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Finding my Inner Buddha at Templestay (Day 2)

Musangsa Temple, Day #2, South Korea.


The wooden moktak is struck and it’s barely audible. Fortunately, someone had set their alarm. Monks must be light sleepers. We get dressed and go to the meditation room.

Emerging from my crusted vision, I recognize my cushion just a few centimeters before my feet. The room is toasty and tinged with a faint incense. A two foot tall golden Buddha sitting in lotus position in the center of the room, mediates the sexes- men on one side, women on the other.

The monks file in.

Our teacher, the foreboding but jolly Lithuanian stands by, keeping an eagle eye on us. The wooden moktak is struck again. Some sticks are clacked and in unison, we begin…

108 prostrations in silence. Standing prayer position, down, prostrated bow on floor, stand up again, standing prayer position, down…

Somewhere between the sweat and your legs turning to rubber, you lose count. You go with the flow, thinking, “Tomorrow I’m going to hurt like hell…”

Working out your Karma (Karma Yoga aka Doing House Chores)

Many spiritual retreats have karma yoga duty (aka ‘house chores’)  which is performed with love and without question or reward. It’s said that you’re paying off  your karmic debt. Wiping down tables, helping do dishes, light dusting or sweeping the staircase… my mom used to pay me 25 cents each for these when I was a little girl.

At templestay, the chores are similar to that of a child’s. Nothing too strenuous or laborious.

… Or at least, they’re not supposed to be.

One of the lay people in charge of directing me to my duties, Agapta, assigned me to clean the laundry room. Something seemed very wrong. I’ve been to meditation retreats before and done my share of karma duty and this chore required hand and knees on the floor, moving things around and scrubbing away dust and grime with a bucket and a rag. Very Cinderella.

Basically, it felt like I was getting some lazy layperson’s shit work!

All that Zen was quickly flying out the window…

What if the toilets were next?! Ugh.


When I looked up, I saw a kind temple man looking at me.

Are you staying for a long time?

No, got here yesterday and leave today.


I answered with false smile, quickly trying to erase the thoughts I’d been thinking.

That’s odd, because the laundry room duty is only given to those who are staying for a long time. Don’t worry, you’re not required to do that.

I was working out karma alright. I wasn’t working it out well.

After cleaning off my rags, I joined the house meeting. All the guests and monks gather so that we can introduce ourselves and where we’re from.

Afterwards, we took a group hike along the backwoods of the temple. It was a mystic morning– a light Fall chill clung to the air and the morning fog hadn’t yet lifted. It left the woods with a faint mood of decay.  It was a perfect time to honor things past, like this weekend. With the sun, I’d be back on the train headed back to Daegu… going back to my Korean life.


How and Where you can do a Temple Stay :

KTO- Visit Korea website (easiest format)

Templestay website (more informative)

Mu Sang Sa Temple (website info)

International Zen Buddhist Temple

(*Classes and dharma talks conducted in English)

452-13 Hyanghan-ri, Eomsa-myeon, Gyeryong-si

Chungnam Province, 321-935 South Korea

Ph: 82-42-841-6084


Reservations & Applicaton:

Required. Completed application with the dates you would like to attend.



Retreat Rules/Etiquette:

Information here (there are 30 of ’em)

What is provided:

•  Blankets & pillows

•  You get a monks robe but you will need to wear something underneath

•  There is no temple store so bring what you need or buy it before you get there.

•  Food (Vegetarian)

You Should Bring:

•  Toilettries

•  Your towel and wash cloth

•  Clothes to wear underneath your temple robes

•  Extra winter clothes (depending the season you’re going in)

Getting There (click here for general instructions):

Dongdaegu to Daejeon— 40 min by KTX, approximately 10,000 KRW

Once at Daejeon, you’ll need to either take a bus to Kye-Ryong and then take a taxi to Mu Sang Sa or just take a taxi directly to Mu-Sang-Sa (the latter will cost you around 30,000 KRW and a 40+ min ride). The bus ride will take you 1 hour (1,200 KRW) and when you’re dropped off, you wil need to take a 5 minute taxi ride (approx. 3,000 KRW) to the temple itself.


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  1. Gray says:

    I’m enjoying this very much, Christine. Sorry about the laundry room duty; it does indeed sound “very Cinderella.” Did you ever ask about it–like why is this so different than other karmic duties assigned? Or is that considered bad form?

    • @Gray: Thanks very much, Gray. With “karma duty”, part of the idea is that you don’t question but just “do” without expectation or judgement. The assigning layperson had a lot of duties on her own plate and so she slipped some onto me to get some extra help. When I was told I didn’t have to do the chore, she was nearby, got embarassed and later apologized slightly for having given me that job. Granted, I shouldn’t have begrudged, but I’m human. … and flawed. =-)

  2. Laura in Cancun says:

    Gorgeous, gorgeous photos. I especially love the curved ceiling inside the temple.

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