Travel & Culture

Going on a Temple Stay: What to Know

Temple stays are an incredible experience.

Last month, a few friends and I went to Golgulsa Temple, the home of Sunmundo (zen martial arts), and participated in a temple stay. There were a few things I learned about before going, but there was a lot I did not know. So, I shall be sharing a few things with you in order for you to be a bit more prepared than I was. Also, keep in mind that each person’s experience will be different, so this is general and common advice in no particular order that you should know beforehand.

  1. You and your significant other cannot be intimate with each other, especially if you are in a heterosexual relationship. Men and women are not allowed to touch, sit together on the same side when eating or stay in the same room. Even if you are married, it is still not allowed.
  2. There is no meat and you cannot eat outside food. Well, you can, but it is highly suggested that you don’t bring outside food with you. It ruins your opportunity to fully experience temple life. Plus, the food is really good. Going vegan for a day or two won’t kill you.
  3. There is a lot of walking, so wear comfortable shoes. Also, stretch beforehand as well. Most temples are in hilly areas and have a ton of stairs, so you will get a great workout!
  4. You will get to see and experience the beautiful architecture and art that has been swallowed and mostly forgotten by the modern era. Being able to live in such beauty is awe-inspiring. Just imagine meditating in one of the rooms! So please be respectful of the property and try not to touch things unnecessarily.
  5. You will be doing a lot of bowing. No matter what your beliefs are or what religion you relate to, everyone at the temple bows to Buddha (if you are at a Buddhist temple). It is disrespectful to refuse to do so. It seems easy enough, but continuously, it is a lot of work for your body if you are not used to it. The bowing, songs and chants that go along with it become meditative in a way as well. Even if you don’t know what they are saying or aren’t Buddhist yourself, it is still a humbling experience that really shows you how far you can push your body and how well you can discipline your mind and body.
  6. You can’t ear revealing clothing. Revealing clothing includes sleeveless tops, shorts and skirts. Short sleeves are okay, But bring a light jacket just in case, because we had to wake up at 4 am and it was pretty chilly. Once the sun was fully up and had a chance to shine, it had gotten warmer.
  7. You will have to wake up before the sun goes up and will most likely be woken up by a very loud gong or bell. So, go to bed at the directed time or a little earlier.
  8. You might have the option to join an excursion or do activities that include martial arts training, horseback riding, archery, etc. You will get to do more than just bowing, saying prayers and learning about the religion. Don’t worry!
  9. You may or may not be able to use your phone or take pictures. It’s always best to ask first. There are some places that it is forbidden to take pictures and there are some moments where it is inappropriate.
  10. You may experience allergies and or mosquito bites. So, bring along allergy medication and mosquito repellents. Even if you don’t normally experience these things.
  11. Keep an open mind. No, you may not be of the same religion or completely believe with the practices of the temple, but they are welcoming you into their home and inviting you to participate in something that is extremely important to them and their way of life. You will also be participating in a culture that has over a thousand years of history. It’s a wonderful thing!
  12. You may not be a religious person or you may believe in something different, but in the temple, everyone is welcome no matter their beliefs. So don’t refuse to participate in something. Joining in brings you closer to understanding another person’s life. But be careful about not missing out on the morning bows and meditation. We were warned that if we were late, we would have to bow 3,000 times!

Overall, have fun! You will ache, you will be sore, but throughout it all you will have a relaxed state of mind, gained more discipline of your body, gained new skills and will have learned more about a culture and way of life. You will get to see amazing traditional architecture, artwork and statues. Temple stays are an incredible experience and if you happen to be in a country that offers them, don’t pass up the opportunity!

If you are wanting to find out information about the temple we stayed out, you can check out their website: http://sunmudo.net/.

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