Buddhism is quickly being taken over by Christianity in Korea. In any given neighbourhood you are bound to see at least 3 red crosses indicating the churches. Of course this is intriguing to me since I am an ex-Catholic who is currently more inspired by Eastern religions where I feel the real roots are.
I took this opportunity to experience a temple stay at Buddhist temple near Daejeon, about 2.5 hours south of Seoul. A temple stay is typically 2 days, 1 night minimum and you stay with monks waking up at 3am to meditate and chant. It is basically a quick look into pure Buddhism and the way of life when meditation is all that is on your mind.
I walked into this not really knowing what to expect. Of course waking up at 3am when I typically go to bed at 3am was a challenge but I was ready to deal with that. What I wasn’t ready to deal with was the aura of feeling like I was part of a cult.
We were given robes as soon as we walked in and told where to meet for meals (in the communal kitchen) and that we had to attend all meditation and chanting session. Being in a serene setting among the mountains was amazing! The temple itself was pretty new (about 5 years old) and I really enjoyed finally knowing what to do when I entered a Buddhist temple (do I bow? how many times? do I sit? how do I meditate here? do you have to pray to Buddha?).
I stayed in a room with my friend Meg (rooms were obviously separated by gender) and we were given very comfortable duvets to use to sleep on the floor. And the food was the best part, absolutely amazing and veggie!
So what was the bad part? Meditating! Since it was my first time at any sort of meditation of course I am bound to dislike it, but I felt that the head monk (who was American!) was not very clear about the purpose of meditation. I also disagreed with many of their ways of life, such as meditating to simplify your mind, as in only think of the moment and not have any sort of thoughts (what about imagination? creativity?). Of course meditation is to clear your mind but that can also be done while thinking of the outside world.
Overall it felt like a selfish way to live. More so because it didn’t seem like these monks were giving back to the community with their work or ‘wisdom’. Of course this is only one temple but it has tainted my perspective.
It was a great experience nonetheless, especially since I had been pondering about doing a yoga retreat while in India during my travels in a few months. I guess I’m just not cut out to sit still for so long and think about nothing. I’ve always known I lacked self-discipline but this also pointed out what my real thoughts were on this whole eastern religion thing. At the end it seems like all religions are the same. While chanting in the temple at 4am on a Sunday I totally felt guilty because I refused to go to church and do the same with my mother because it felt so staged. This was no different, except that I had no idea what I was chanting since it was all in Korean.
Of course there is a huge difference in that Buddha isn’t prayed to, he is a teacher but if that is the case, why must we chant to him in a prayer-like form? People are needing to be guided, needing for someone to follow. In Buddhism it seems Buddha was the only one that really knew the deal. Of his followers more than less of them don’t really seem to get it as much.
And this is just one person’s opinion. No harsh feelings.