Contents > Personal Narratives
- Opening My Inner Ears and Eyes(2011-03-06)
- Upon the setting of the sun, the sound of the temple bell suddenly reaches my ears. For a brief moment, the sound scatters all my discursive thoughts. My body and mind are finally able to find clarity in time and space. It’s a moment of non-self. Through a moment of bliss from the Dharma, I am truly fulfilled. The sound of the bell keeps reverberating out into vast space
- The Sound of the Millennial Mountain Temple, Daeheung-sa
Upon the setting of the sun, the sound of the temple bell suddenly reaches my ears. For a brief moment, the sound scatters all my discursive thoughts. My body and mind are finally able to find clarity in time and space. It’s a moment of non-self. Through a moment of bliss from the Dharma, I am truly fulfilled. The sound of the bell keeps reverberating out into vast space
It is the day on which all the Buddhist summer retreats end all over Korea. Through the
wide-open doors of the Seon Halls, monks and nuns come out to embark on a“ traveling practice” wearing their backpacks. I am on my way to Daeheung-sa Temple in a car driven by an acquaintance. The day I am scheduled to meet Ven. Beomgak, the abbot of Daeheung-sa, happens to coincide with the end of the summer retreat. I have made this appointment to obtain documents about Seon Master Hyejang who taught the“ way of tea”to Dasan Jeong Yag-yong.
If I may add one more reason for this visit, I also wanted to listen to the sound of the Dharma bell resonating through the valleys of Mount Duryun. Once I found myself shedding tears listening to the sound of a temple bell. It is a memory from my youthful college years. Upon entering the gate of a mountain temple which was slowly being enveloped in the shade of the mountains, the temple bell was ringing and my heart was swept by an emotional tidal wave. It shook up my cloudy consciousness, and somehow my mind became clear like the water in those autumn rice paddies.
A few years later, I shared this experience with an old monk who told me that“, You probably have a deep connection with Buddhism.”Master Gusan, who was the spiritual patriarch of the Songgwang-sa Monastery at the time, went so far as to strongly encourage me to become a monk.
Since ancient times, Buddhists have identified the sound of temple bells with the voice of the Buddha. On the Bell of King Seongdeok“Emile Bell”is inscribed the passage“, By hanging this sacred bell, let the voice of the Buddha be realized.” Undoubtedly the voice of the Buddha is the clear, fragrant sound of the Dharma that permeates into the heart of all sentient beings. Eventually I arrive at the entrance of Daeheung-sa and breathe in deeply the air of Mount Duryun through the open car window. Getting out of the car, I walk the old mountain path. It has changed.
In old times, a dirt road used to pass in front of the memorial stupas and went to the lotus pond, but now it has been moved to the other side of the stream. I think it was an act of repentance for the impolite passing of cars by the memorial stupas in which are enshrined the spirits of the thirteen most eminent monks and the thirteen great lecturers. I have to confess I also drove past the stupas some time ago; my car throwing the dust of the secular world onto them as I drove to the Ilji-am Hermitage.
I put my palms together in front of several stupas and inform them I have come to Daeheung-sa. In my mind, I especially offer three prostrations in front of the Great Masters Seosan and Cho’ui. Both of them are the teachers of my soul and the supreme patriarchs of my mind. One is the eminent monk who saved our country during the Japanese invasion of 1592. The other is the eminent monk who taught me the meaning of the “way of tea.” According to the predictions of the Great Master Seosan, Daeheung-sa, with its deep, secluded valleys, will never be violated through all ages to come. So I believe the relics of these two monks will be well preserved for a long time with the added force of the aspirations of Daeheung-sa’s devoted followers.
I enter the room of Ven. Beomgak and have tea with him. He hands over the documents about the Seon Master Hyejang and pours tea into the cups. Listening to him, I am surprised at his interest and perspectives on Buddhist culture. He says Mount Duryun embraces Daeheung-sa in a shape of a reclining Buddha. Hearing that, I recall the mountain I saw at the Single Pillar Gate may have resembled a “reclining Buddha.”
After parting with Ven. Beomgak, I climb up to the Ilji-am Hermitage where Master Cho’ui used to reside, and I walk about under the eaves of the Hall of Thousand Buddhas, spending the afternoon in the temple. Upon the setting of the sun, the sound of the temple bell suddenly reaches my ears. The Poem of the Bell suddenly flashes into my mind.
Listening to this bell may I extinguish afflictions,
Develop wisdom and attain enlightenment,
May I leave the hell, escape from the three realms
Attain Buddhahood and save all sentient beings.
In front of the Bell Pavilion I fall into meditation for a minute. For a brief moment, the sound
scatters away all my discursive thoughts. When I and the bell sound become one, there is no room for even a thought to slip in. It seems that the sound of the bell has shattered the “ I”who asserts my self. My body and mind are finally able to find clarity in clear time and space. It’s a moment of non-self. Through a moment of bliss from the Dharma, I am truly fulfilled. The sound of the bell keeps reverberating out into vast space.
The blessings of Daeheung-sa do not stop here. Unlike other temples, Daeheung-sa houses only the bell in its Bell Pavilion and keeps the rest of the instruments, which are the Dharma drum, the wooden fish and the cloud-shaped gong, on the second floor of the opposite pavilion called Chimgye-ru. As the name implies, a Dharma drum is a drum that spreads the Dharma. Though the Dharma drum is silent at the moment, in my mind it seems to keep beating “boom-boom,” restoring my mind gently. It seems to be reciting a mantra of the mountain peaks that blesses the truth saying“, gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhisvaha.”
The wooden fish is a Dharma instrument in the shape of a fish.
According to the Pure Rules of Paichang, because fish always keep their eyes open, if you carve a fish out of wood and hang and strike it, it shakes off the sleepiness of practitioners and admonishes their scattered thoughts. The wind chimes hanging under the eaves and the wooden clackers may also hold messages reminding us to not lapse in our practice; like the fish, we must always keep our eyes open. I also have a wind chime hanging in my mountain home, warning me not to become indolent myself.
The way a fish jumps into the air is described as “vibrant.”I want to live fully this moment given to me so that there is nothing left of it. I want to listen to the wind gently whispering to me all the joyful and sorrowful stories of the world.
The evening ceremony is already over and the sound of the stream flowing by the pavilion is refreshing. My forehead becomes cool. The stream which has swelled from the rainstorm of a few days ago flows with great force. Chimgye-ru means“ a pavilion lying down with the stream as its pillow.”I reflect on the meanings of the Dharma instruments in the pavilions. It is said that the Dharma drum saves animals, the wooden fish fish and the cloud-shaped gong birds. These instruments illustrate that Buddhism is not just for human beings but for all forms of life.
Soon stars shine brilliantly in the sky as if the reclining Buddha of Mount Duryun were emitting light. In the distance, our galaxy appears as a piece of white cotton. The Buddha said that the stars in the night sky do not shine for his disciples to enjoy sweet sleep. That is so true. My consciousness must remain clearly awake like those stars no matter where I am. I must live each moment with my whole being like the stream water which flows by the pavilion.
It is a bright night with a full moon. I think I even hear the sound of the galaxy spinning. The forest path through the temple gate leading back to the market street is not dark. This visit to the millennial mountain temple Daeheung-sa seems to have opened my ears and eyes deeply.
Written by Jeong Chan-ju _ Graduated from the Dept. of Korean Literature, Dongguk University| He has published many books in Korean including Mountains are Mountains: Rivers are River sand The Way to Hermitages. He has wont he Haengwon Literary Award and the Dongguk Literary Award.
Photography by Lee Gap-cheol _ He has held many solo and group exhibitions including
Collision and Reaction and Energy Gi. He has won many awards including the Donggang Photography Award2003, the Lee Myeon-dong, Photography Award2005 and the Sagamihara and Asian Photographer Award of Japan.
- An Encounter with Beopju-sa Temple on Mt. Songri-san, A World Apart from Society(2011-02-17)
- Until I hiked over the winding trail of Malti-jae Pass, Mt. Songri-san didn’t readily reveal itself. My mind followed the trail, tracking the little hills and walking across the fields. The mountains and fields were ablaze in crimson as if sacrificing themselves by immolation using the last summer’s heat they had accumulated. Are these brilliant colors only possible after bereaving the secular world?’
Until I hiked over the winding trail of Malti-jae Pass, Mt. Songri-san didn’t readily reveal itself. My mind followed the trail, tracking the little hills and walking across the fields. The mountains and fields were ablaze in crimson as if sacrificing themselves by immolation using the last summer’s heat they had accumulated. Are these brilliant colors only possible after bereaving the secular world?’
Whenever I am on my way to any temple, the white noise inside my head becomes louder. I pass the time in hurried steps. The trees lining the road to Beopju-sa admonish my mind like a Zen stick, telling me that being busy is being lazy.
How could I ever realize myself without ever desperately asking myself who I am? Rather my city life was a path of forgetting self. The dead leaves break out in laughter under my feet. Still I feel fortunate. After traveling four hours from Seoul, I have arrived at Mt. Songri-san, a mountain bereft of the secular world, and at Beopju-sa, a temple where the Dharma abides.
The Gate that Connects This Shore to That Shore
A 2 kilometer walk over the path through the thick forests and valleys of Mt. Songri-san leads the traveler to the One Pillar Gate. The plaque says “The Foremost Temple in the Hoseo Area,” proudly declaring that this is a place where Buddhist practitioners can dedicate their lives in study and practice. The name “Single Pillar Gate” comes from the fact that the columns of the gate form a single line. One needs to pass through many gates before reaching the Main Buddha Hall, and the first of these is the Single Pillar Gate. Only the One Pillar Gate has its columns placed in a single line, symbolizing that one enters the world of truth by concentrating one’s disheveled mind. This gate divides two worlds: Outside is the secular world while inside is the sacred.
The sunlight filtering through the forest disperses the traveler’s greed, and the wind sweeps away his afflictions. Passing through this gate, I will enter the world of the one mind in which you and I are one, Buddhas and sentient beings are one, and enlightenment and afflictions are one. How many One Pillar Gates have I passed through? How many times have I crossed them with right mindfulness? In the past I possibly entered them with an unclean mind, carrying my afflictions and delusions intact. Today, however, I am passing through the gate leisurely. No matter how slowly I walk, it is still faster than the pace of snails or worms. At the first gate of the temple, I ponder my karma; karma I cannot remember, karma I have forgotten and am not aware of. The suffering of ignorance begins with karma.
Walking along the valley past the Single Pillar Gate, one encounters the Vajra Gate, where the two Vajra Kings who guard and help the Buddha are enshrined. The king on the blue lion is Manjusuri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, and the king on the while elephant is Samantabhadra, the Bodhisattva of Great Action. Both hold a lotus in one hand, but a minute inspection reveals a difference in their shapes. The lotus held by Manjusuri is fully open, symbolizing the attainment of enlightenment. The lotus held by Samantabhadra is still in bud, symbolizing the potential for enlightenment by practicing sharing.
[ One Pillar Gate at Beopju-sa]
There’s a profound significance in the fact that the gate one first encounters after passing through the Single Pillar Gate is the Vajra Gate where the Bodhisattvas of wisdom and action reside.
However, the third gate, the Gate of Heavenly Kings is where I linger to reflect upon its meaning. The four heavenly kings within the gate were originally the kings of ghosts and were worshipped by ancient Indians. However these ghosts eventually took refuge in the Buddha and became the guardians of Buddhism. The Gate of Heavenly Kings reminds me of what my teacher said when I first embarked on the spiritual path.
The Heavenly King of the East looks fiercer as he holds a sword in one hand. However, he is now closer to my heart since I now know the meaning of the sword. The sword is for severing the afflictions which may seize the Buddhist practitioner at any given moment. It encourages one to cross over to the other shore by firmly severing one’s karma.
The Heavenly King of the North stands plucking a lute. It admonishes one to keep one’s original face pure through a bold severing from one’s karma and afflictions while at the same time gently consoling one’s past self. However, most people do the opposite. They wield their swords at the past while justifying the present by playing the lute.
My eyes look back and forth between the guardian who holds the sword and the other who holds the lute. Then an awakening comes to me. Aha, it was the best way then. You believed it was the best way then, but you were in ignorance. How painful it must have been for you! Then again how much I suffered! I missed the truth that all things are interconnected and that I could be happy only when you were happy. The Heavenly King of the North is playing the lute today asking us to accept and love ourselves as we are. The sword and the lute! The instruments held by these fierce-looking guardians hold a secret that instantly brings the lax and lonely mind into tune.
Entering the Buddha World by Crossing the Bridge
Many mountain temples have a bridge over a stream at the entrance. This bridge is a connection between the secular world and the Buddha world. These temple bridges are often called the “Crystal Bridge”as it passes over crystal-clear water; or they are sometimes called the “Bridge of Mind Purification” because one must purify one’s afflicted mind before crossing it. At the terminus of this bridge is the pure land of the Buddha from where one can look back and see the shore of the world of birth and death, happiness and suffering.
Myriads of people cross this bridge at Beopju-sa, a tourist spot which attracts 600,000 people a year. No hesitation is detected in their thoughtless footsteps. I was probably no different. Everything in the temple compound including its layout, shrines and adornments are symbolic. I am not sure how many times I have entered and left this grand world of symbols with an awakened mind. I may have admired the flowing mountain streams above the bridge, but may not have noticed the person next to me was a Buddha. Raising my eyes to the sky, I find even the clouds which have just traveled over the peaks of Mt. Songri-san are at rest.
Felling the Mind of Hundreds of years at Palsang-jeon Pagoda
Beopju-sa has a special pagoda designated as National Treasure No. 55. Korean temples usually have stone pagodas, but here there is a five-story wooden pagoda called Palsang-jeon. It is the only extant wooden pagoda in Korea. It is great in height and scale, and one has to look far up to the distant top. What’s more admirable are the elaborate demon faces carved at the four corners of the eaves, and the architectural technology which circulates air from high in the pagoda to the lower levels via a square opening. It looks grandiose from afar, but a closer look reveals the exposed wood grain faded by sun and wind. Built in 1624 by Great Masters Sa-myeong and Byeog-am, it boasts a history of 400 years. I climb up the six steps in front of Palsang-jeon reflecting upon the minds of those who constructed the pagoda and those who have visited it. The six steps represent the six perfections of Buddhism.
Buddhist pagodas originated from a circumstance that arose when the Buddha passed away. The kings of the eight kingdoms divided the remains of the Buddha and built stupas in which to enshrine them. The Buddhist practice of walking clockwise around temple pagodas is meant to realize the mind of the Buddha. I remember the great stupa of Bodhgaya where the Buddha attained awakening and the countless stupas I encountered in remote areas of the Himalayas. No matter how cold or inclement the weather, pure-minded Buddhists had constructed a stupa to feel the presence of the Buddha close to their hearts, even if there were only a few households in the settlement. They probably wanted to ponder
the stupa’s silent teachings.
On the four walls inside the Palsang-jeon are painted eight important scenes from the Buddha’s life. My eyes linger for a while on the scene in which Siddhartha realizes the suffering and impermanence of human life. The young prince’s shocked expression upon realizing the impermanence of life and our common destiny to grow old, get sick, and die, resonates solemnly in my heart. In my mind I try rebuilding the pagoda one story at a time to awaken the Buddha within me. No other place is better suited to doing this than Beopju-sa because it is a temple where the Dharma truly abides.
Written by Jeong Hui-jae ● Since traveling to India, Nepal and Tibet on prostration pilgrimages, Jeong has had several Korean children’s books published, including I Wish You Good Luck and I Learned of Love There. Recently he added another publication, City Living, Loving and Learning, a collection of his reflections and meditations.
Photography by An Ung-cheol ● An has worked with the documentary magazine GEO and a few major fashion magazines such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Numero. Currently he concentrates on portrait photography and in reinterpreting the landscapes and cultures of the world. In 2009 he held an exhibition in New York titled“ Moment’s in Time.”His book“, Still Life - An Ung-cheol Speaks of Photography Like Music,”has been published in Korea.
Translated by Jhin Wookee ● Korea Institute of Buddhist English Translation
The temples temples are beautiful. They blend with nature as if Mother Nature herself built them. They are cradled by the mountains and replenished by brooks and rivers. The temple buildings are simple yet ornate. One could hardly find a more serene and beautiful sanctuary anywhere in the world.
2. Temple Food
It is delicious, nutritious, and good for the environment and living beings. The 100% vegetarian food served at Korean temples are prepared from fresh vegetable often grown on temple grounds. The preparation is often simple without many spices. Temple food never uses the five pungent vegetables from the onion family, which are supposed to hinder meditation practice. Artificial flavorings are also never used for a clean and light taste.
3. Seon Meditation
The Seon (meditation tradition) has an unbroken lineage back to the founder of Seon, Bodhidharma. The tradition of the three-month summer and winter retreats are maintained at over 100 temples with over 1000 monastics engaging in retreat.
4. Barugongyang (Formal Monastic Meal)
[ A monk explains what Barugongyang is to Templestay participants]
It is wonderful way to eat. It is taken in four wooden bowls and nothing is wasted. It is itself a silent meditation.
5. Monastic Lineage
A pure monastic lineage exists, which honors the Vinaya of Bhikshus. Korea is a Mahayana country, but its adherence to the Vinaya and respect for the monastic sangha resembles the Theravada countries such as Thailand and Myanmar. Monks and nuns conduct themselves with dignity and refinement to reflect the noble Buddhist lineage.
6. Form and Etiquette
Form and etiquette are emphasized in Korean Buddhism. There is a purity, straightness, and simplicity to the appearance of Korean Buddhism, which is to reflect the uprightness and wholesomeness of mind. Outwardly straight and inwardly pure is the tenet of Korean Buddhism.
7. Diverse Practices
Korean Buddhism offers diverse practices. Along with Seon (the meditation practice, which is the backbone of the KB’s practice lineage), there are diverse devotional practices for monastics and the laity. Daily chanting (Yebul), Yeombul (deity practice, praying to a particular Buddha or Bodhisattva by chanting the name), bowing (such as 108 daily bows or 3000 bows), reciting the sutras (gangyeong), copying sutras (sagyeong), intensive prayers (jeong-geon kido, chanting intensively for 21 days, 100 days, etc.), and more.
It is the meditation practice of Korean Seon. Korea has uniquely preserved and actively engages in this practice. Ganhwaseon means to observe the hwadu, which is the ultimate inquiry. The Hwadu is a sincere and intense questioning into the nature of self and reality. For example, the most common hwadu is “who am I?” This is not an intellectual question, but a sincere longing to know the true nature of the self. This practice leads directly to the experiential understanding of the nature of reality and ultimately to realization.
9. Ascetic Practice
It is highly valued in Korean Buddhism. Monks and nuns rise at 3 a.m. in most Korean temples for a rigorous day of practice. There is ruggedness and strictness to Korean temple life. Even the grey color of the monastic robes reflects this mentality. Some examples of Korean Buddhist asceticism are: Yongmaeng Jeongjin (ferocious practice: each retreat season in most meditation temples, practitioners don’t sleep at all for a week or longer), Jangjwa Bulwa (not lying down to sleep), finger burning (this is done as an offering to the Buddha or as a sign of dedication to the monastic life), etc.
10. Monastic Robes
Monastic robes are often very elegant and made of the best materials. Koreans monastics are often criticized for their expensive robes made of fine hemp, cotton, or silk. However, the natural materials also have a practical value (such as coolness in the summer and warmth in the winter) as well as aesthetic appeal. Like Catholic priests in Europe, Buddhist monks in Korea play the role of clergy. Such robes lend to the distinction and importance of the clergy’s responsibility. These fine robes have become an inseparable part of Korean Buddhist monastic culture.
11. Korean Tea Tradition
It is an inseparable part of the Korean Buddhist culture. There is not a single temple without a complete tea set and various wonderful teas. The tea pots and cups are uniquely Korean with an earthy and slightly rough appearance, which reflects the Korean Seon values of naturalness and simplicity.
12. Ulyeok (Community Work Period)
It is an indispensable part of Korean Seon. The Seon tradition values work as much as eating; as the saying goes, “no work, no eat.” As Buddhism came to East Asia, farming was done on the temples for sustenance of the monks. In Korea, farming became a Seon practice with the adage, “Seon and farming are not two.” Ulyeok is part of the daily routine of Korean temple life. It is a way to purify Karma. Every Korean monk must do at least five months of manual labor before receiving precepts. Korean Seon adheres to the adage that “every human being should physically labor every day.” This is good for the body and mind.
13. Process of becoming a monastic
The process inn the Jogye Order is not at all easy but certainly rewarding. Every prospective monastic begins as a hangja (postulant) and must do manual labor for the temple for at least five months. Then, they go to the hangja training course for four weeks to qualify as a novice. Then, a novice monastic must go through four years of training in one of the following institutions: Sutra School, Meditation School, or Monastic or Buddhist University. Then, after a one-week training course, they receive full monastic ordination. It is this difficult process that gives the monks a sense of pride and dignity of wearing the monastic robes.
14. Buddha's Birthday
It (eighth day of fourth lunar month) is the biggest day of the year for Korean Buddhists. It is the Buddhist Christmas, when the streets and temples are adorned with colorful lanterns. It is when every Buddhists (even closet Buddhists) make their way to the temple for Dharma service. This is the best time of the year to see and experience Buddhist culture in Korea. The Lotus Lantern Festival with its grand and lavish parades and activities takes place around this time.
15. Korean Buddhist Art
It is a unique heritage of Korean culture. In fact, most of Korea’s cultural properties are Buddhist. Korean temples are veritable art museums with diverse paintings, sculptures, and design. Likewise, museums are filled with Buddhist art.
- An Introduction to the Korean Lunar New Year Holiday(2011-01-28)
- The Lunar New Year is the most important holiday of the year for Korean people, and it carries a very deep significance for the entire nation. During this time of year most Korean people thoroughly clean both the inside and outside of their houses and try to behave in a manner befitting the holiday as it approaches. All kinds of delicious foods are fancifully laid out, and everyone greets their neighbors with tidings of the New Year. It’s an incredibly joyful season, as everyone says farewell to the year that has passed, and gets ready to make a new beginning.
The Lunar New Year is the most important holiday of the year for Korean people, and it carries a very deep significance for the entire nation. During this time of year most Korean people thoroughly clean both the inside and outside of their houses and try to behave in a manner befitting the holiday as it approaches. All kinds of delicious foods are fancifully laid out, and everyone greets their neighbors with tidings of the New Year. It’s an incredibly joyful season, as everyone says farewell to the year that has passed, and gets ready to make a new beginning. The Lunar New Year is indeed a holiday full of blessings and hopes for the future.
- Welcoming the First Full Moon of the New Year
The Lunar New Year’s Day is not set by the yearly circuit of the sun, as in the case of the Gregorian calendar, but is determined by the cycle of the moon, according to the lunar calendar. As a result, this holiday has very beautiful connotations associated with it, as it greets the first full moon of the New Year. This is also a good holiday to observe the Korean custom of showing gratitude and respect for one’s ancestors. For example, that morning the whole family gathers together to pay respects to their ancestors during a ceremony featuring various foods which have been meticulously prepared. After this, the younger members of the household bow to the eldest members as a sign of respect.
Young children put on their beautiful traditional clothes before bowing to the elders, and in return receive “New Year’s money”, imparting wishes of good health and happiness. After these formalities have finished, the whole family enjoys delicious holiday dishes such as rice-cake soup, beef-rib stew, multi-colored vegetables, sweet rice drinks, and so on. In particular the white-colored rice-cake soup carries important significance for the start of the New Year, as the color white signifies the new beginnings and hopes of the whole world.
In addition, members of the family and other friends play various traditional Korean games together, such as “Yut,” flying kites, and spinning tops. All of these traditional games contain natural principles of the sky, earth, water, fire, and wood, which symbolize the providence of nature and offer a prayer for abundance and peace in the year to come.
[Templestay participants enjoy flying kites]
- New Year’s Day at a Mountain Temple
The celebration of the Lunar New Year is even more unique at Buddhist temples in the mountains. One might even say that Korean Buddhism, which contains seventeen-hundred years of history, is the cradle of Korean traditional culture. These temples rest like precious gems hidden in the midst of stunning natural surroundings. When you combine such a majestic backdrop with solemn rituals and sincere practitioners devoting themselves single-mindedly to the pursuit of truth, it truly makes an unforgettable impression on the visitor. Every Lunar New Year countless people visit temples in the morning to offer their prayers to the Buddha and hang lotus lanterns. If you wish to have a really unique experience this New Year, you should consider spending the last night of the lunar year at a temple, where you’ll have a chance to witness beautiful traditional rituals that can’t be seen just anywhere.
Only at Korean temples can you have experiences such as creating lotus lanterns, making rubbings of sutras, stringing prayer beads, circling pagodas, and so on. At dawn you can strike the great temple bell together with the monks, and watch the first sun of the New Year rise above the mountain ridges as the sound reverberates through the valley. This is a scene of almost unimaginable grandeur: the crimson sun rising between snow-covered hills, while the temple waits peacefully below. Every year for the last seventeen-hundred years the first sun of the Lunar New Year has given us hope and courage to face the year to come. Korean temples have this incredible beauty and so much more to offer.
- Korean Temple Food(2011-01-18)
- Temple food refers to the food consumed daily at Buddhist temples. Everything is considered a part of Buddhist practice at Buddhist temples, so monks and nuns are directly involved in food preparation, from the growing of the ingredients to the making of the food. Monastic practitioners make it a principle to always be grateful for the efforts of all those involved in the preparation of food.
Korean Temple Food
[Barugongyang : Traditional Monastic Meals]
Temple food refers to the food consumed daily at Buddhist temples. Everything is considered a part of Buddhist practice at Buddhist temples, so monks and nuns are directly involved in food preparation, from the growing of the ingredients to the making of the food. Monastic practitioners make it a principle to always be grateful for the efforts of all those involved in the preparation of food. They take only the amount needed for their physical sustenance, leaving no food in their bowls. This distinctive approach to food preparation has been gradually shaped over many centuries based on the foundation of Buddhist practice and philosophy. Temple food is natural, healthy and also a part of Buddhist practice.
Even today most Korean Buddhist monks and nuns work in the fields and cook in the temple kitchens. The 1700-year-old tradition of "working together and eating together" is still kept alive.
Characteristics of Korean Temple Food
1. Food for Buddhist Practice
Korean temple food does not use any animal products except milk and milk products. Korean Buddhism forbids meat intake because the Buddha said in the Nirvana Sutra, "Eating meat is to extinguish the seeds of compassion." Buddhist compassion teaches that one should embrace all living beings as oneself. The dietary culture of Korean Buddhism has consistently upheld reverence for life.
Also, Korean temple food does not use alcohol nor the "five pungent vegetables." Alcohol is not used because it clouds the mind. The five pungent vegetables (spring onions, garlic, chives, green onions and leeks) produce hormones when eaten cooked. Eaten raw, they may lead one to become irritable and less able to concentrate. The prohibition of the five pungent vegetables is a preventive measure to guard Buddhist practitioners from possible distractions during concentration practice. In addition, the prohibition is meant to prevent any attachment to taste aroused by strong spices, which may also disturb Buddhist practice.
These characteristics of temple food illustrate that monastic meals are a means through which Buddhist monks and nuns realize that all lives are interdependent on others and that they must strive to establish a harmonious world in which to live together.
2. Natural Food
Korean temple food uses a variety of mountain herbs and wild greens, which has led to the development of a vegetarian dietary culture. As most Korean temples are located in the mountains, providing easier access to plant roots, stems, leaves, fruits and flowers which grow wild there, monks and nuns have naturally become leaders in shaping the vegetarian lifestyle. Also, natural seasonings and flavor enhancer have been developed.
Examples of major natural seasonings used in temples are: mushroom powder, kelp powder, jaepi powder, perilla seed powder, and uncooked bean powder. These seasonings are used when making soup stock, kimchi and vegetable dishes, relieving the imbalance of nutrition and enhancing the flavors. Having been used in temples since ancient times, these natural seasonings are emerging in modern times as a powerful alternative to artificial flavorings which may be harmful to one's health.
3. Preserved food
As Korea has four distinct seasons, all kinds of vegetables and plants are available beginning in the spring. To preserve these vegetables and plants for the winter, monks and nuns developed various preservation techniques. Besides the well-known kimchi and jang, other preserved foods include: jangajji, vegetables preserved in soy sauce, hot pepper paste and bean paste; vegetables pickled in vinegar and salt; and vegetables preserved in salt. The advantage of these preserved foods is that they can be stored for long periods of time with no loss of nutritional value. They also supply nutrients that may be lacking in vegetables.
[ Jangdokdae : Platform Korean traditional crocks of sauces and condiments]
4. Fermented Food
Korean temples use fermented foods in various ways. In fermentation micro-organisms secrete various enzymes, producing unique end products.
Korean temples use fermented foods in various ways. In fermentation micro-organisms secrete various enzymes, producing unique end products. If cheese, yogurt and wine are common examples of fermented food in the West, those in Korea may be kimchi, soy sauce, bean paste, red pepper paste, vinegar, and fermented rice punch. Various nutritive elements produced from the fermentation process not only add savory flavor to the food but also lower the level of cholesterol, have cancer-inhibiting qualities and guard the human body from many age-related illnesses
[ Making one of Korean Traditional Fermented Food, Kimchi]
5. Healthy Food
The assorted vegetables and greens used in temple food contain abundant natural fiber as well as carbohydrates and protein. Korean temple food is rich in various nutrients but low in cholesterol. Despite being strictly vegetarian, temple food lacks nothing in nutrition. Thus, it would be advisable for everyone to use any or all ingredients of temple cuisine in everyday life to have healthier lives and to prevent age-related health problems. The popularization of temple food would contribute to a healthier dietary life for Koreans as well as global citizens.
Templestay participants enjoy cooking Korean Temple food