We have all heard of the shopping haven of South Korea. A trip down to the capital of Seoul or to the coastal city of Busan and one will be able to satisfy your fix of cosmetics, clothes, and fashion accessories. For the foodies, you can easily get boxes of snacks from seaweed; chocolates and honey buttered almonds to be shipped back home. With all the trendy fashion and snacks all for grabs, no wonder South Korea is such a popular destination for travel.
However, South Korea is more than just a shopping paradise. Amid this land of countless material satisfaction, lie spots of serenity for soul searchers to gain peace spiritually. Located on these spots are Buddhist temples where fashion trends are left behind for practicality and complex taste buds for the natural. It is the reason to travel to the country for some.
Yakcheonsa Temple at Jeju Island
Brought over from China during the Tang dynasty, Buddhism in Korea mainly comes from the Zen branch of Buddhism. Zen Buddhism focuses on mindfulness through the practice of self-control. This is reflected on the appearance of its temples – clean, tidy and quiet. Despite its spaciousness, one can easily hear the chanting of the monks in the main hall even when you are 300m away. Just as you enter the temple premises, you will be influenced into a calm way of movement.
Buddha Statue at Gakwonsa
While most temples only have history of few hundred years (as compared to those in China), the temples stick to their traditions and rules. We could go on for a long time on the traditions of Korean Buddhism, however, I can introduce the Korea temple stay program as an alternative.
The temple stay program is created by the Buddhist council of South Korea and is jointly taken up by many temples across the country. Through the program, laymen like us will experience living in the temples, learning about their Buddhist traditions and life in the temple. You will be able to participate in activities such as meditation, chanting, tea ceremonies and temple meals. The program has thus far been popular among tourist, the curious and the inner peace seekers. (You can check their website or talk to us if you wish to know more about the programs.)
As you enjoy the peace and quiet of the atmosphere or praying for good fortune, take some time to enjoy the wonderful architecture of the temples. These wooden structures follow the ancient building techniques similar in China and Japan which do not require a single nail to construct. Painted in various colours of green and blue, it looks different from its Chinese equivalent. If one were to observe, the Buddha statues have a little Korean touch added in its robes and facial hair. Topping up the looks of the temples are the rows and rows of lanterns hung within the main halls and the courtyard which are offered by the devotees. Together, they paint the serene temples in bright colours as in a dreamy paradise.
Visiting the Buddhist temples in South Korea is not just for the spiritual but also for seeking beauty. Beauty is also available in the night as all the lanterns are lit up, illuminating the temple in a sea of colours making them one of the best photo-worthy spots in South Korea at night.
So as you travel in South Korea, enjoying the hustle and bustle of the fashion streets and buying the trendiest of clothes. As you travel down the night markets and getting your hands on the spicy Tteok-bokki. As you sit with your loved ones in a café having a cup of coffee and chatting your hearts out. Remember to leave some time for serenity by visiting one of those welcoming yet quiet temples.