Naesosa Temple̓s Healing Templestay,
Communing with the Mountains and the Sea
The fragrance of Korean traditional music spreading in the temple
Participants of the Haseom Island trek. The island is accessible from the mainland twice a day at low tide. You can explore the island on foot or just sit on a rock and meditate.
One-thousand-year-old Naeso-sa Temple was founded in the 34th year of the reign of Baekje’s King Muwang (AD 633). The first thing one sees when visiting Naeso-sa is the fir-lined path leading to the temple. After passing the entrance, marked by the One Pillar Gate, a 600-meter-long path leads you to the temple’s second gate, the Four Heavenly Kings’ Gate. These four spiritual guardians rule over the four cardinal directions (North, South, East, West) and the four seasons. Fir trees rise high into the sky on both sides of the path. To walk between these tall thick fir trees gives you the sense you are being escorted by trustworthy warriors. In spring, the cherry trees begin to bloom, creating a tunnel of cherry blossoms over the path.
After passing the Four Heavenly Kings’ Gate, you encounter a 1,000-year-old zelkova tree, which many consider sacred. Continuing on, you pass through the beautiful Bonglae-ru Pavilion, its foundation made of raw, unfinished stone. Afterward, the Jeweled Hall of the Great Hero (大雄寶殿 Daeung Bojeon) comes into view, the temple’s main hall. It was completed in 1633 and built without using a single nail. The eight-flower latticed gates of Daeung Bojeon are the oldest to be found in Korea’s Buddhist temples. Originally painted, all the colors have been worn away by the passage of time, exposing the weathered wood underneath, but the simple and rustic appearance still commands attention. They strolled up the hill to Hwaseong-dang Hall where participants of the Templestay program were gathered, having just returned from a hike up Mt. Naebyun-san. They were all tired and anticipating dinner. Even so, they had all thoroughly enjoyed the magnificent scenery, especially the waterfall at the summit.
At a Naeso-sa Templestay, one can experience a variety of things, including: the early morning Buddhist Service, making lotus lanterns, ringing the massive temple bell, hiking, meditation, discussing life issues with a monk over tea and listening to traditional Korean music. Their programs are open to both Korean citizens and foreigners.
The evening meal was simple, as temple meals usually are. Each participant takes only as much as they can eat, and they must eat every bite; leaving food in your bowl is not allowed. It is emphasized that you need to consider all the people who labored to make the meal possible. Therefore, throwing away food is an act of disrespect to them. It is not done. All participants wipe their own bowls clean after eating.
After the meal, Korean musicians gave a performance in the courtyard of Hwaseung-dang. They played traditional Korean music on traditional instruments, including the haegeum and gayageum. Traditional Korean music is strongly rooted in Korean Buddhism.
“I am surprised that Eastern and Western musical instruments can harmonize so well,” said Christin Busch, a lady from Germany. The musicians were followed by a performance of pansori, a form of Korean lyrical opera performed by one singer, usually only accompanied by a drum.
It’s a spring that̓s got a splash of flowers.
The spring has come, but the world is vain and lost.
I am too young to speak of yesterday.
My youth also abandoned me and passed in vain.
It is vain to meet the spring that will come and go.
The eight-flower latticed gates of Daeung Bojeon are the oldest to be found in Korea’s Buddhist temples. Originally painted, all the colors have been worn away by the passage of time, exposing the weathered wood underneath, but the simple and rustic appearance still commands attention.
It was a sad song that compared life to the passing of the seasons. The singer’s voice rose into the sky where it dissipated into the universe, carrying its message with it. After the performance, Ken Heinz, a German man, said the sound of the haegem resembled the sound of a violin, but perhaps a bit more sad. Participants then took turns striking the massive temple bell before the evening Buddhist service. The bell is struck 28 times, signifying the number of constellations in the sky. It symbolizes the teachings of the Buddha spreading throughout the universe.
After the service, they gathered in the “experience room” to make lotus lanterns while Ven. Suwon explained the significance of the lotus.
“The lotus is a flower that blooms in mud but yet remains beautiful and pristine. The lantern symbolizes the Buddha nature inherent in our minds. Buddha nature is the Buddha’s heart and conscience. In order not to be tainted by the world, we must find our Buddha nature.”
After completing the lanterns, the participants wrote down their aspirations on paper.
The experience of making lanterns ended with everyone submitting their written aspirations to the Buddha. We then gathered together in the tea room and shared a cup of warm fragrant tea.
Just as Islands Are in fact Connected to the Mainland,
People̓s Minds Are also Connected
The next morning after breakfast, everyone boarded the bus to go trekking on Haseom Island. Haseom Island is only connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land twice a day at low tide. When we arrived there were already dozens of fishermen in the tidal flats collecting a variety of seafood, and they were sampling various kinds of seafood.
Christine Busch, who majored in ecology, was especially interested in sea creatures. Christin Busch and Ken Heinz said they had come to Korea from Japan. Christin added, “After traveling to Japan, I chose Korea as my next destination and decided to participate in a Templestay. I wanted to experience traditional Korean culture rather than visit a big city like Seoul.
She went on, “Twenty years ago, my mother brought back an English magazine published in Korea. In Europe I had never seen an article about a temple. From then on I became curious about Korean traditions and temples.”
Ken Heinz offered to go with Christin to a Templestay, and she readily agreed.
Author & Photos Park Dong-sik