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February 18, 2009
According to some observers, Korea has the distinction of being the most wired country on the planet. You can get crystal clear cell reception from a Buddhist temple in the mountains, which we discovered during our stay at Woljeongsa temple in the heart of Odaesan national park on the eastern coast.
Seeking a respite from the frenetic pace of Seou, we have come in the hopes of a tranquil space to decompress and reflect. (“Bali bali!!” or “hurry up!” is far and away the phrase you hear most frequently on the streets, the metro, and in the markets.)
Marveling at the ornate decoration of the temple buildings, we make our way past images of demons intended to scare the evil out of us and settle into our rooms. These are bare except for a couple of small bolsters and many quilts that serve as both mattress and covering.
For all their austerity, the rooms are made cozy by the heated floors (called ondol in Korean and still in use since their introduction in the first century BC). Here we luxuriate for an afternoon nap. This practice is de rigeur, we quickly learn, when you’re going to get up at 4 am for morning (or is it night?) chanting.
It's become quite popular for serenity-seeking Koreans and Westerners alike to come for an temple stay, offered at many temples throughout the country. We strike up an acquaintance with the head monk who is leading a group of orange-robed lay people in a month-long program. We learn he is a former member of the Korean special forces who converted to Buddhism after certain experiences about which he remains as silent as, well, a Buddhist monk.
We are invited to practice sitting meditation with the group and later for a hike into the surrounding peaks. We are put to shame by the vigorous pace of local ajummas and ajeoshis (aunties and uncles).
After an all-day outing, nothing is so delicious as simple vegetarian temple food—all locally grown—and barley tea.
Where do you go to find your inner peace?