Considering A Templestay? Here’s Why You Should Do It (and meet Jeong Kwan too!)

Donning the traditional templestay attire on the grounds of Baekyangsa Temple

I consider myself spiritual, but I’m not extremely religious. While I’m not buddhist, I do respect, admire and agree with much of what the unique and increasingly popular religion stands for. Doing an overnight templestay was never high on my bucket list, but after being particularly moved by the Netflix Chef’s Table Episode with Jeong Kwan (Season 3 Episode 1) and realized I would be living only a two hour train ride from her convent, I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet with her.

When my travel buddy Claire and I arrived at the temple Saturday afternoon, I was honestly more excited about the cooking class than the templestay itself. After all, Jeong Kwan is a legend! But over the course of the next 24 hours, I found there was so much more to learn from the overnight experience. There’s a big difference between just passing through and snapping instagram pics vs. actually immersing yourself in the lifestyle by living, eating and working alongside the monks, even if only for a couple days. No matter what your background or religion, spending a night or two at a temple is a worthwhile experience.

No matter what your background or religion, spending a night or two at a temple is a worthwhile experience.

Our guide for the templestay was a young Korean monk named Lee. He had dropped out of UCLA just over one year ago to join the temple and become a monk. Intrigued, I asked him what led to his decision, a choice he went on to tell me did not land favorably with his parents. He said had done a templestay before, but when he reached Baekyangsa Temple for what was to be a weeklong stay, the experience was profoundly different — “I felt like I had just stepped into my home, and I right then I knew this was the place where I needed to be”. The following month he dropped out of school and moved to the monastery. (cue my jaw dropping)

Me and my guide for the templestay, Lee.

You could see in Lee’s demeanor, from the way he walked to the way he spoke, a subtle yet noticeable distinction. He was extremely (almost eerily) calm. He was happy, but not overjoyed. His movements were controlled, with deliberate intention. He spoke clearly and slowly — always pausing to think about his response before jumping in with an answer — and was rarely definitive about much of anything, typically beginning an answer with “Maybe…”. You see, in Buddhism there isn’t right and wrong, good and bad. There just is.

The colorful architecture was captivating

I noticed these traits in nearly all of the monks we interacted with. Just by standing in their presence for long enough you can feel the positive, calming energy emanating outwards. I don’t think I could have fully noticed or appreciated this without spending the weekend speaking with and learning from them at the temple.

In the morning, we helped sweep the grounds and had tea with a couple of the older monks. The rakes we used were fashioned from bamboo and twigs from the local forest — very cool!

We participated in all the traditional activities, including of course, the daily sweeping of the grounds.
Traditional brooms made of bamboo and twigs!

The language barrier that morning was not trivial (many of the older monks hardly spoke any English), and we were forced to communicate largely non-verbally. I certainly would have learned more from them if we could communicate directly, but this was a fun and interesting challenge in its own right and the tea was fantastic.

Tea time with one of the older monks. He had been at this temple for over three years.

Finally the time came to go to our cooking class with Jeong Kwan (SO excited). Walking up the hill, I could feel my excitement and anticipation building as we neared the covenant where she lived and cooked. The documentary on Jeong was incredible, and I was eager to see how this compared in person.

As we rounded the last corner and walked up the path towards the building, a little 4’10” lady with a full smile popped out on the deck. It was her! She gave a big wave and popped down the stairs to meet us. One of the most positive, heartwarming, happy, enthusiastic people I’ve ever met, Jeong Kwan is a living breathing example of what’s good in this world. Her positive energy radiated through the air, affecting everyone around her.

The amazing Jeong Kwan, radiating positive energy.

After some warm greetings, she ushered us into her kitchen below and we started the class. The dish of the day — mushrooms! My favorite 🙂

Everything she did was with intention, in an almost artistic way, and she cooked with an incredible mixture of deep focus and pure happiness. Even though I couldn’t understand much of what she was saying, she was funny and deeply enjoyable to listen to.

Jeong Kwan taught us about her approach to cooking (which mimicked her approach to life)

While we cooked, Jeong taught us (through a translator) about her approach and beliefs surrounding cooking, which to her is about much more than the food itself. She believes cooking and eating is about fueling the body, it’s about giving the body the energy and nourishment it needs to thrive (I agree!). It’s about facilitating mental clarity and focus — which is why Temple food is all vegan and avoids the five pungent vegetables (onions, garlic, chives, green onions and leeks).

Perfectly sautéed mushrooms that melted in your mouth

All in all, the experience was one of a kind. The class was about so much more than cooking, and I grew to appreciate that more and more as the day progressed (but damn was that food good).

Claire and me sitting in a traditional Korean kitchen with Jeong Kwan

As Claire and I walked down the hill and out of the temple that afternoon, I felt spiritually recharged and more connected to my inner-self…if that makes any sense. And now I have a colorful bracelet that brings me back to the temple every time I look at it.

Would I spend several weeks on a templestay? No, certainly not at this point in my life. But the two days I was there were well well worth it.

The Benefits of a Templestay

  • You’ll feel spiritually recharged
  • You’re reminded that life doesn’t have to be lived at 100mph all the time
  • Your stress levels go down
  • Positive energy is infused into your body
  • You’ll feel more connected to yourself
  • You’ll learn about the benefits of meditation and improve your ability to control your emotions

I can’t promise those benefits will be permanent. But then again, not much in life is. Book your stay at Baekyangsa online (contact me for details). More pics below 🙂

The traditional temple-food lunch we cooked with Jeong Kwan
Plenty of time for a quick hike to a temple up in the mountains!
Lunch in the town the day before wasn’t too shabby either 🙂
The traditional temple attire was surprisingly comfortable!

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