We had the opportunity to get a semi-private tour through a restored Buddhist temple and eat dinner there. After a short walk in, we were greeted by a monk who showed us around. The monk was a very interesting fellow. Very un-monklike actually. At least very different from what my perception of what a monk would be like. He was very chill and funny, breaking out into song on occasion and joking around with all of us. He asked us if we knew the three rings for marriage. After a few guesses from us, he says, “You have the engagement ring, the wedding ring, and the suffering.” Somehow he related this to the Buddhist teaching of how “life is suffering” and it is one’s goal to ease suffering and to do what they can to make things better. He told us about his ex-girlfriend. He even told one of the ETAs, who was African American, that he “once dated a black girl”. It was weird to think that a chaste monk ever had a girlfriend before he joined the cloth (can you say that? ‘Cloth’? Temple?).
“Because I designed it”
The temple we visited was Naksan-sa, a 1,300-year-old Buddhist temple in Yangyang. What we saw was actually mostly a reconstruction of the old temple, which burnt down in 2005 from a forest fire. It destroyed most of the 20 wooden buildings and a 536-year-old bronze bell, designated a national treasure. The monk who was talking with us was the art director who was brought in to help redesign the temple. He enjoyed point out every little detail and then following it up with “Oh, I designed that,” or “It’s so beautiful. You know why? Because I designed it”. And here, I thought modesty was a cherished trait in monks? It has since become the tagline of Orientation.
Some people thought it was awesome how relaxed he was with us and how he was able to “get on our level” and joke around, and make Buddhism more relatable and not so spiritual and conservative, but the other half of us had the opposite reaction saying that he was not respecting Buddhism and its culture; that he was not displaying its piety and spirituality that is very much involved in the religion. It’s hard to say; I’m not sure what was appropriate, but I cannot deny that he made things amusing. He even allowed us to go into the different parts of the temple and touch things and explore parts that are normally restricted to the public. I was able to play the drum and the bell. Perhaps since everything were replicas this was why we were permitted to do this and if they were the originals, things might have been different. We also got to sit in the temple and take photos which was very cool. The main temple had one of the items saved by the fire: a giant gold Buddha, one of Korea’s many designated national treasures.
Samul nori 사물놀이
I have also put together some of the video footage of the traditional Korean Buddhist instrument demonstration and uploaded it on Youtube. Check it out!
It was very rare to get to see this and then able to play the instruments afterwards!