The rain may be falling hard outside, But your smile makes it all alright. – Robert Alan Silverstein
Korea Temple Stay at Beomeosa
Green tea is bliss, especially when going outside seems impossible. Of course that cup tastes even better when inside a fish freshly escaped from a golden well. But rainy days are always better spent indoors with a sweatshirt and a book somewhere nearby. That ordinary cup of green tea is steeping and within arm’s reach while thoughts of leaving that comfort zone never enter one’s mind. Sometimes that cup is a possibility even when one’s comfort zone has been stretched.
Visiting a temple and staying overnight for a September weekend seemed a perfect idea a few years back but as we approached the front gate, clouds and precipitation seemed likely. Though the weather did not improve and even worsened during our 24 hours at Busan’s Beomeosa, the day-night-morning left a mark in so many ways. A young lady was assigned to translate throughout our time there. It still seems like a flash, even years later. I’m still trying to figure out how we did everything. I remember intense exhaustion setting in as we headed home after finishing.
Rain came mid-afternoon and drizzled throughout the remaining 24 hours. Though situated in Korea’s 2nd city, Beomeosa couldn’t seem more isolated. It’s tucked away in the mountains like so many other temples here. For those choosing to do so, escaping from normal life is possible here. The dreariness didn’t dampen our spirits.
Temperature-wise, the weather seemed perfect but those in charge of the heat disagreed. Our sleeping quarters and the main hall seemed more than warm-enough, as the floor heaters seemed to hover around 80 degrees. After the introductory round of bows, sweat formed around one of the two shirts I’d brought in a fit of unpreparedness. For my wardrobe, it was going to be a long day.
Bowing and giving thanks to Buddha prevailed as the theme during our activities. Silence was also advised, because the minimal food we ate needed to fuel us and would’ve been wasted on thoughtless chatter anyway. I wasn’t always aware of how many times to bow down except for two occasions.
It’s hard to explain those two separate sessions where I performed a full prostration bow over 100 times. Thoughts surround it. I remember each time taking roughly 15 minutes, nobody speaking, exhaustion, and profuse sweat thanks to the heat. Those are brief reflections. We bowed to the tune of our monk clapping a stick to keep time.
The first round of 108 involved threading a necklace with one bead and a prayer each time our bodies met the floor, while trying to keep up with the rest of the group who seemed to know this procedure better than I did. The floor heat’s relentless energy helped my grey uniform turn to a darker shade and the Monk heartily asked me how I felt after we finished.
He always smiled. His beautiful personality was my gift on that day. Having a laugh whenever he could always loosened up a somewhat tense atmosphere. Everyone seemed on edge because after all, we were in a sacred place. Beomeosa means “fish from heaven” and many believe that the well from which it came was filled with gold.
Maybe that’s why he smiled. Living at the foot of a golden well – Mt. Geumjeong – I’d be happy too. Even after a brief sleep between 10 and 3 A.M. was interrupted for us to wake the rest of the world through a rainy drum ceremony, he smiled.
Another round of 108 and some breakfast meant not much time was left. A hike to a nearby hermitage for some meditation left me pondering the possibilities of a few minutes sleep but we started moving back down by the time those thoughts had settled. Staring at the morning fog that blanketed the mountains around us, the moment seemed too perfect to move away from.
One round remained and it was something more familiar than the rest. A tea ceremony finished the temple stay off and after participating in the formalities; our gracious host offered a huge variety of teas green and black for us all to sample.
We had some time to just walk around the main hall and stared out into Beomeosa’s courtyard as the rain slowed. We’d visited various buildings throughout the temple site and even hiked to a beautiful hermitage yet this room always seemed like home.
Looking back on that day, I still remember the bowing and remaining silent. Obvious takeaways of course, but the head monk’s pearly whites will never leave my memory. Somewhere, he’s probably still smiling and never going to stop, either.