Templestay in the Heart of Seoul

Last weekend, I did another Templestay.  Having done one out in the middle of nowhere, I was curious to try a slightly more urban setting.  According to Templestay.com  there was an English program at a temple right in the heart of Seoul.  It doesn’t get more urban than that!

After spending a ridiculous amount of time lost in the subway, my friend and I emerged out of Dongmyo subway station.  We followed the signs to Myogaksa Temple, and found ourselves walking up a hill that could have been anywhere in Korea.  There were motorcycle delivery men roaring past, buses and cars honking, children playing, people arguing and spitting, and the occasional feral cat yowling.  Not a bit like the long walk through the forest at the last Templestay.

The small temple was squeezed in between apartment buildings, and seemed to be built into the side of the hill.  The second we passed through the temple gates, I felt as though someone had given me earplugs; Seoul faded to a dull roar.

Our extended tour of the subway had made us a little late, so we rushed to put on our temple clothes and join the group.

IMG_3680A lovely nun named Yeoyeo greeted us and spent a while explaining the basics of Korean Buddhism.

Photo courtesy of Myogaksa Temple
Photo courtesy of Myogaksa Temple

Yeoyeo had excellent English, and her explanations were clear and concise.  She also had a deep love of Lord of the Rings and would often use it to illustrate her points.  My favourite moment came when she was explaining that inside each of us resides a ‘greedy heart’.  To clarify, she suddenly hunched over in a disconcertingly accurate impression of Gollum clutching The Ring, muttering ‘my precious.’  Obviously she didn’t spend all of her time meditating.

As the sun went down, we went outside to ring the large bell.  Apparently, most temples ring the bell 33 times but Myogaksa’s neighbours complained, so we rang the bell only a few times.

Photo courtesy of Myogaksa temple.
Photo courtesy of Myogaksa temple.


After bell ringing, we returned to the main hall to perform 108 prostrations and make prayer beads.  When I signed up for the Templestay, I had every intention of preparing for the 108 prostrations (I could hardly walk after the last Templestay) but somehow, I didn’t.

This time was slightly different.  Last time, we performed all 108 prostrations in a sleepy haze at 4 a.m.  This time, we were going to make prayer beads at the same time.  One prostration, one bead.

Buddha and 108 beads.
Buddha and 108 beads.
One full prostration

IMG_3729By the fifth prostration, I felt like I was getting into the swing of things.

484244_10151180961008034_1809053806_nBy the tenth prostration, my legs were burning.  I gritted my teeth and continued – I had done it before, I would do it again.

The prostrations began blurring together, and the pile of beads was not growing smaller.  I began to wonder if anyone would notice if I cheated.  Surely I could string 2 or 3 beads on with each prostration?  I thought about it for a few prostrations then decided that I just couldn’t do it.  Karma.

Finally, lungs heaving, knees aching and legs burning, I was done.  I collapsed onto my mat, every atom in my being grateful to be still.  The nun’s young helper came to attach a gold medallion bearing the symbol ‘Om’ to my beads, and I tried my best not to sweat on her.

IMG_3721We hobbled into for a delicious vegetarian dinner, and then headed back so our nun could explain why we had just performed 108 prostrations. IMG_3706

Yeoyeo told us that Korean Buddhists believe that humans have 6 bodily pathways that can lead us to sin and suffering – eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin and mind.  Those 6 pathways have 6 ways to experience suffering and sin – seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling, smelling and thinking.  And we can experience sin and suffering in the past, the present and the future – 6x6x3=108.

Prostrating 108 times is a way to clean the slate.  I gather it differs from temple to temple, but most Buddhists prefer to do their daily 108 prostrations first thing in the morning so they can face the day free from sin and suffering.


Last on our Templestay program was meditation.  Yeoyeo showed us how to sit properly, and we began.  Yeoyeo seemed like a lovely woman but she had a big stick to hit you with should you fall asleep during meditation.


And then you had to thank her for hitting you.  My friend claimed it didn’t hurt but I was in no hurry to try.

Myogaksa was fabulous.  We only did the day-long program but they do offer an overnight program as well.  eng.templestay.com


About Carrie K

Teacher, writer, traveller. Slightly neurotic. Overly talkative. Loving life. You can also follow me on Twitter: kimchigirl72
This entry was posted in ex-pat, Korea, Life, Living abroad, Photography, temples, Travel, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Templestay in the Heart of Seoul

  1. oegukeen says:

    I always imagined temples to be in secluded place.
    My boyfriend promised he will take me, but it looks tougher than I imagined.
    You made me laugh with that nun. I only saw little kids do the Gollum impression. I would never have expected a nun to do it. Ah, prejudices 🙂

    • Carrie K says:

      Templestays are hard work! 😀 They don’t force you to do anything you don’t want to do, but you feel like you should do it,since you’re there…

      They are really neat though. I’ve enjoyed both of them, and want to do another one in the spring.

      The nun was hilarious! She kept saying that humans had good and evil in us at all times and that it was a constant battle not to let evil win. She kept describing evil as “the eye of Sauron.” ha!

  2. Pingback: Blog Archive (Carrie Kierstead) : TEFL Bloggers

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s