My Traditional Korean Temple Stay
An experience filled with nothing but Zen energy
I know I’ve written a few posts regarding my visits to a traditional Korean Buddhist Temple in the Catskills Region, New York, but there was something that I did not write about, which was the actual full on Temple Stay that I experienced (I’ve linked the first post here if you want to read about it).
To be perfectly clear, I did not really know much about what a “Temple Stay” meant outside of just thinking that it was something where folks wanted to really get into the concept of “Meditation Practice” and try to get some kind of enlightening experience. Nonetheless, I thought it would be an interesting experience to try out as I’ve always had memorable experiences as a child visiting Korean Temples. Plus, if anything, I thought I would like to try getting a little more experience in minimalism and basking in nature for a day, versus living in the hustle and bustle of NYC which is always hectic. I won’t bore you with all the nitty gritty details of what I experienced upon first arriving and instead, fast forward to just write about what the experience was like, the amazing discussions I was able to participate in with the Head Monk and my overall emotions after spending a night.
First off, the actual Temple Stay was not what I had expected (this is from me just googling “Korean Temple Stays”). After arriving and casually “checking in” and walking around the Temple Grounds, we were asked by the Head Monk if we would like to join him and his colleagues for Tea. Tea with Monks? For some reason I had some bias that Monks did not converse with people often and just kept to themselves. I was immediately blown away at the openness and welcoming spirit the Monks showed us. My girlfriend was elated as well, as she wanted to see if we could potentially have deeper discussions about Meditation and maybe get some advice on how best to practice. By the way, when the Monk said “Tea,” I literally had the notion that it was simple drinking Tea from a cup via Tea Bags. BOY WAS I WRONG. The Monk and his peers gave us the true meaning of what drinking “Traditional Asian Tea” was like. It was more than just drinking, it was a form of art. From boiling the water, to cleaning out the cups and pots each time, each cup of Tea we were offered tasted different.
We learned a lot about Tea and what Seon (Zen in Korean) meant. We probably spent a good 2-3 hours just having various deep level discussions as well as casual everyday discussions as well. While all this was happening, I couldn’t help but think: Buddhist Monks are regular people, they just have a deeper level of understanding/patience for things. While we continued talking, I couldn’t help but ask a question to the Monks:
“Is this what a typical Temple Stay is like?”
To my surprise, they all said a Temple stay is what YOU define it as. They then began to explain how there are all sorts of Temple Stay experiences, ranging from the Traditional where you truly stay silent and go about your day as if you were an Abbot at the temple, to more modern stays where it’s less about Tradition but more about educating on the cultural aspects. However, the Head Abbot Gae San Hye Song Sunim (Sunim = Monk in Korean) said that his purpose is to provide a place of tranquility for anyone to come and enjoy, whether they know about Buddhism, are a Buddhist, or just someone who wishes to have a place to relax and detox from whatever it is they have been stressing about. This is what really struck a chord with me. Here was ONE man, who built this magnificent Temple along with its surrounding gorgeous lands, and he was not about preaching and converting to Buddhism. He simply just wanted to share what he spent his entire life studying and building, to anyone. Guess that explains why he offered the “guest house” where it was a little more comfortable than a traditional old school Temple. From there the Monk then asked us to walk with him towards what he called his “Zen Tea Garden” area. The name sounded intriguing and of course both myself and my girlfriend’s curiosity kicked in so we walked with the Head Monk.
As we walked about 5 mins from the Main Temple Grounds through the woods, we came to what appeared to be the Zen Tea Garden. There was this quaint little cute cottage-esque building surrounded by trees and a small little picnic area with tables, chairs and even a fire pit area. You could feel the calm soothing energy that was enveloping the entire area as it felt as if it was under the protection of mother nature. We soon were invited to sit down with the Head Abbot inside the small cottage, which he dubbed “White Forest Tea House.” It was such a beautiful little space, with a nice table, chairs and fine china in the form of various tea cups that had ancient Asian/Korean aspects to it. Even though we had been drinking tea prior for hours, we did not mind an additional (more like 10+) cups of tea as the Head Monk was open to discussing more about his many adventures of visiting Buddhist Temples around SE Asia. All in all, we enjoyed listening to his many tales as well as learning more about the various types of Tea leaves ranging from China to South Korea, and how each was different in terms of the way they are grown to how to pour properly at the right temperature settings.
Afterwards, we then were asked if we wanted to have a campfire with the Monks during the night and enjoy some dessert as well as additional discussions. Truly, not what I expected and the experience during our stay there was above and beyond. To be able to just have a place to relax, enjoy some good company, have fun and engaging discussions and more, was something that was much needed. The ability to come to such an open place that was welcoming and warmth, really helped rejuvenate both of us as we headed back into the real world after a moment of detox and head clearing.