I spent three hours at the Bongeunsa buddhist temple as part of their foreigner temple life program. Korea is full of Buddhist temples and most are located in the mountains per usual temples are. This one was downtown and while you could see the city buildings in the background, the grounds will still large enough to feel like another community.
We spent the first 45 minutes taking a tour of the grounds and learning Buddha’s life story. Upon entering, you enter the one pillar gate. Every temple has one to symbolize leaving behind your everyday worries and coming into temple with a clear mind and heart. There are 4 heavenly kings that also guard the gate to ward off danger from the North, East, South and West.
The tour guide described the daily offering ritual they do each morning and evening – ringing the temple bell, fish statue, cloud gong, and Dharma drum to praise Buddha. They also set out fruit and vegetables at the pagoda as an offering. The grounds were lined with different temples dedicated for different prayer purposes – general prayer, mourning, etc. There were also lotus lanterns every where, symbolizing the eternal light of wisdom. On the sides of the temples were pictures of different scenes from Buddha’s life and she told us the story of how Siddhartha left his prince life to seek enlightenment.
After, we made paper lotus flowers so we could take a piece of wisdom with us. The lotus flower represents rebirth and purity since it blooms into this beautiful flower through the mud. Then we meditated for a half hour with the Buddhist nun. Zen meditation is meant to connect your mind and body together through the careful focus on your breath and no other thoughts. Meditation in general can be practiced anywhere if you take time out to sit there and focus. It was very relaxing to do this and I almost fell asleep a few times.
We then learned how to brew fresh green tea. The process was intricate and really tested your patience. First you pour hot water into a large bowl to transfer it into the tea cups. This lets the tea cups warm until the tea is done. Then you can put the tea leaves into your pot and fill it with water to let it steep for a few minutes. In this time, the nun talked to us about our lives. Then you drain the tea cups into another bowl to use the big bowl to strain the tea leaves out into. Then one person can serve tea to all of the others. There were many steps that normal people cut out, but I guess this is meant to understand and appreciate taking the effort to do something right.
I expected to learn more about myself and Buddhism through this experience, which I didn’t. I did get to practice prayer and meditation which I did enjoy. The variety of activities was nice still because I hadn’t done any of them before and gave you a glimpse into traditional temple life. Overall, I would recommend this activity because it was a nice break from this busy city life I’ve been in for the past month. It would be really cool to meditate at one of the temples on the top of the mountain though.