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Temple temper: Football fans seek their religion

The Buddhist bell is said to make a sound similar to that of the Budha and is used to tell the time or call monks
The Buddhist bell is said to make a sound similar to that of the Budha and is used to tell the time or call monks  


By Andrew Demaria
CNN

BUSAN, South Korea (CNN) -- Football fans in South Korea frustrated at events on the pitch or looking for an escape from the sky-high costs of city lodging might consider seeking shelter in Buddhism.

The country has done something it has never done before and opened up the doors of decades old Buddhist temples to non-believers -- and non-Koreans.

The clash of cultures is called Temple Stay and offers visitors a 24-hour sampling of life in 33 of South Korea's most beautiful and historic monasteries.

As well as offering fans a chance to soothe the soul, it aims to provide a unique experience and insight into a religion at the core of Korean heritage.

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More than 300 reservations have been made for the month-long World Cup tournament, and after good reviews, the program looks set to become tradition.

For 50,000 won, or cheaper if sharing with six or more, the temples offer a night's accommodation, vegetarian-only meals, meditation and a range of Buddhist activities such as tea-ceremonies, Samulnori (playing Korean musical instruments) and lantern making.

Strict regimen

But it is may not be for everyone. As American couple John and Samantha Hargraeves found out, guests are expected to follow a Buddhist regimen.

"We had to be in bed by ten and up before dawn, which was rather difficult but apart from that it was wonderful -- nothing that we thought we could ever have experienced," John said after he and his wife spent a night at Samgwang-sa, a Chuntae order temple in the port-city of Busan.

Not all temples are so strict, but most expect their guests to be in bed before midnight and to be awake for meditation exercises by 5:00 a.m.

Comfort too is at a premium and guests are required to sleep on mats. Only the basic amenities are provided, and for fans hoping to get a glimpse of World Cup action on television, think again.

Temple manners

They are also taught the manners needed to stay in the temple including how to dress, how to make a formal greeting, the correct meditation postures, as well as to make sure that you eat all of what you are given.

Hot pants, perfume and intimate contact may be ruled out, but the replacement is a unique spiritual experience.

The Samgwang-sa temple sits nestled in the slopes of Mount Baekyang, overlooking central Busan
The Samgwang-sa temple sits nestled in the slopes of Mount Baekyang, overlooking central Busan  

"They don't know what they can learn here in this place. But after that (one night's stay) they feel the real taste of Korean culture and Buddhist culture," the Venerable Sun-up from Seoul's Jogye-sa temple says.

Temple Stay is hoping that the program can continue beyond the World Cup to increase awareness about Korea's history.

"In Korea, there is a lot of history. Our national heritage is very closely linked to our Buddhist heritage. If people stay at the temple, they can get a taste Korean heritage," Temple Stay's Lee Go-eun says.

From luxury hotels to budget hostels, a wide range of accommodation is available for World Cup fans, but a temple stay hopes to offer soul food for even the most adamant non-believer.

-- CNN Seoul bureau chief Sohn Jie-Ae contributed to this report.






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