• Day39

    Haeinsa Temple

    October 5, 2019 in South Korea ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    Another DIY hotel-provided breakfast of eggs & toast, before heading to the bus station and catching a 2 hour bus back eastwards to Daegu. Killed an hour or so of time before our bus to Haeinsa Temple, today's main destination. This is the largest and most important Buddhist temple in Korea, and as usual is located up a mountain in a remote area, surrounded by creeks and forests. We were going to do a temple stay, spending the night at the temple with the monks.

    As we got on the bus there were a couple of other foreigners and then suddenly - Arlette and her sister, our French friends from the other day! Funny coincidence. They were heading for the same temple to do the same temple stay program. Arrived at about 2pm after a long uphill walk from the bus stop, and checked in after a bit of confusion over where to go.

    The program didn't start until 4pm, so we headed over into the temple itself and checked it out. The main highlight (and the reason it's a World Heritage Site) is actually because of two pavilions at the back of the temple that hold a genuine national treasure: the Koreana Tripitaka. The Tripitaka is a collection of Buddhist sutras, mantras and other writings, sort of like a bible I guess. This version, carved with Chinese characters onto a series of 81,000 wood blocks dates back to the 12th century and is one of the most incredible works of literature in Asia. Apparently there's about 52 million characters hand-carved into the wood, and the whole project took 10 years to finish.

    The pavilions were purpose-built a century or so later and have several cool features. The windows have an unusual open-slat design, allowing air circulation and consistent indoor temperatures. The shelves sit a foot above the floor, which is made from lime, sand, salt and charcoal to prevent moisture build-up. The blocks are packed tightly together so that insects can't get in, and everything is still is fantastic condition. The system works so well that even a purpose-designed modern facility built in the 90s was found to be inferior, and plans for moving the blocks were abandoned.

    After exploring the temple and seeing the pavilions housing the blocks (you obviously can't go inside), our program started with a 30 minute intro session where we learned about temple manners. We didn't have to wear robes, just a yellow vest which made me feel like a council worker. We had 30 minutes to socialise with the others - there was about 20 people doing the stay. Us, the two French women, an Israeli couple, and a big group of Germans who seemed to be on a tour.

    5:30pm was dinner with the monks which was taken in silence, except for Arlette who as I said reminded me of Marie, and the Israeli man who seemed to quite like the sound of his own voice. Food was very bland temple food, plain rice, kim chi, boiled sour cabbage, an odd dish of white beans that had a half-cooked consistency, and a spicy cabbage leaf dish. It was emphasised to take what you will eat, because you're expected to finish! So I was a bit careful, filling up on rice but managing to stomach the stuff I didn't like.

    After dinner we watched a drumming session as a series of monks hammered on an enormous drum (the skin was probably 3 metres diameter), followed by 10 minutes of bell ringing on a huge building-height bell. Next up was meditation practice, where a young female monk guided us in meditation techniques. It was a bit tricky for me since sitting on the floor is ultra-uncomfortable, but at least the meditative walking part was a bit easier!

    From here it was back to our rooms for lights out at 9pm. Men and women can't cohabit, so we each had our own little room. These were quite newly built, with a very comfortable bed - much better than the sleeping on the floor with 40 people that I'd feared! Felt strange going to bed this early, but there wasn't much else to do!
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