Adventure #8: Hwa Gye Sa International Zen Center in Seoul

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Hwa Gye Sa

As an attempt to do more productive activities on the weekends, I attended a meditation at a Buddhist temple with two friends who recently participated in a temple stay. I previously felt that a temple stay for a whole weekend would be boring or not able to hold my attention. Since I moved to Seoul almost a year ago, I have noticed I have become increasingly scatter-brained and even find it difficult to relax and read a book. So this meditation was much needed. Since it’s an international center, many foreigners attend
and the monks speak English. We started with a 30 minute sitting meditation, followed by a 3 minute stretch, and then a walking meditation which was quite interesting. You walk very slowly and purposefully in a circle and by time the you are finished walking in the circle you end up where you started. Then you repeat everything 3 times which amounts to about 2 hours of meditating. I am someone who probably needs to be meditate, but I never really have practiced it. I’m sure we all need to meditate, but for me, it’s something that I find myself constantly thinking about but putting off. It was difficult to clear my mind as I’m sure it’s difficult for all beginners. Even when you try to focus, your mind is thinking. I tried to focus on my breathing and not think of anything. For a bit, the breathing kept my mind clear. But it constantly wandered and I found myself thinking again. It’s funny how, our mind is constantly going and we’re not even aware that we’re thinking until we stop to think about it. After the meditation we had a 10 minute break and then a monk came out for an hour to talk to us. I guess this is typically a talk from him followed by a question and answer session, but he talked a lot and went on several tangents. So there was no time for questions, but it was fine. He was really funny, which was not what I had expected. I thought he would be more stern and philosophical. He was still philosophical but in a comical way which I found it was easier to connect with what he saying because of this. I was especially drawn to a particular topic that he talked about: home. There were some people there who were leaving Korea that day to go “home” to Germany and to Shanghai. And he used this as a way to get us to think about our own homes. Immediately I thought of Chicago and my family and how much I miss them and how I’m planning to shorten my stay here because I’m homesick. And he said home is not in Korea or in Shanghai or in Germany, but home is here as he pointed to his chest. This struck me deeply. I know “home is where the heart is” or I’ve at least heard the saying. But it was as if I was hearing this for the first time. We get so attached to people and things and places, but these are just attachments. It was a profound talk, and I enjoyed it so much, that I will definitely go back. Since going to the meditation, I have found that my mood has improved and I feel a sense of peace. This could be from meditating or the monk’s talk or a placebo. Whatever it is, I feel great. And if it’s possible I could feel this wonderful from meditation then I think I’ll be doing more of it.

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