Saturday, April 25, 2015

Spring in Korea 2015 (Part 4) ~ Experience Templestay at Haeinsa (Tripitaka Koreana)

Gayasan Mountain (height: 1,430m), where Haeinsa Temple is located, is revered as one of the top eight scenic spots in the country.
Haeinsa Temple (海印寺, 해인사) was founded in 802 CE (more than 1,200 years ago) by Sun-Eung Sunim (Venerable Sun-Eung) and I-Jeong Sunim (Venerable I-Jeong) under the full support of the Silla royal family in the third year of King Aejang, the 40th king of the Silla Dynasty.  The goal for setting up Haeinsa was to elucidate the philosophy and thinking from the Avatamsaka School (Flower Garland School).  Haein (海印) comes from "Haein Samadhi" of the Flower Garland Sutra, which means that the reason for everything, is revealed through an undefiled mind, just like how we can see images clearly on a quiet and still sea.
Haein-sa, the First Dharma Jewel Monastery, is the foundation temple of Avatamsaka School of Korea and the temple that the Tripitaka Koreana is enshrined. The Tripitaka Koreana is integration of Korean people's faith. Haein-sa is the spiritual shelter of Koreans, the lantern of wisdom brightening this land, and a sacred place of Korean Buddhism.  With the extension historical collect, the temple was named as one of the world heritage sites.
Vegetarian food (which we are commonly familiar with in Singapore) is known as temple-food in Korea.  In Korea, many dishes contain meat and there aren't that many vegetarian restaurants in Korea.  Even for food such as vegetable dumplings, it is likely to contain some meat and many stew dishes uses meat/seafood in the stew stock.  So, if you're particular about food containing meat, probably the best option is to go for Bibimbap and request the chef not to add in the meat.
Only in temples, the pure non-meat vegetarian dishes can be found.  There are some interesting snacks which I came across while in Korea such as the one in the photo.... icing sugar coated sweet potatoes, crispy lotus roots etc.  These snacks were served at the templestay office when we finally reached and was going through a simple orientation given by the staff, conducted in English.

As part of orientation to the temple and buddhist etiquette, we were briefed on the "to-dos" and "not-to-dos".

The staff briefed us on the key schedules to note on a daily basis.  In particular, the timing for the morning service, evening services and meal times.  It is important to observe the timing for meal times (morning, noon and evening meals) because once the timing is missed, there would be no more food left.  Meal time is about 30 mins.  The staff advised us to be on standby outside the dining hall 10mins before the start of meals.

There are 2 types of templestay programme, Standard Templestay Programme and Relaxed Programme.  The standard programme which takes place on weekends (Saturday to Sunday) and has more activities such as conversation with monk over tea, 108 prostrations, seon meditation, communal work and a tour of the temple and hermitages.  As for the relaxed programme, it is simply free and easy with minimal fixed schedule. 

Since I was there on a weekday, my programme was really relaxing.  We were free to roam around the whole temple, except that I had to be on time for the Buddhist services and meals.  The meals are served on time and available for only 30 minutes.  Once the timing is missed, there is really nothing to eat!

For the free and easy programme, my schedule was as such:

3.00am  Wake up
3.20am  Pre-dawn Buddhist Service
6.10am  Breakfast
11.20am Lunch
5.10pm  Dinner
5.40pm  Evening Buddhist Service
9.00pm  Lights out

The rooms for the templestay programme is located in 1 building.  Each room takes up to 4 persons.

For hygiene reasons, shoes are not worn into the room, but placed at the door steps.

As like many traditional building, the floors are heated.  The mattress, blankets and pillows are kept in a built-in cabinet inside the room.  There is also 1 toilet (with shower facilities in each of the room).  Bring your own toiletries and washing detergent, if you need to do any clothes-washing.

It is basically an empty room which you can decide how the mattresses can be placed.  There are 4 sets of power-points in the room, sufficient for charging of personal electronic equipment.

There is a hanging rack for clothes-hanging as there isn't any separate closet for clothes.

The morning wake-up call time is 3am, to be in time for the morning service.  As such, the scheduled sleeping time is 9pm.  The room will be pitched-dark when the room light is turned off.  You can keep the balcony lights on instead.  The rooms can get a little stuffy when the doors are all shut (there are no windows in the room), so we kept the doors slight ajar at night for ventilation.

In the Korea tradition, the pre-dawn service starts with drumming on the Dharma Drum, followed by the striking of the bell, the wooden fish and finally the cloud gong. This is followed by the chanting session in the main hall. 

In the break of dawn, we pray that the whole universe will hear this sound and may all hellish environments be brightened.  May the hells, ghosts and animals be relieved of suffering, and may all problems disappear and may all living beings be awakened.

The drum, bell, wooden fish and gong calls out to different sections of the world of living beings.  The bell calls out to those in the ghost and hell realm.  The drum, made of animal skin, calls the animals, the cloud-shaped gong calls the beings in the air, the fish-shaped wooden block calls all the live in the water.

All are called to listen to the chanting of the words of liberation taught by the Buddha and to follow Buddha's wisdom.  Below is the main hall of Haeinsa (Daejeokgwang jeon, 大寂光殿, 대적광전).  There main statue in the hall is Vairocana Buddha.  The other statues include Manjusri Bodhisattva and Universally Worthy Bodhisattva.


The hall is usually closed and devotees enter the hall through the side doors.  I am not sure if this is just a practice (of closing doors) during the colder seasons, but it would have been very chilly if the doors were kept opened.  As part of the temple etiquette, shoes are to be removed and placed on the shoe racks next to the hall entrance.  The floor didn't seem to have heating system and hence it felt very cold especially in the morning.  Fortunately, we each have a huge prayer cushion.  It is alright to stand on the cushion and make prostrations.

We were not given the chanting books, but still, we diligently followed the procedures.  From my elementary understanding, the chanting verses include:

1.  Homage to the Three-Jewels (礼佛文)
2.  The Thousand Hands Sutra (千手经)
3.  The 4 Great Vows (四宏誓愿)
3.  Heart Sutra (心经)

After the chanting, it is optional to stay on for the 108 prostrations and meditation.  The prostration is accompanied by the chanting of The Great Dharani with Mystical and Marvelous Stanzas and Verses (神妙章句大陀罗尼) and several mantras.

Meals are served at the basement of this building.  There are 2 entrances, one for the monastics and one for lay persons (non-monastics).  The monastics would take their meals just slightly ahead of the lay persons.  But fret not, there will still be enough food left.

Meals in Haeinsa are simple and made of veggies.  There are slight variations for the items served during morning, noon and evening meals.  Rice is usually the main staple for all 3 meals.  There will also be 1 type of soup, but note that some Korean soup dishes are served cold, even in the cold mornings.

After meals, we would have to clear our own plates and crockeries, place them in the allocated section in the dining hall for washing.  Food trash had to be discarded into the assigned bins.
Life in the monastery is simple and fuss-free.  Less stress felt, experience a sense of freedom as you allow yourself to immerse into the environment, nature and the calming daily practices.  Reflect on our defilements and make aspirations to be a better person for yourself and all sentient beings.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Spring in Korea 2015 (Part 3) ~ Getting to Haeinsa (Tripitaka Koreana)

Travelling in Seoul has always been a breeze for me.  However, getting out there, out of Seoul may seem like getting out from our soul.  It can be scary but fret not.  Korea's transportation system is pretty good.  Some tips to share:
1.  Load your T-money card with extra value as most of the transportation system (buses, metro and even KTX) would accept using the T-money and in case, you can't find a reload machine while in a hurry to catch the arriving bus.  However, intercity buses may not accept the use of T-money because the fare may differ from timing to timing because the bus operator may be different.
2.  Keep some small notes and loose change in case your T-money card runs out of value.  The fare for local buses costs 1,100 to 1,200 per trip regardless of distance.
3.  Ensure you have data-plan on your mobile device and not to just rely on free wifi.  In case you need to check the location map or the translation app at some rural cities.
4.  Travel light.  Backpacks and lightweight jackets would be good.  While inter-city buses have separate luggage storage compartment, this is not the case for local buses.  You will need to lug your luggage onboard and hold tight to them so that the luggage will not roll away.
5.  Bring some heat packs (especially during the colder seasons).  Food and drinks are optional as you can purchase them on KTX.
6.  Have your headphones if you wish to plug in to listen to their local radio channels.
Ready, get set, go to Haeinsa!
Here's the details about the journey to Haeinsa.  From Seoul Station, we took the KTX (Korean Train Express) to Dong Daegu Station.  (Note: There is Daegu and Dong Daegu station, be sure to buy tickets for the correct destination.)  KTX is the high speed train system in Korea that runs from Incheon Airport to various parts of Korea such as Busan, Yeosu, Mokpo and Gwangju.  Information about KTX travel and reservation information can be found here.  You can either reserve tickets online (so that you can secure the seats ahead of departure) or get the tickets at the counter.

This is the entrance to Seoul Station, which is a really huge station for passenger transit station be it for KTX train, rail train or subway train.

This is the ticketing counter, which is visible the moment you enter the train station entrance.  There are separate queues for those who reserved tickets online and those buying on the spot.

On the ticket, it shows the travelling date (Year/Month/Date) and time.  The subsequent lines show the train number (KTX 133), the cabin number (No. 14) and Seat number (2B).  On the right, it shows the departure destination (Seoul) and arrival destination (Dong Daegu).  Beneath that, it shows the fare amount (42,500 won).  Unfortunately, it doesn't state the estimated arrival time. 

Once you have gotten the tickets, check the digital signboard for the platform number that you ought to be heading towards.

Take the correct lift that brings you to the track.  The huge numbers plastered at the lift's side door denotes that platform which the lift will bring you to. 

Each lift serves 2 platforms/tracks. 

At the platform itself, the hanging signage indicates the direction in which the incoming train is heading towards.

Look out for the floor signage which indicates the cabin number.

The KTX trains have overhead storage compartment for small luggages.  Bigger ones are to be stored at the separate compartment near the train doors.  Do note that the seats are not rotatable. Hence you may be assigned seats that are in the opposite direction of the moving train.

The journey from Seoul Station to Daegu Station took about 1 hour 55 mins. 

Here's the transfer direction to the Dong Daegu metro station.  Upon exiting the to the public area at the ground level, turn left and walk straight. 

There are lots of shops and restaurants on both aisles.

Once you see the Andong Bakery Shop, turn right and exit the station via Exit 2.

Go along the sheltered walkway.

After the exit, take the downward-riding escalator.  There is an elevator next to the escalator which can be used if you have a heavy luggage.

Once you reach the ground level, turn left.  The metro station entrance will be just around the corner.  To use the elevator, do not enter the entrance.  Instead, follow the pedestrian path and keep walking.

Take the metro to Seong Dang Mot (성당못) station (station number 123).  The journey from Dong Daegu will take about 20 mins.

Take the elevator from the train platform level to the gantry level.

Look out for the signage pointing to the Seobu Bus Terminal and take the elevator.

Once you exit the elevator, turn right and look out for the words "TIM" on the low building.  That's the shortcut and back entrance to get into the intercity bus terminal.

As this is an intercity bus terminal, there are buses that bring passengers to different parts of Korea.

This pink signage provides the bus departure timings, the names of bus stops along the way to Haeinsa and the corresponding bus fare.  So.... Haeinsa is the last stop and the fare was 7,100 won (approximately USD 7).

The bus ticket will show the platform number for the bus departing for Haeinsa.

There are a couple of snacks stalls and coffeeshops at the bus terminal. 

Exit the ticketing area to get to the bus bay for boarding.  These intercity buses have luggage compartments.  However, the bus drivers will be assist with the loading of luggage.  Be prepared to DIY!

If you do not understand Hangeul, at least make sure you can recognize the characters for the destination that you are heading to.  For example, 해인사 means Haeinsa.  Double-check the destination of the bus before boarding.

The seats on the buses are quite comfortable.  Eating and drinking are allowed onboard.

After about 1.5 hours' journey, we finally arrived at Haeinsa bus stop.  This is the last stop for the route.  A couple of things to note:

1.  The bus will stop at Haeinsa's ticketing entrance and you are required to pay for a 3,000 won admission ticket to the temple.
2.  It is not advisable to alight at the admission ticketing stop because it is a very long walk into Haeinsa and if you do so, you may get lost in the compound which is really huge.
3.  The temple is nowhere in sight when you alight at the Haeinsa bus stop.  The buildings opposite the bus stop are guesthouses and hotels for temple visitors, I suppose.

To get to Haeinsa, you will need to transfer to a taxi.  It is a 5-minute journey and the standard fare is 5,000 won.  This is not a metered-fare and there is no need for negotiation with the taxi driver.

We finally figured out that we needed to take a taxi and were finally on our way to Haeinsa.

We finally, finally arrived at Haeinsa.  This is the dormitory building for temple-stay participants.

To get to the temple-stay office for registration (registration timing is between 3pm to 4pm), enter through the small traditional door at the left-end of this building and take the stairs up 1 level.

It is a short flight of stairs.  But, if you have a heavy luggage, you can choose not to lug it up. 

Once you reach the upper level, turn right and look for the temple-stay office!

And Yes!  Welcome to Haeinsa Temple-stay Programme!!

To get a better orientation about the location of Haeinsa, check out this map!  And if you're interested to know more about the buildings within the temple, stay tuned for my next blog post! :D

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