Buddha’s birthday is a national holiday in Korea, and this year, I really wanted to experience the holiday at a Buddhist temple. One of my friends, Seung-hyup, was raised as a Buddhist and he was kind enough to take Jong-in and I to Yeonhwasa, the temple he went to as a child.
We were immediately greeted by nanta drummers performing a traditional Korean drum set. They quickly switched to a more modern tune, and I had to take a video of the performance.
My friend’s mom happened to be at the temple at the same time, and she was adorably excited to show her son and his two friends around. She and her son made sure that we participated in the rituals and that we fully understood their importance. It was a genuinely meaningful and lovely experience.
Like any Korean mother, she had to feed us before we left. She ushered us to the temple’s basement, where we ate jeolbap, which means “temple food”. We were surrounded by gossiping older ladies, and Seung-hyup explained that the temple also served as a social center for the local community. It reminded me of going to church on Sunday mornings as a child, and how everyone would meet and catch up over coffee and donuts.But we didn’t have long to enjoy our meals. Seung-hyup’s mother had secured a private audience for us with the head monk, a significant and and somewhat rare occurrence. She quickly herded us over to the head monk’s room, which was small and full of books, which definitely fit my idea of what a monk’s room would look like. The conversation was anything but expected, however. Over rice cakes with honey and shikhae, a sweetened rice tea and discussed the spiritual energy of Sedona, Seung-hyup’s family, ancient Korean temples, real estate, and Mars Attacks. The head monk said that Jong-in was very handsome and charming and that I was a lucky lady. I replied that the monk had only known Jong-in for ten minutes. So now I can check “make a monk laugh” off of my bucket
My favorite part of the day was experiencing the holiday in a really authentic way. I am so appreciative of Seung-hyup and his mother for being so welcoming and patient. It was a meaningful day, and I’m grateful to have such wonderful people in my life.