Sunday, January 1, 2012

Seonunsa Temple stay

We finally made it to the small town on the bottom of the mountain.  But this was not the beginning of our journey to Seonunsa Temple.  We met at U-Square which is the bus terminal I came by bus to when I first arrived in Gwangju.  I had only been back one time to go to a movie; we saw The Three Musketeers in a huge theater.  They had over 40 theaters, the one we were in was their medium size one (about the size of screens we watch 3D movies on back home and this was not their large one). So anyways I met up with Tahni, Mara, Amanda, and Jessica and we got something to eat at the food court.  I ordered my meal in Korean for the first time, so exciting though I had no clue what I was ordering I just read the Hangul under the picture.  My meal was great.  There is no waste here so everything is on real dishes and the only drink you get was a small beverage from the vending machine.  There is water stations at all restaurants and most buildings with small medal cups for water, this is the only beverage you get with your meals.  The small cup is never enough for me and I have to go and get refills many times.  After we ate we got on our bus just in time and drove for about 1 1/2 hours to the next bus stop out in the middle of nowhere.  We got off and were trying to figure out which bus to get on next.  There were many buses there but we did not think any were ours.  Jessica and I got a dixi cup size coffee from the machine for 300 won about 30 cents and Tahni and Mara went to the convenient store.  All of a sudden a bus honks at us as it pulled away and we look at the bus and again and figure out that is the bus we should be on ( I think the bus driver knew we should be on the bus too, where else would 5 white girls be going in the middle of nowhere).  Amanda runs to stop the bus and stall the driver, she said the next bus is not for an hour.  Tahni and Mara were not back so sadly we had to watch the bus leave, but wait just as the bus leaves down the street Tahni and Mara walk out and I yell to them we need to get on this bus because we do not want to be stuck here for an hour.  We all start running down the street yelling for the bus which is stopped at a stop light.  The bus driver opened the doors for us which is shocking because in Korea the bus drivers do not open the door for anyone, I have been on the bus when old ladies carrying bags are trying to get on the bus after a bus stop when we are stopped at a light and the bus driver will not even open it for old ladies.  We scramble onto the bus, coffee spilt all over.  We are on the bus for about 30 min, traveling deep into nowhere.  People get off at stops with nothing there.  

This is the small town we arrived at.  It was at the bottom of the mountain with nothing around it for miles.  It was quite and rural.  We stopped at a Museum to find out where we were and where we should go.  There were thousands of scrolls and history.
We did not know where to go but just started walking down the path.

We followed the stream, it was so peaceful.

First glance at the Temple

This was the third gong, you can hit it from the outside the the inside, it is to wake the birds and the fish.

These were the first and sencond gongs, the hard bell like one on the right is the one we woke up at 4 am to ring it is to wake the humans.  The colorful one with the dragon is used to wake the animals that walk the Earth.

We arrived at the temple and met with a monk who gave us our clothing for the duration of our stay.  They said the orange suites were so that we were not distracted by our appearance and could focus on our meditation and prayer.  We also wore black rubber shoes with tan fur inside (easy to slip on and off since there are no shoes in the buildings, you leave them outside). We changed and got a tour of the area.  We reported at the dinning area at 6:10 pm for our dinner.  At the temple there is to be no wasting food, so the rule is you eat everything on your plate or someone else has to eat it...there is no waste.   We served ourselves and sat.  I had rice, seaweed, kimchi, brocclii, what I thought was black beans, soup and bean sprouts.  I tried what I thought was black beans...not so much and all I could think about was "I have to eat, no waste" I might have shead a tear or two trying to finish the bean things but the rest of the food was good, especially the soup.  After dinner we went to the temple and were shown how to bow.  To bow you go to your knees, left hand down in front of you then right, touch your head to the floor in the middle of your hands and hold, then back to your knees and stand without using your hands to get up, then repeat the process.  The first night I think we bowed about 40 so times, it was a great workout and my knees were killing me. 
After prayer we met with the head monk and Kyung ae Kim, the temple stay manager, she spoke English.  The head Monk had us for tea, a very old tea they make at the temple.  We talked about us and he told us about him.  He has been to many places in the US but never Chicago and had planned to visit Chicago within the next few years, so naturally I told him I would be happy to show him around and he could even stay with me, no problem.  This made him so happy, I told him I would take him to see Blue Man group and maybe a Cubs game.  I asked him what he wore when traveling and he told me the same thing we wore at the temple, even better...before I left he gave me his personal email address to contact him when I went home, I cant wait to show the Monk around Chicago.  He showed us pictures of American monks who came to visit, one being a girl, all with their heads shaved.  He told us they had to shave thier hair so they are not distracted with thier appearance like this their clothing.  I felt bad because the Korean women did not get to talk a lot.  We continued to talk with him till about 9:30 or 10pm about 3 hours.  This is also when we asked if we could participate in the rining of the gong and he was very generous and said of course, be up before 4 am.  We went back to our rooms, 2 people in one and 3 in the other.  I roomed with Jessica and Mara.  There was a small bathroom attached to each room.

We slept on the floor of course with a blanket and a small pillow.  I could not sleep for the life of me.  It was too quite and I never went to sleep before 2am.  I layed awake knowing I would be ringing the gong in a matter of a few hours.  The floors are heated so they were very warm.  At 3:50 am we went out to ring the gong.  It was so dark out.  Kim told us the proper way to ring the gong.  You had to rock it back and forth (almost like a dance) 5 times before you could ring it, then rock it again and ring it, and repeat once more for a total of three times per person.  The gong is rung 28 times each morning.  It was so amazing to be part of a taditional ceramoney.

 After we finished our worship and bowing in the temple and since we were up and breakfest was not till 6 am we waited for the sun to rise.  It was the most peaceful experience I have ever had.  Being surrounded by nature and stillnessince we were up and breakfest was not till 6 am we waited for the sun to rise.  It was the most peaceful experience I have ever had.  Being surrounded by nature and stillness.  Your mind clears and you are able to truely think of nothing.  I can understand why the Monks are so far from everything.

 At 6 am we had breakfest and believe me we all wanted french toast, pancakes, eggs, get the picture.  Breakfest was the same as dinner, only this time I learned my lesson and only took things I know I would eat: rice, kimchi, soup, seaweed, and beansprots.  After breakfest Kim told us she would take us for a walk (little did we know in Korea that means a crazy hike).  We walked along the stream.  She told us of the story of the stream, why it looks black.  That long ago the people's eyes got infected and turned red.  The head Monk at the time put coals into the water and told his people to wash their eyes with the water and their eyes were healed, today it still has traces of this magic.  Along the path there were rocks piled.  Kim told us those are for the many prayers or wishes people request.  For every prayer or wish they take a rock and stack it on a pile.
This was a cave we came across.  Kim said that a past Emprer had it made for protection.  There was a candle lit inside in the back.  There were also the remains of other candles showing that someone comes out there and lights them.
 This was about half way.  It was a tough hike.  By this time we had leg and hip problems and were falling apart.  We asked Kim how much further (who by the way is 60-70 something years old and is strolling along like it was a walk in the park).  She told us not much further just about another 1/2 mile and 150 stairs....
Amanda is drinking from the natural drinking fountians, you find them all over the parks in Korea.  Everyone shares the laddle that is left there.  We finally got to the 50 foot Budda carved in the mountian.  If you look in the center of the Budda you can see a square shape.  The story is that thousands of years ago an Emperer put the secrets and history of where important things laid and further wisdom.  It was said that he put scrolls  inside the Budda so the enemy could not get a hold of the wisdom.  Well about a couple of hundred of years ago someone found out where the scrolls where hidden and came and took them out of the Budda, to this day they still do not know where the scrolls are.  On the top of the Budda are the remains of medal pulls that once held a covering over the Budda, amazing this was made thousands and thousands of years ago.

This was the begining of the 150 stair climb.  The stairs were so steep and big, each step was the size of my calf.  If you did not hold on you would fall back.  At the top, after some heavy breathing, we reached the top.  Of course for Kim it was nothing and for the many people who travel up to pray and meditate it was nothing as well.  On top there was a temple people came to pray in.  The view was amazing and well worth the hike.  Once again, words can not describe the beauty and peaceful feeling that embraces you here.

I think the walk down was just as hard, trying not to fall down was quiet the challenge.  Around this area is also where the temple the Monks who are on their 3 month prayer and meditation pray at.  They do not leave the Temple for three months, they just meditate and pray.   No one is aloud to enter the Temple except other Monks.
 So when we got back to the main Temple we were walking to the dinning hall for lunch (same food as all the other meals).  I was walking with Jessica and Mara and a Monk came walking past.  It was a weird moment, we know we should do something but well the Monk stopped infront of us and we kinda just kept walking I think we said hi then when we realized maybe we should have bowed or something we stopped but we were already past him and I might have done a half akward bow...we just looked like fools.  We knew we blew it as we walked away and looked back to see Amanda behind us walking by the Monk.  She saw our failed attempt and she did stop and bowed but with her hands in her pockets.  The Monk pressed his hands together to show her that is where her hands should be when bowing.  Now we see Tahni walking towards the Monk and we think for sure Tahni has seen all of our pathedic attemps and will get in right.  Tahni buts her hands together infront of her and keeps walking...1,2,3 failed attempt, we all blew it.  Later when we were stringing our 108 prostration of great repentance beads, Kim told us our failed attempt where seen by people who came to prayer here and they were upset that we did not show the proper respect and honor to the Monk.  We all felt bad, they thought Kim did not show us the way but really we just forgot...We failed the test for sure...but you better believe we made up for it everytime we walked past a Monk after that. 

Making the 108 prostration of great repentance was emotionally hard.  You were to think of something you want to change within yourself for every bead, after about 20 beads it was hard to think of more, and a little depressing thinking of 108 things that were wrong with me...It took us about an hour to string the beads. 
This was our goodbye photo with the Head Monk.  (and also when he gave me his e-mail)

This is the group with our guide Kyung ae Kim.  She was wonderful.

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