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Korean Air Invites Foreigners into the Sacred World of Buddhist Monks

by Douglas Wright, Travel AOL, May 14, 2010

Seoul, South Korea -- Instead of lying on a crowded beach and sipping overpriced fruity cocktails this summer, why not seek out true relaxation with a journey to the Far East in search of inner peace?

Korean Air, in partnership with Hanjin Travel, is letting foreigners for the first time enter the sacred world of Buddhist monastic life in Seoul through new "Templestay" tours, where guests can get in touch with their true selves and achieve peace of mind with a little help from the local monks.

The special tours will immerse travelers in the life of a Korean Buddhist monk for a day, shadowing the daily activities of the monks and visiting five of the most famous temples in South Korea, such as the Jinkwansa Temple near Seoul. The temple guests will be treated to ancient tea ceremonies, take part in Zen meditation, and even enjoy traditional meals with the monks.

The overnight stays begin with a 'Yebul' ceremonial chanting, held three times a day to clear one's mind of worldly concerns. The visitors will partake in Zen meditation (known as 'Seon' in Korea) with both traditional sitting meditation and walking meditation through nearby forests. During the 'Dado' tea ceremonies with the monks, visitors will be asked to focus on the sounds of the water boiling, the calming aroma of the tea, its warmth and delicate taste in silent contemplation. Temple guests will also be invited to sit down for a communal 'Baru Gongyang' meal with the monks, during which not a word is spoken and not a grain of rice is wasted.

"Templestays" in Seoul have previously only been open to Korean locals, but the tourism officials and Buddhist authorities are widening the temple gates for foreigners in hopes of drawing more tourists to South Korea through this unique opportunity to experience one of the most sacred parts of its ancient culture. The Templestay tours start around $175 (airfare not included) with the option of half-day temple visits or the full two-day overnight stay with the Buddhist monks.

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