A Buddhist temple is a place where men or women choose to live
and practice the teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha intensively. In Korea, men
and women live in separate temples and they pursue an identical way of
Anyone who wishes to be ordained should have completed high school and
be normally healthy, in order to endure the rigors of the training. Usually
a man or a woman takes ordination in order to attain enlightenment and
to help living beings. Communal living, meditation, religious exercises,
text studies and listening to the words of great monks and nuns all form
part of the life.
At first, the candidate becomes an aspirant. On entering the monastery,
he/she cuts off relations with the outside world for a time, symbolized
by shaving hair and beard and wearing gray or brown clothes. (Women do
not shave their heads at first; this being a trial period, they would have
difficulty returning home, if they so chose.) Traditionally, shaving the
hair is a renunciation of rank, as well as a way to reduce vanity and to
be more hygienic. During this period, the aspirant studies basic sutras
and chants, does chores about the monastery and cares for the senior monks.
The aspirant is given ordination and takes the first set of basic training
rules: the ten precepts. He/she trains himself/herself not to kill anything,
not to take anything that is not given, to be celibate, not to lie, not
to take intoxicants, not to adorn himself/herself, nor
in singing, dancing or shows, and not to seek comfort or wealth. After
three to five years, if the teacher sees fit, the novice is sent for the
second ordination and becomes a bhikku (bhikkuni for women) or a full member
of the monastic community.
Every day of every year begins at 3 a.m. One monk rises a little earlier
and puts on ceremonial robes. Slowly, he/she walks to each part of the
monastery informing everyone that it is time to rise. The clear sound of
the mokt'ak (a hollowed, wooden, bell-shaped percussion instrument) breaks
the stillness of thepre-dawn hours and is accompanied by chanting. After
a short time, the large bell, followed by the drum, gong and wooden fish
(see Chogyesa), are sounded and all monks go to the Main Hall.
After communal chanting, the students go to the study hall, the meditating
monks go to the meditation hall, and the working monks go to their place
of duty. At about 6 a.m., breakfast is eaten. Chanting and offering rice,
thus remembering the Buddha's custom of eating one main meal, takes place
at 10:30 a.m.
After lunch and a short free period, all return to their respective
activities until suppertime at about 5 p.m. followed by evening chanting.
Quiet study or meditation follows. Bedtime is usually at about 9 p.m.
Meditation is very much stressed in Korean Buddhism. Practitioners have
few possessions and they live unattached like clouds in the sky or a flowing
mountain stream. Retreats last for three months in the summer and three
months in the winter. There are four meditation sessions a day, pre-dawn,
morning, afternoon and evening, of 50 minutes sitting and ten minutes walking;
the sessions are interspersed with silent meals.
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