A Baekyang-sa Templestay
It takes about 10 minutes to walk from Baekyang-sa Temple’s parking lot to the temple itself. The path to the temple is lined on both sides by trees, and their branches meet overhead to create a living tunnel, one of the most beautiful sights at Baekyang-sa. In front of the temple’s Ssanggye-ru Pavilion is a reservoir fed by two streams flowing down from the mountains, while behind the temple rocky peaks rise up into the sky. Both the pavilion and the rocky peaks are reflected on the tranquil surface of the reservoir. The two-story Ssanggye-ru Pavilion is the perfect place to relax and clear one’s mind.
Everything is an offering…..
Beginning about 2:00 p.m., Templestay participants began to gather at Baekyang-sa. It seemed to be a pretty multi-national group with people from the USA, France, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and possibly some other countries.
The program officially began at three o’clock. The first thing we learned was how to greet each other and the resident monks during our stay. Hapjang is the act of joining oneʼs palms together and putting them to the breast as an expression of reverence. Another gesture of reverence and respect is the “half bow” (banbae in Korean). It is a slight bow from the waist while standing and with palms joined together. The half bow is appropriate when: you bow toward the Buddha Hall at the entrance of the temple; you meet a monk or nun on the road; before and after a full bow or complete prostration; you offer flowers or incense or light a candle to the Buddha; right after you enter the Dharma Hall and before you leave the hall. There are also other appropriate occasions.
A monk strikes the temple bell in the two-story pavilion where the four ritual instruments (temple bell, dharma drum, wooden fish and cloud-shaped gong) are enshrined.
Ven. Hye-oh explained: “Buddhism considers the right hand as dynamic and the left hand as static. So joining both palms together makes my body one. No matter who you meet, please greet them with all your heart and soul.” The participants then greeted each other accordingly.
Then we all went together to the Beomjong-ru. Beomjong-ru is the name of the temple’s two-story bell pavilion where the four Buddhist ritual instruments are enshrined. These four percussion instruments are used to keep everything on schedule and to announce meetings and events. The instruments are: the temple bell, the dharma drum, the wooden fish and the cloud-shaped gong. These instruments symbolically convey the Buddha’s teachings throughout the world.
Following the monk’s instructions, we walked around the temple for a brief tour. In the temple’s main worship hall we learned that Sakyamuni Buddha and the Bodhisattva are enshrined here as objects of worship and that the eight-story stone pagoda symbolizes Buddhism’s Eight-fold Path, meaning the eight paths to enlightenment or nirvana. After taking a break we ate dinner. This was followed by a ringing of the temple bell, sending the Buddha’s message out into the cosmos.
One of the participants, David Miller, teaches English literature at one of Korea’s many universities. He said, “I have lived in Korea for ten years and do not know why I have not participated in a temple stay before now. I have visited Buddhist temples on many occasions, but today I have a deeper understanding of Buddhism through this program.”
The last event of our first day was the tea ceremony. Ven. Hye-o poured each of us a cup as the aroma of tea pervaded the room. Everything done in a temple is considered an offering. To share your meal with others is considered an offering, and when one sings it is also an offering. The same is true of having a cup of tea with others.
Our food experience at Cheonjin-am Hermitage was the most significant part of our templestay.
Participants said they were impressed by Ven. Jeonggwan’s message that “Every ingredient in temple food is filled with the Buddha-mind.”
One participant asked, “What kind of tea is the best?”
Ven. Hye-oh answered, “In May, tea from Baekyang-sa is very delicious, but even better than that is any tea shared with a good person.”
A few more cups of tea followed and then it was time for bed.
Food itself has ‘Buddha-mind
The next day we had to be up at 4:30 a.m. for the first service of the day. For centuries monks have woken up at 3:00 a.m., but the time was moved back to 4:30 a.m. for temple stay participants. Monks in mountain hermitages always get up at 3 a.m.
We all went together to the temple’s main hall, Daeung-jeon, for the first service of the day. This lasts about one hour, the last 20 minutes of which is for meditation. Meditation is time to listen to your inner mind. It was difficult for us to sit in the proper posture, but we did our best and tried to breathe slowly while keeping our backs straight. We inhaled slowly and deeply through our noses, filling our lungs as much as possible. Then we exhaled slowly through our mouths, expelling as much air as we could. The inside of the temple was complete calm as the black sky began to blush in the east.
Thierry Laplance, from France, informed us, “I quit my job last week. I was treated very well at work but the job was too hard. I came to this program because I needed to empty my mind, relax my body and reflect. It was hard to sleep on the floor without a bed, but in the morning meditation I could calm myself down.” He then added that this had been a really precious time for him to experience Korean Buddhism.
After the early morning service, we circumambulated the pagoda in the courtyard. Ven. Hye-o explained:
“While circumambulating a pagoda, one should earnestly pray for enlightenment.” Ven. Hye-o led and we followed. The most interesting program of our second day was learning about temple food, and many participants come here especially for this. The program is led by Ven. Jeonggwan who is an authority on temple food in Korea.
Chunjin-am Hermitage, Home of Ven. Jeonggwan
Ven. Jeonggwan began talking:
“It̓s hot, isn’t it? But this time of the year it has to be sunny. That’s what makes the rice ripen. People in the Orient saw the year as 24 seasons, not twelve months. Farmers plowed the fields, sowed the seeds, and harvested the crop according to the seasons. Everything has its time. So even if it is hot, you have to endure it.”
The center of the universe is the self. It is food that helps us exist. If the seed is spirit, the earth is the flesh. All ingredients grow in the sun, rain and wind. After all, my body and all its components also come from the universe. That means that “Buddha nature” exists in all things, no matter how small and insignificant. Therefore we must accept that all is precious and necessary. We were all very impressed by Ven. Jeonggwan̓s philosophy on food. But then it was time for all of us to return to our mundane everyday lives. As we slowly descended down the mountain from Chunjin-am Hermitage, the sun warmed the rice paddies to ripen them.
Author & Photos Park Dong-sik
The Baekyang-sa templestay was attended by foreigners from various countries including the USA, France, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore.