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.

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