Click HERE to read this article in Korean.


It has been over a year, since I write travel and think like a travel writer. As a travel writer, I choose to put temple stay in my first travel of 2011. Second day of my trip, I am heading up to Jirisan (Mountain Jiri) to go to Hwaumsa (Hwaum temple). Not much expectation I had before I go. I just choose the temple because it is close to Yeosu and looked nice. Thing I didn’t know was how much I will be stunned by the place. From the start of Jirisan, I could not keep my mouth shut, or just my mental mouth. It was so much more beautiful than I expected. The deep green and blue stream, stunning blue sky, and gorgeous ridge. We often say Jirisan has a maternal energy. You might think “What?” but when you are in there, you will know what they meant and I did, I really got what the people meant. Maternal energy of Jirisan, yes, it was.

Clear stream at Jirisan
Jirisan, and her stream.
No visitors are allowed. Temple stay centre.

Stepping into temple stay training center. Even the place to stay for us trainees are beautiful. All of this will start after I wear this grey robe. Just few days, but took a photo of earthly me one last time before change into grey robe. This new look is.. different. I don’t own grey outfits.

One great thing is that I don’t have to holding my breathe to look good! Wow. How wonderful is that? 🙂

last view of earthly Juno
Temple stay centre in the afternoon
Temple stay centre in the night

There are rules must be followed and suggested to follow. Things must do are pray sessions, eating and bed time. Two pray sessions in 3:30am and 6:30 pm, eating in 6:00am, 11:30am and 5:00pm, and bed time is 9:00pm.

They suggested to do is silence. You know the saying ‘Silence is golden’, something like that. Temple stay is about finding yourself deeply inside, so cherish the word, rather think deep than speak loud. When trainers are wearing the robe, put their hands together on the upper stomach and bow to people passing by. Bow and kneel before him three times is a greeting to Buddha. Make sense. I’m at different place, so different rules are required.

Clothing and bedding are in color grey. Once I think about it, knew that the cloth for priest is grey but I didn’t really realize it. The reason why they use color grey is, quote, no matter what color they have, grey is only color left as ash after burnt. From this, we can look one of Buddha’s guidances.

Hwaumsa is magnificent. I’ve never been to this powerful temple in a while. Once one of my foreign friends said “I saw enough temples in Korea. I’m done.” Yes, temples are everywhere in the country also in Seoul but I wonder if he visits here at Hwaumsa, he might think differently.

Magnificiant main building.
Gak hwang Jeon where everything happens
The bell

Eating time. You have to serve yourself on the plate. They also suggested you to silence during the dining. Meaning is that think about how grateful to eat and where all these came from. Also we have to empty the plate and clean it afterward. Not just preliminary dish, have to do proper dish for next time.

First dinner, there were few slices of Kimchi left, so I was thinking for a while..what should I do. Get more rice is too much work.. so I just put those in mouth at once, even for me who trained to eat spicy food, those were too hot. Hot hot

While doing dishes, ‘This is another teaching of Buddhism. Life is circle and karma. Whoever can use dirty dish if someone didn’t clean it properly, and that someone could get one as well. Just simple gesture, I can get some lessons. Or do I just want to give every behavior a special meaning? Perhaps, but it’s all good.

Get a seat in my first pray session. Before go in the building, other trainers who were here earlier told me we are going to watch drumming. Drumming? Seems odd. Turns out it is a typical tradition happens before every pray session. In the pagoda, a huge drum, wooden fish and steel plate make beautiful sound. Monks play those instruments to console the spirits. Drum is for lives that have skin, wooden fish is for fish, and steel plate is for things with wings. What a beautiful minds. After that we moved a little to east and ring a big bell 13 times. When the bell rings, it’s a sign to open a gate of hell and save those who couldn’t make it to heaven, though that’s not permanent, just a brief resting. Even Buddha cannot save them all, pity.

Drum, wooden fish and steel plate to console the spirits

Night pray session, my first one here. As I informed earlier, went into the room and bowed three times. For your information, I looked up for a proper word for praying session on dictionary, and ‘Buddhist service’ came out. I am not sure that is a proper way to translate but it is easier way to say it so I’m going to use this word for pray session. So there we were, in Buddhist service. Since this is a New Year’s holiday, the hall was filled with devoted people. I felt a little distant from all these. I am not really a Buddhist, but everyone else seems very deep interest in this. So I just sit tight and bow, followed by priests. Weirdly, after a while I felt really comfortable in there. Maybe it’s because of the chant they were doing, or maybe that’s the power of Buddha. Whatever the reasons were, I was really comfortable. All the contents of chanting is for save, or enlighten us mankind. Yes please.

After my first service here, stepped out with all the mixed feeling. Sky was phenomenal that night. It was clear winter sky, so many bright ones. We had a nice chat, we meant another trainee here. He is a writer also, and loves to travel I can tell. It’s nice to talk to someone who has a same mind in this peaceful place.

Despite the fact the bedtime is 9pm, I couldn’t stop myself to take night sky photograph. Although I didn’t have any proper tripod, several things I own worked as one instead. It has been a while since I went out for astronomical photography, mainly because of my laziness but also because of all the things are going on in my life. So, it felt great, doing something I love and no pressure of being chased by life. Temple stay gave me back my passion of prove of passion. Straight back in and wrote one post on the spot. And here’s the result.

Night sky of Hwaumsa

In 3:30 in the morning, it is hardly a morning for us earthly people, but is for all the people except us. Morning service is very sacred time for them. Another consolation to the creatures around, open the hell gate and praying for saving us. It was more natural than last night’s, and I thought, if I do this longer, maybe 2 nights 3 days course would be much effective. Not here because want to earn something but it will affect us to be in peaceful state.

Breakfast is 6:00 am. Because I knew I could not wake up if I sleep after a morning service, I spend time with packing and writing. Level of quite there was remarkable. Felt like if I made any sound, I would break the air and get some broken piece of the atmosphere. I don’t know it make any sense but it was that quite-but strangely comfortable.

Dining hall. It is pouring energies out.

There is no specific program for trainees after breakfast because all of us are going back home today. Here in temple, there’s no such thing as ‘say goodbye before you leave’. Well, it’s not about disrespectful or don’t care each other, I guess it is related to Buddha’s teaching. Life is circle. Usually that says about eternal circle of life, but if it’s meant to be, it will happen..

Decided to walk around the temple more before I leave. Morning dawn of Jirisan is not really something you get to see everyday. Behind the main building, on the way to one hermitage is a bamboo bush. Wow, I really can understand bears are living in this mountain. I can totally picture it. They are not panda bears though… The sound of water flow at the stream, sound of leaves touching each other, and the bird singing, just like I pictured it.

There was a hermitage which two of the main pillars were right from tree. They don’t trim it to look good. Well, what is looking pretty anyway? Being natural, that’s beautiful thing. It’s all in our mind. Oh and I finally took a picture of me, the whole body. Me in a grey robe. Looks better than I thought, maybe because of the scarf.

Dawn. feel the maternal energy of Jirisan
Gu chung am. Two pillars are memorable.
Sun is still hiding behind, but it has been morning in Hwaumsa
Me in the robe, around bamboos. Looking good?

Getting ready to leave. All we have to do is clean this place like we’ve never been here. Everything we own is borrowing from the earth, so we return them just like we rent it. One extra thing left in the room is the grey robe. Looks like I’ve never been here. So many philosophies I picked up in just one and a half day here. I will be so much wiser if I do this often. No? Well, possibility.

Now I am back to earthly life, wearing my clothes. Walking down to the gate and down the mountain is lighter than when I came up here. There’s a saying in a temple, that we eat lunch like a put a dot on our minds, and I put a little grey ‘temple stay’ dot in my mind. Someday it will become two and make a line.

I would not say temple stay changed me completely, or it was the greatest thing I’ve ever done but I can say that is softly absorbed in my life with few lessons. You can’t force to learn something. Temple stay is an experience. Learn about respect, self control, life and myself. It didn’t change me, but it effects me clearly. I mean, how come a nice guy at Gurye station got me a seated ticket instead of no seat ticket? Change happens with small thing. And it will keep happening, I know.


Click HERE to read this article in Korean.



5 thoughts on “Hwaumsa Temple Stay [In English]”

  1. Great post Juno, looks like a fantastic experience. I was going to say that it looks like a nice stream to put your feet in, but then I noticed the ICE??

    I love the shots of the stars at night, there’s nothing like being in a quiet place away from the city and seeing the beautiful sky at night!

    1. Yes it’s beautiful and all, but it’s a hard winter now!! 🙂 Have to wait till summer..! Yes it was a magnificant experience. Such a long time since I felt that much of silence and clean sky. I love Jirisan. And temple food was great too 🙂

  2. Hey Juno, how to get to this temple from Seoul?? The temple stay experience sounds awesome (awesome views of the temple location too!)

  3. I’m thinking of the next time I visit Korea, I’ll try the temple stay….I was in Seoul 2 weeks ago, but because I still couldn’t handle the cold, I didn’t go to one of the temple stay program 🙂

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