Our temple stay at Golgulsa temple was quite nice. The temple stay was well organized, with fast response times and clear directions in proper english. Sarah, the manager of the temple stay was quite nice. I’d recommend this temple stay to anyone interested in learning about Monks and Martial Art, Sunmudo. There’s a performance everyday that shows outsiders how the people prepare. Danielle and I did not find this temple stay as warm and authentic as the one we did at Jikjisa.
We arrived in Gyeongju with little understanding of how we’d get to our hotel from the train or how we’d get to the temple from the town. We took a cab to our hotel from the station and spent a couple days in the town of Gyeongju itself, we were luckily able to enjoy some nice hikes and enjoyed seeing the Anapji Pond in the evening. We were able to do a couple nice walks, one hike at a nearby mountain range, as well as a walk around the city.
With the directions we got from the Golgulsa temple, we knew we needed to catch Bus 100 or 150 to get to the temple, and that we had about a 90 minute commute to the temple. We caught the bus close to our hotel, and rode it for about one hour. We got off 10 minutes after the bus passed through a tunnel, as we were instructed in the Sarah’s directions.
As we exited the bus we met Sidd, from Connecticut, he was a regular at Golgulsa and confidently told us to follow him. We learned that while Sidd’s family was Hindu, Sidd decided that he’d start learning about and practicing Buddhism. Sidd was helpful in telling us some more information about Buddhism, he knew one of the reasons for the 108 bows: 108 was a significant number in Buddhism.
The walk to the temple was only about 1km and we were there in less than 20 minutes. When we arrived things were quick and orderly, Danielle was given her room key, while I was told to room with Sidd. We were given a schedule of our activities, Archery, followed by free time, followed by a show at the temple (a 15 minute hike up a hill to get there). Followed by dinner, and then a few hours of video and martial arts. We were impressed, this sounded more fun and definitely more organized than what we had experienced at Jikjisa. As we settled in, Sidd realized he had lost his iPhone on the bus, so he went to the bus station to get it, luckily it was returned, nobody in S. Korea steals.
We went to archery and met some of the other individuals doing the temple stay. Archery was a bit different from what we were used to, with breaths and counts that were required to shoot properly. I was no good, and only got to do one round of 3 shots since we showed up so late. The performance was quite impressive, and I recorded it on my GoPro (Video here).
After the show we a really cool temple that’s built into the mountain rock. We were quite impressed to see the various temples and Buddhas built into the rock. Dinner was quite similar to what we ate at the other temple, and in most of Korea. But what we were looking forward to was the martial arts class after dinner.
We quickly went up to martial arts, but we were first told we’d have to watch a film which taught us about why the monks at Golgulsa practice Sunmudo. Basically, it’s to keep the mind and body in line with health. The Martial Art is very focused and the training can be quite intense. The monks and students were all very fit and quite young.
Soon the movie ended and Sarah, the young lady who had welcomed us initially explained to us a bit about meditation: why we meditate and how it’s done. We needed this to properly do the chants and bows: up and down again, like we’d done at Jikjisa, we must have done 30 bows. Turns out we were doing the bows to suffer with Buddha, since part of Buddhism is accepting that a majority of life was pain and suffering… this part sure was. And it looked more like we were all bowing to Buddha.
Finally came the martial arts component, first 20 minutes of stretching. Then a demonstration, and us having to stand and balance in a number of (awkward) positions. It was fun and interesting, but definitely not intended for fighting or competition, more so for meditation and personal focus. Overall, I enjoyed the martial arts we learned as they were physically straining and interesting, but not actually violent. Some of the motions were quite yoga like.
Soon we went to bed because we’d have to be up for morning chants at 4am, which we’d have to hike up to for 15 minutes, like we had the day before.
Morning chanting was similar to what we had experienced at every other chanting session, but after it we were able to meditate. First we did a 30 minute silent meditation as a whole group, and then we did a walking meditation down the hill to breakfast. These two meditations were actually my favorite part of the experience because I was finally able to reach a point of inner peace and silence.
Breakfast was a whole new experience though, we were taught to eat like monks. A very complicated procedure. First we’d be given our portions, not choosing how much to eat. Then we’d need to clean our bowls with a piece of Kimchi, we were warned that if our bowls were still dirty, everyone would have to drink the water used for cleaning our bowls. The experience was kind of neat, it represented the suffering that monks stood for, and helped demonstrate the way that monks looked at meals: as a required chore in life.
After breakfast I fell asleep, while Danielle went to tea time with the monk. She said her experience at Jikjisa’s Tea Time was better as it was far more personal and the monk at this tea time was not as eager to express his understanding of Buddhism.
As soon as tea time was over we headed back to Gyeongju as we would have a whole day of travel, to Busan, ahead of us. The time was only 9:30am. On the trip home I learned how much Danielle hated the Monk style of breakfast. Since then she hasn’t been able to eat Korean food or Kimchi.
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Overall the temple stay was an interesting and fun experience. While it was well organized and easier for us than the Jikjisa temple stay, we did not like it as much because it felt less authentic. The people at this temple seemed focused more on Martial arts than on Buddhism, and overall they weren’t able to connect with us as personally or as much as the Monk we spoke to at Jikjisa.
If you’re looking for a smooth temple stay with a brief insight into Buddhism, but something organized, I’d recommend this temple stay. If, on the other hand, you don’t mind a bit of disorganization and chaos, but want beautiful views and to see how monks live on their own, you should check out Jikjisa. And be warned, if you come on a weekend, you’ll have to eat like a monk Sunday morning.