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Thứ Năm, tháng 10 26, 2006

No. 1201 (Hạt Cát dịch)

Zen & South Korean travel: Tourists skip five-star luxury, stay in Buddhist temples
(Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn.) By Bob Retzlaff, Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn.McClatchy-Tribune Business News
Oct. 14--BUSAN, South Korea -- Tired of staying at 5-star hotels?

In South Korea there's an option that costs barely one-fifth of what you would pay for a night at the luxury hotels that dot most of the country's major cities. And you can learn a lot about Korean culture in the process -- as well as your inner self.

It is a relatively new and growing tourism option: Buddhist temple-stays. That's where life is quiet and calm and provides an environment that allows time for reflection -- of the world and oneself. And it's not what Westerners are used to, as we found out recently during a day and a half stay at the Beomoesa Temple, a mountainous retreat along South Korea's southeast coast.

Be advised there are no luxuries in these stays. You sleep on floormats with just a pillow and a blanket; the food is spartan; you're up at 3 a.m. for worship and to begin a new day; and lights are out at 9:30. There also is plenty of hard-rock trekking if you want to participate. And yes, the "comfort stations" are blocks away and hard to find in the dark.

Also, if your stay is longer than a day, there's volunteer work available to help out the Buddhist monks.

Despite these 'hardships' -- at least to most Western visitors like our group of about 30 from the U.S. -- these stays are growing in popularity. More and more families are spending weekends at the 40- or-so Buddhist temples that are offering these programs.

The number of temple-stay visitors, we were told, has grown from about 1,000 in 2002 to 3,755 the next year, and to 10 times that number -- 36,902 -- in 2004. The number soared to about 50,000 in 2005 and is expected to increase again this year. Foreign visitors total about 2,500.

The temple-stay program was originated in 2002 as South Korean hotels were almost overcome by the huge influx of foreign visitors for the World Cup soccer games. As a result, on request of the government, several temples in the Seoul region opened their doors to tourists.

The program was so successful that the following year some 35 temples opened their doors to guests.

A typical stay, and the one we participated in, includes an early-morning Buddhist ritual service that found the wake-up gongs banging at 3 a.m., traditional Buddhist monastic meals, Seon (Zen) meditation practices, projects to help beautify the temple grounds, making lotus lanterns, and learning Buddhist culture. There also was time to prowl the rocky temple grounds, with a visit to Buddhist burial sites a most moving experience.

Garbed in traditional two-piece monk suits, we were left largely to our own thoughts through much of the day, since silence is golden in the Buddhist tradition. And silence is a definite must when you enter or pass by the Buddhist places of worship. Chants yes, but not much else.

At mealtime, you get a lesson in not being wasteful -- since no one can leave the dining area until everyone's bowl is cleaned. Don't take more than you can eat is the watchword.

Food choices are all vegetarian, mainly white rice and kimchi. When you're done, you pass and drink all of the leftovers until everything is consumed. Your bowl is placed on a shelf until you eat again -- from the same (unwashed) bowl.

A highlight during the day was an impressive martial arts demonstration, a Buddhist tradition, with all of the visitors participating. It was one of several group activities that caught our fancy. We also learned about the Buddhist religion -- monks taught our group the proper ways to meditate and offered simple explanations of Buddhism core ideals.

Information on Temple Stay programs: www.templestaykorea.net