfect for those who need a break from the hustle and bustle of their daily lives, even the little ones. After rethinking about the past and preparing for the future, the temple explains that anyone can go back to real life and make dreams come true. For more information, visit www.bubheungsa.or.kr or call (033) 374-9177.

Simhyang Temple, South Jeolla Province, has a special Winter Templestay for Children every year. The program is held during winter vacation for elementary students and offers education sessions like learning English, yoga, making temple food, handmade soap and also tea ceremonies. For more information, visit www.simhyangsa.or.kr or call (061) 334-2880.

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