On Sunday I woke up at 4AM to bow and pray. 108 prostrations to be exact. Wondering what that entails? Here’s a video. Spoiler alert: Your knees, ankles, thighs, back, and whatnot will protest after a while. Why did I hug the floor at 4AM on a Sunday instead of hugging my pillow in my far more comfortable bed like normal people? Because it was time for a short break from school, work and the chaos of the city, and in Korea that often means a trip to the temple.
Jeondeungsa Temple is located on Ganghwa Island, just west of Seoul. Both the temple and island has been the site of important historical events, in modern history when the island was the main stage for the failed French invasion of 1866, the Korean-American Battle of Gangwha in 1871 and the Gangwha Incident which led to the forced opening of Korean trade by the Japanese in 1875-76. Fortunately, our Norwegian expedition to the island was of the peaceful sort.
We boarded a bus in Sinchon at 9AM on Saturday morning, switched to another bus in Gimpo and then onwards to our final destination: a 24-hour stay at the Jeongdeungsa Temple.
We got off the bus in the middle of nowhere (at least that’s what it seemed like) and made our way through a deserted neighborhood, before arriving in the middle of a kimchi festival in a parking lot. A little confused by the music and the people, we stumbled through and found the East Gate of the Samnang Fortress, our entrance to the temple. The rain was drizzling down, but did not kill the excited mood of our group.
Ten minutes of beautiful fall foliage later and we arrived at one of the oldest temples in Korea (if you believe the histories/myths, the first temple was built in this place back in 381 BCE). Arriving at the temple, we were welcomed by our guide for the stay and given a short run through of the program for the next 24 hours.
We got our pyjamas-looking temple clothing, and made our beds in the sleeping quarters. The pants and vest made us look like MC Hammer’s crew, but they were so comfortable I was sad to leave them behind at the end of the stay.
Korea is incredibly beautiful in the fall when the leaves turn red, orange and yellow, and even though rain was pouring down for almost the entirety of the stay, the surroundings were simply stunning. Mindfullness never felt so easy.
The program consisted of prayer, meditation, tea ceremony, prostration and the creation of our own prayer beads (done through prostrations. One prostration equals one bead on the bracelet), in addition to a strictly vegetarian diett for the four meals we shared while there.
While they were really comfy, the temple outfits were not very flattering.
Woke up at 4AM at the sound of drums, followed by meditation and loads of bowing. By the time breakfast was served at 6AM, I was starving. Nothing works up an appetite like meditation and bowing.
Side dishes from the breakfast with one of the monks. Those apples were delicious.
1) Getting ready for first session with one of the monks. 2) Celebrating MOVEmber the only way you should do it. 3) Another outfit-photo.
Going to bed at 9PM and waking up at 4AM was a nice break from the usual “1AM to 7AM”-thing. Sitting on the bus on the way back to Seoul, I felt tired but refreshed. I’ve made plans to make prostrations part of my morning routine for the rest of the month, to see if it has the same calming effect at home. With tests, work, presentations and travels, a little zen is exactly what I need right now.
If you want a 24-hour break from the city, Jeondeungsa Temple is perfect. Add it to your itinerary and add an element of both culture and relaxtion to your trip to Korea. You won’t regret it.
Ever stayed at a temple?