Temple Etiquette In Korea – What do I do when visiting a temple?


Temple etiquette 1
Two years ago I began my studies of the yoga-sutras and study of the Sanskrit teachings. When we got orders to Korea, at first I was hesitant but became excited rather quickly when I learned I’d be thrown into the Eastern culture I’d been studying. What I’ve noticed since I arrived here is that us foreigners don’t know how to be respectful when visiting another’s place of worship. Whether or not you’re Buddhist, it’s cool to be polite. This is like the first-grade version of cool stuff you might want to know about the religion you’re seeing. This article will include the basics of the religion, what to expect, and ways to be respectful while visiting Buddhist temples here in Korea.

Basics of Buddhism:

The guy we know as “Buddha” was named Siddhartha Gautama. He was alive around 500 BC. He decided to rid himself of worldly possesions and search for truth. He became a monk and began comprehending the world around him. Buddha means “enlightened one.” It’s said he became enlightened while meditating under a tree.

There are four noble truths in Buddhism.

  1. The prescense of suffering
  2. The case of suffering
  3. The end of suffering
  4. Attaining the end of suffering

As simply as I can put it: Buddhists know suffering exists, it has a cause, it has an end, and it has a cause to bring about the end. (Side note: They also believe in Karma, and the cycle of rebirth.)

I originally became interested in Buddhism when I read the book: The Path of the Yoga Sutras. (AMAZING BOOK) It gets into the yama-and ni-yamas of yoga. (Basically like how one should live.) It started in Hinduism, and Buddhism branches off of that.

What Goes On During A Service?

If you walk into a service you will probably hear the speaker (really like a singer) chanting and people will be chanting back. It sounds like acapella bluegrass in Korean. Don’t laugh, when you hear it, you will know what I mean! If no one is inside, chances are you are welcome to enter the sanctuary. Take off your shoes, find a mat, and sit on your knees or behind. Just be respectful & quiet. Remember to bow to your elders as you leave the building.

What Do I Need To Do To Be Respectful?

I’m by no means an expert but here are things you should know/do while visiting a temple:

  1. REMOVE YOUR SHOES and hats when entering the worship area.
  2. Do not take pictures if a service is going on (or at all unless given permission)
  3. Be respectful of those around you that are worshiping
  4. Bow to Buddha once entering, and leaving the sanctuary. (Remember, bowing doesn’t mean he is your God. It means you respect him. I bow to the guy at the guard shack in our parking lot, in this country it means: I respect you. Whenever I bow to Buddha I say in my mind: “The good in me acknowledges the good in you.” #Namaste)
  5. When exiting, never turn your back to the Buddha statue. Exit by backing out.
  6. Don’t point! Use your hand palm up.
  7. When sitting do not point your feet at Buddha. Either be on your knees, or sit cross-legged.
  8. Just be KIND. (Don’t cuss in their house of worship, or be loud or bold. Buddhism is about being kind, and self aware. Take this time to meditate or take in the culture you’re seeing.)
  9. Stand up if you happen to be sitting when monks or nuns enter. Stand to show respect, wait until they have finished their prostrations before sitting again.
  10. BE COVERED. Do not wear anything revealing to a temple.

How Do I Meditate?

I first began meditating a couple years ago. I started by doing guided meditations at night time to help me sleep. I then began doing them on my own. Here is an easy sample meditation:

The first step is to focus on your breathing. Try breathing in for a count of four – hold for two seconds – then let it go. Do this over and over for a few minutes. The next step is to rid your mind of distractions. Don’t think about where you’re going to go for lunch, or what you need to do right now. This is YOUR moment. Meditation is about controlling the inner-dialogue. Once you have focused your breathing and quieted your mind, chose a mantra. Here are some examples:

(This is my fav): I accept the things life has asked of me, and given to me. I will be at peace this day.

Love mantra: Focus on the word love. Focus on the way it makes you feel. Stay in that feeling. Find your peace.

I am mantra: I am alone. I acknowledge my existence. I honor my divinity and oneness with all that is. (you can include positive personal affirmations like “ I am successful… I am beautiful, etc.”

Basically, whatever feels right, DO. Just quiet your mind and focus. Breathe well. Meditation is about the journey within and becoming self-aware. I would go further to say it’s about finding peace. If meditating weirds you out, try sitting in silence and controlling your breathing.

Worth Noting:

Even if this is not your religion, it is cool to be respectful. Remember, you do not have to worship Buddha. But you should be respectful of those who do. I love Jesus, but I also love to meditate! I acknowledge Buddha as a great teacher who was a very kind human being. When in doubt just remember:

The good in me, acknowledges the good in you. Namaste, my friends.

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