Friday, September 28, 2012

Golgulsa Templestay - Monks, Meditating & More!

The beautiful Pagoda at Golgulsa ( 골굴사 -  lit. Stone Buddha Temple) 20km East of Gyeongju. 

Last weekend I finally managed to do something I'd been dying to do since I got here (or, rather, since I found out a few years back from a friend that it was actually possible to do) - I went to stay with the monks in a Temple for the weekend! I'd actually looked in to doing a temple stay a few times, but the timing had never been right, especially as I knew that where I really wanted to stay was Golgulsa, a Silla Dynasty (1st-10th cent AD) temple located nearly 5 hours away from Gwangju. I lucked out this past weekend however, as I was free and our dear Gwangju Tour Guide Pedro just happened to have a trip planned! (As a note, there are a number of temples in Korea which welcome foreigners and almost all allow native Koreans to stay for some meditative cleansing. To find one for yourself, click here and click on 'English' in the top right corner.) The reason I'd chosen Golgulsa above all the other temples was because, not only are you expected to meditate, observe the monks, do community work, join a traditional Buddhist meal (called 발우공양 - Barugongyang) and wake up at 4am to partake in the 108 ceremonial bows and chanting service (more fun than you might think!) as at all temples, staying at Golgulsa also requires that you join the monks in their Sunmudo (선무도), an ancient zen Buddhist meditative martial art, training!

Did I mention that the monks also train in archery? 'Cause they do!
They grow a number of their own crops.

And have horses!

A view of their training grounds.

Hiking up the trail to the temple proper with some of my fellow Gwangju-ites.

Sunmudo demonstration. These are done daily and are free for any and all visitors (though donations are welcome).
Notice the sign. Even temples are not immune to politics. It claims Dokdo Island (ownership disputed with Japan) as Korean.

So awesome.

Training: Bear-walking down a steep slope.

The trainees noticed my camera.

And decided to impress!

 While the fact that Golgulsa is the home of Sunmudo was certainly a draw, another was the beauty and history of the temple itself.

You can see one of the shrines through the holes in the rock.

The stone Buddha, carved in the 6th century when Buddhism was still just making it's mark on Korea .
After being taught some archery and observing the Sunmudo demonstration, it was time to join the monks in a delicious vegetarian meal before being taught about their customs and practices and joining in their evening chanting service and sunmudo training.

Practising our moves
After that, it was swiftly to bed - ondol style of course - in order to be up for the morning's service.

I, unfortunately, have no pictures of the morning's chanting or meditation - both seated and walking - services. Something  felt wrong about having a camera at those. Please enjoy the view of the sun peeking out after our breakfast though!
While I have no pictures from breakfast, it was definitely an integral aspect of the stay. Buddhists believe that when you die, you must consume all of the food that you took in life, but did not eat. Because of this, alongside the Buddhist emphasis on harmony with, rather than consumption of, the world, Buddhist monks do all in their power to not waste food. Barugongyang is the ceremonial epitome of this.  It is an incredibly ritualized meal at which nothing is wasted. Even the hot water used to clean the bowls (of which each monk has their own set) is drunk. The meal is also eaten in silence so that participants can truly contemplate and be grateful for the nutrition that their body is receiving. I feel like it's almost impossible to convey it, you'll definitely have to try it for yourselves!

The monks' quarters.

A beautiful blue day (it was not even 9 am at this point) and a view of the rocky outcropping that is home to the shrines and the stone Buddha.

The morning view.
After breakfast, we had the option of joining another chanting service, or exploring some of the near-by Buddhist sites. Being me, I chose to explore.

Fall pumpkins sit outside one of the buildings at  Girim Temple (기림사) on the slopes of Mt Hamwol (The same mountain which houses Golgulsa). 

Initially built in 643AD, but later renovated twice at the turn of the 20th century after being burnt down,  Girimsa is a wonderfully colourful temple.

The oldest section. All but the base and lowest tiers of this pagoda are original.

The guardians of the gate. 

The underwater tomb of King Munmu ( 문무왕) 661-681AD.
King Munmu was the 30th King of Silla, and the one responsible  for unifying the three kingdoms (Silla, Baekjae and Goguryeo). He left specific instructions for his remains to be cremated and buried in the East Sea when he died so that he might become a great Dragon and protect his people from Japanese invasions.

Meditating by the sea.

Playing in the surf (very un-zen, I know ;)).

One of the two stone pagodas that are all that remain of King Munmu's Gameum Temple (감은사). The archaeologist in me was like a giggling child exploring the temple layout. Underground space intentionally left so that King Munmu might visit after death in his dragon form. 
Once we felt sufficiently toured, we rushed (also very un-zen) back to the temple in order to catch the special Sunday edition of the Sunmudo demostration.

Sunday edition - Complete with cymbals.  (such a struggle not to type symbols there, though I assure you, the latter were present too!

This was also phenomenal. Perhaps most astonishing however, was their choice of music.
Pachelbel Canon anyone? 

Posing with the master!

Easily one of my favourite experiences thus far, this stay was so totally worth it! Another aspect that I truly loved but did not photograph was our tea time with the monks during which they were open to any questions or discussion. I will say though that only having the one night (especially on a weekend, when training occurs only once a day, and not twice) was not sufficient. I definitely recommend staying for 2 nights (or more?). There were some at the temple who had been there training for nearly a year! May you all feel peace & tranquility this Chuseok weekend, I'm off to bed before I head off hiking this weekend!

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