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A summer retreat to cleanse the mind

by By Baik Sung-ho, JoongAng Daily, July 01, 2010

Summer temple stay programs offer focused study & forest meditations.

Seoul, South Korea -- People often say that in their next life, they would like to live as a monk. It’s a grand idea, but in our daily lives we put off any sort of asceticism with various excuses like being too busy or that we are going through hard times and have to be competitive to survive.

<< A monk leads a meditation session in a grove of bamboo trees at Pyochung Temple in Milyang, South Gyeongsang. Provided by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism’s Cultural Corps of Korean Buddhism

Lucky for us, Buddha never said that you have to shave off your hair and go to the mountains to become an ascetic. In fact, certain Buddhist texts say that enlightenment can be found in our daily lives and that freedom and peace can be found within us.

If you’re nodding to this idea, a temple stay program might offer the perfect retreat for you this summer. All around the country, Buddhist temples offer summer temple stay programs that include everything from cooking temple food and forest meditations to candlelight mediations and learning the traditional 108 Buddhist obeisance bows.

A modern temple retreat

If you connect the idea of a temple stay with old-fashioned amenities, you might be surprised by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism’s Traditional Buddhist Culture Center in Gongju, South Chungcheong. Upon looking at the building, you might even think that you are in some part of Europe. The natural scenery leading to Taehwa Mountain harmonies well with the modern design of the building, by architect Seung Hyo-sang. The building sits on an area of around 100,000 square meters (1,076,400 square feet).

The lodging boasts a modern, yet elegantly Korean feel and is very clean.

“This place helps modern people approach a peaceful mind-set,” said Monk Hyeo, head of the culture center. “They learn to empty their hearts and do 108 Buddhist obeisance bows.”

Visitors to the temple first learn the basic approach to what they are about to do through lectures and then participate in interactive exercises.

Anyone, even those who are not Buddhist, can participate in the center’s temple stay program. The cost for a six-night-seven-day stay is 230,000 won ($189) and organic temple food will be provided. A discount is provided to groups and families. On July 10 to 11, visitors can participate in making kimchi with Monk Sunjae for 250,000 won. For more information, visit www.budcc.com or call (041) 841-5050.

Experience Theravada Buddhism

If you are interested in Theravada, the oldest Buddhist school, there is a meditation retreat organized by the Jogye Order’s Jetavana monastery. The retreat, which is available from July 9 to Oct. 31, will be held at the Pureunsol Meditation Center in Wonju, Gangwon, and is offered as either a two-night, three-day weekend course or a seven-day course. The fee is 30,000 won per weekday and 40,000 won daily on weekends and discounts will be available for students and long-term visitors.

“The meditation rituals will relieve one’s mind from stress and open one’s heart to happiness,” said Monk Ilmuk, head monk at Jetavana. “We have invited Venerable Pa Auk Sayadaw from the Pa Auk Monastery located in Myanmar and his disciples to be here during this retreat, and we will conduct an interview with them here.” For more information, visit www.pinepension.net or call (02) 595-5115, (02) 764-3737.

Focused study

There are also temple stay programs organized around particular subjects, including lessons in making temple food and tea and meditation.

Donghwa Temple in Daegu offers temple stay programs focused on food. During the program, participants make dishes such as three color sujebi (traditional Korean soup with wheat flakes) using organic ingredients.

The temple food program at Daewon Temple in Boseong, South Jeolla, includes lessons in making lotus leaf rice and bamboo rice, while Sunglim Temple in Iksan, North Jeolla, has a traditional rice cake making program.

At Geonbong Temple in Goseong, Gangwon, you will be able to stroll down a green tea plantation and learn about traditional tea ceremonies. The program is available on Aug. 15, at 20,000 won per participant.

At Gilsang Temple in Seongbuk-dong, Seoul, various activities, including experiences with temple food, tea ceremony and meditation are scheduled for visitors in July and August. Participation in these programs costs around 120,000 won.

Daewon Temple in Boseong, South Jeolla, features a “preparing for death” program, in which participants listen to lectures about death and take part in meditations.

At Mihwang Temple in Haenam, South Jeolla, an eight-day silent retreat for foreigners will be held from July 17 to 24. During this program, meditation sessions will be conducted in English.

*For more information on Korean temple stay programs, visit the Cultural Corps of Korean Buddhism, under the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, online at www.templestay.com.

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