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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Jogyesa Temple

With six weeks left in Seoul, there's a sudden immediacy to see and do as much as possible. Truthfully, my "must-see" list isn't very long. Unlike other major cities, Seoul just doesn't have a ton of tourist attractions. Such a difference from living in London, where I could spend the rest of my life and not see everything.

On my last day off before nine days of work, the idea of trekking too far in this heat sounded exhausting. But a brief ride on the 151 bus took me to Insadong, where I managed to see some new sites yet avoid a shopping spree. Well done!

The soothing sound of chanting monks led me to Jogyesa Temple, the main Buddhist temple in Korea. Buddhism is Korea's primary religion with almost 11 million followers (compared to 8.6 million Protestants and 5.1 million Catholics). It's not uncommon to see monks walking down the street wearing traditional Korean Buddhist grey or brown robes.

Temple stay programs are popular for tourists and locals alike -- spend a few days or weeks in meditation and study. Although a multi-day temple stay doesn't appeal to me, a one-day program that might actually teach me, a super-Type A personality, to meditate could be interesting.

Jogyesa was built in 1910 and is the only traditional temple within Seoul's four gates. It's one of the most tourist-friendly places I've found in the city with brochures in a number of languages, two information centers and well-marked signs in both Korean and English. These little touches made the temple feel open and welcoming even to the casual observer.

No shoes inside

Sitting and listening to the monks chant, watching worshippers bow with intense looks of concentration on their faces, was a peaceful experience. For a few minutes, the noisy traffic faded away and it was just... zen.

Modern offerings to Buddha: water and orange juice.

This blog from the official website of Korean Buddhism is interesting and insightful, and worth checking out.

Do you like learning about other religions? I think it's fascinating.