Five am on a Sunday morning and I am woken with the sound of a dull bell and a monk chanting, coming through some runny speakers outside my room. I put my templestay uniform on and run my hands through my hair before realizing it doesn’t matter because I am about to put a beanie on to face the minus degree temperature outside. It’s a one kilometer walk up a steep hill to get to morning prayer and meditation where everything is chanted in Korean. They have the words written in the English alphabet but still in Korean so I am left with no idea what we are saying.
To some this will sound painful but it is part of templestay life and worth every frost bitten second to switch off, relax and get a better understanding of myself.
There is one dish that is available at every meal at Golgulsa, rice. It seems at times to be a blessing and a curse. This all depends on what other food is offered. Meals at the temple are like ice and fire. Some dishes are bland like the bean sprouts or rice. Others, burn your tongue and send the remains to be cremated at a volcano. Half the time, I am unable to identify what I am eating but if you put in on your plate, it must be eaten. It is a temple rule that you do not waste any food, every single grain of rice must be consumed.
So rice can be a curse, in that you hope for something different, but there it is again, meal after meal. it can also be a blessing as it is the one thing I know I will eat. A food I can fill myself up with when all other options could be a hit or miss affair. It would be nice to have some meat but temple life is a vegetarian existence. The meat has to wait till I am back in Seoul.
The dining room is divided into four sections. One small section is for the monks to eat their meal. Another small section for staff and the remaining two larger sections are divided into male and female eating areas. You eat at the table that relates to you and there is supposed to be a no talking rule but it is not really followed. People do speak softer though, maybe fearing a rebuke from a monk or staff member.
Three meals a day are served in this way at the temple and while it may seem like I am complaining
about the food, I’m not. Food at the temple is for sustenance and to sate hunger. It’s not specifically fancy or extravagant and that’s the point. It’s simple, hearty fare. It would be nice to have a steak right now though.
The program at a templestay is nearly identical from one day to the next. Most people stay one or two nights but there are some who stay longer. One man I have met has been here for four weeks. I am staying for one week. There is also an option to be a long term student but you must be single with no kids so that isn’t an option for me. I think I am lucky enough that my wife lets me come to Korea for three weeks as is.