I’d highly recommend the Jikjisa temple stay to anybody who is curious in learning about Buddhism, but I would recommend going through Ryan to book your stay. I’d highly recommend making sure you have tea time with a monk when you’re doing the temple stay, and be aware that this is something you’ll need to specially request as the woman who is the official temple stay manager is NOT at all helpful or friendly. Had it not been for Ryan, “the white man” :), our temple stay would have been not even close to as enjoyable.
The trip to Jikjisa was a journey itself. After the 4 hour train ride from Seoul we arrived in Gimcheon. It was ten degrees hotter than in Seoul, and we were sweaty from the long bus ride and walk to the temple.
The templestay office is empty, but after stopping in at the souvenir shop across the way from the templestay office, they call for the templestay manager. We wait for about 30 minutes and finally are greeted by an unfriendly lady who says “leave your bags and follow me.” Danielle doesn’t like the idea of leaving our bags abandoned with all we have for the entire year, and we insist we take the bags with us. “take your bags to the room.” The lady instructs us. Now although there’s obviously a language barrier it is clear this lady is not trying to be nice to us.
The woman takes us to fill out the form for the temple stay. And we return to put our stuff in the little wood upholstered room with heated floors and a beautiful bathroom, she looks at me and says “read that!” I look up and see a laminated piece of paper that explains the rules of our stay.
1. Meals are to be eaten in silence. Breakfast is at 6:00.
Lunch is at 11:30.
Dinner is served at 17:30.
2. Don’t bother the monks
3. You may ask monks about meditation. They may be busy and may not have time to answer you
4. Morning prayer is at 3:30 evening prayer 18:30 don’t be late, attendance is optional.
After reading the rules we all go to get our templestay outfits: baggy pants and a loose button up shirt. We’re told to change into the new clothes and wear them around the temple during our stay. Once we change Danielle and I begin to wander the temple premises, looking for a good spot to do some of our meditation and breathing exercises.
After about 5 minutes we find a nice secluded area by a river, right next to the temple university building. For three minutes we spend time connecting both our breaths, focusing on the present moment and each others presence. We then change exercises to a relaxation exercise that is meant to ground us. We focus our eyes down to look at our chin and put our hands out in front of us at chest height in a round flower position with out fingers facing up. We spend about 20 minutes total on our 3 or 4 meditation exercises and decide to move on to dinner.
Right around 17:30 we wander into the dining room area and we’re surrounded by Koreans sitting and eating in complete silence. All we can hear is the clink of the utensils on the dishes. We eat… In silence, luckily finding the water and using a bowl as a cup.
We walk out of the dining commons to the courtyard area and are intercepted by a monk who asks us where we’re from. We tell him United States, more specifically California. The monk nods and thanks us for our interest in this temple. He welcomes us and then smiles and walks to the the drums 20 meters away to announce the call to prayer for the temple.
At this point it’s about 15 minutes before the monk prayers begin, and this is the only organized activity we know about for the whole 24 hour period we’re there. There’s no way we’re missing the monk prayer ceremony… All of a sudden the temple guard shows up next to me and tries to engage in conversation, in English.
“Hi, I’m the gord” he says.
“Gord?” I respond with a smile.
“Yes. G-U-A-R-D. I make sure to watch the temple and make sure nobody takes anything from you.”
I laugh to myself a bit and thank him for protecting us and out belongings.
“I’m learning English.” he explains after a few seconds. “I’m coming to America in a year, and I’ve been learning English for 5 years.” He goes on to tell me about how he likes hiking and wants to see the Great Lakes and hike the Grand Canyon. He also decides to tell me he’s Christian. And then asks, “are you?”
“No,” I respond, adding in “I’m Jewish.”
“Joo-eesh?” He says. Pauses and then adds, “I don’t know what’s joo-eesh”
I smile and try to explain to him that the Christian bible breaks down into the 5 Books of Moses followed by the new books of the New Testament. I throw in Abraham as the first father of Judaism and the one who decided that G-d is one.
“Abraham?”he asks in confusion. Then continues to think for a few seconds and then says “Ahhh. Yes. Abram.”
We both seem to agree on Abram.
He then proceeds to invite us me and Danielle and the girl from the his in for some coffee. At first we follow him to his little hut with 20tv screens that he watches the temple through. But Danielle quickly realizes that it’s already 19:00 and time for prayer.
We apologize and promise to return after we see the monks pray. He’s confused why we’d want to see that but then smiles when we proceed to convince him we will be back.
We quickly hurry over to the main temple. First trying to enter through a forbidden entrance way and told to go around. We waltz in, making noise on the screeching floor. Grabbing a pillow to sit on. I see the man I saw at dinner, he’s shows us how to place the pillow, with letters facing forward towards the giant Buddha statue at the front of the temple. We sit in line with the rest of the monks and a monk in the back of the room hits the gong. Let the prayers begin…
Up and down we go, half bows then full bows. Then on our knees like I’ve seen Muslims do in their prayers, as the monks chant away in harmony. We must have all done 30 bows together to the three different chants. We’re all lost and confused. Trying to be polite and follow custom we do as the guy does.
When the monks all leave we follow them out.
The nice guard makes us all a cup of very sweet coffee that tastes like candy and proceeds to show us his English books. He tells us about his planned trip to the US. Danielle insists that he visits Antelope Canyon because it’s better than the Grand Canyon. The guy promises he will. We all laugh together about his TVs and that he watches us. We then continue to talk about how he’s watching baseball on a separate tv. All of a sudden we see the white man appear on one of the cameras, he’s in an open area of the temple quarters, but it’s clear he’s done with his bows. We look to the guard to tell us where we can find the white man, he points in the direction of where the camera was facing. We tell him we want to go find the white man, and that we need to leave. After a 10 minute search for the white man we give up and head to bed.
Our room was cozy and warm, with heated floors to keep us comfortable at night. We were sleeping on blankets on the floor after all, and it was quite cold outside… It was nice to at least have heated floors. The time must have been before 21:00, but we were tired from our trek to the temple, and we were ready to go to bed. By 21:30 I was asleep as we’d have to wake up around 3:00 to make it to the morning chanting by 3:30.
Morning Chanting was quite similar to the experience we had had the night before, but this time, on the way back, I bumped into the white man, Ryan, a young guy from England who had been teaching English, like most of the expats we meet while traveling do.
We hung out with Ryan until breakfast, during which time he told us a little bit about Buddhism; he told us about the conditioned and unconditioned world; he told us about the three jewels: Buddha (the main leader), the Dharma (teachings), and Sangha (community). The Truths were suffering, which means that everything in the conditioned world is unsatisfactory; craving, which is that everything that we crave is a main cause of suffering because we first crave things then we get them, then we eventually become addicted to it, then we consume or lose it, and then we suffer – it’s a vicious cycle; sensation: realizing that there could be an end to suffering; path: the path to nirvana, which is about understanding the path, using the right speech, mindfulness and effort to eventually reach a point of nirvana. Ryan shared his knowledge with us, but then promised he’d do what he could to set us up with tea time with his teacher, the head monk. Ryan also recommended a book to us: The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha.
We were really glad we met Ryan and got some insight into Buddhism, but we still passed out, and went to bed right after breakfast. We woke up just before lunch, at 11:00. We saw Ryan at lunch and he told us he fulfilled his promise to us and we were set up with tea time with the head monk.
We met the head monk for tea after lunch, we first waited for him, about 40 minutes, but then we had a wonderful time speaking to him and learning about what drove him to be a monk. Just spending time in this man’s presence was an amazing experience. He was very calm and peaceful, he spoke with a welcoming voice, in broken english, and kept apologizing to us that his English was not so good. We were shocked he even felt he needed to apologize. He made the temple stay a great experience for us.
The head monk answered the questions we could come up with about Buddhism, he told us why monks sometimes practice martial arts, and are generally in very good physical form: because Buddhism says that to have a healthy mind we must be in a healthy body, and that we must have strong health. He told us about his studies in Myanmar. He told us that there are 3 different sects of buddhism, Mahayana, Theravada, and Vajrayana, which was mostly practiced in Tibet and some parts of Mongolia. He told us that while buddhism is a non-theistic religion, it’s a religion which tries to spread to people and get them to meditate because meditation brings people to wisdom, helps people develop mindfulness. When we meditate we must seek advice and counsel as our minds can drive us in the wrong direction and being us down the wrong path, he mentioned that meditation without guidance can be dangerous. He told us some basic levels of mediative exercises we can do, like sitting still and breathing slowly and feeling the sensation on our lip for 30 minutes at a time, keeping a focused mind, and focusing mainly on our breath. He said this would bring us to the first of many many levels of meditation. He explained that once we did this we would be able to appreciate meditation and would want to continue to meditate more and more. As we do this we would be able to reach higher levels and would need to start seeking guidance from a spiritual leader at this point.
The talk with the head monk was quite interesting and provided us with some valuable insight. We promised we would do more temple stays, but explained we needed to leave because we needed to make it to another city which was quite far away. We left the temple that day with a very positive outlook on our stay at the temple and with quite happy thoughts towards the temple. We were very grateful that we had the opportunity to have tea time with the Monk, and were especially grateful that our friend Ryan was able to help us so much and set us up with such an amazing opportunity.
We left the temple around 14:00 that day and continued our journey to Gyeongju.
Jikjisa has some beautiful views and great spots for meditation and exploration. If you’re looking for a cool authentic experience and a place to let go for a few days you should definitely consider staying there.
Thanks for reading!