“How do we know we’re in the right religion?” That was the question I asked the bishop who visited my 5th grade classroom at St. Mary’s Catholic School long ago. Even as a 10-year-old child, I questioned religion – the dogma surrounding it, the proposed path to an eventual salvation, the confines of man-made rules.
I don’t remember the bishop’s words, but I remember his body language: a hesitant shift at the podium, a calm, yet confused look on his face, and the cool pace with which he delivered his answer. It was as if he had been asked this question many times before, but was uncomfortable sharing his response with a room full of young children.
So how does one know? What leads people on their spiritual journey? I had the chance to think about these questions while on a visit to Geumsunsa Temple in South Korea. I’m not Buddhist by label. I have a Taoist devotional next to my bed, but not far from it are various healing crystals, a Virgin Mary statue, and beads gifted to me by an indigenous Brazilian shaman. That was the beauty of visiting Geumsunsa; they welcomed everyone no matter your faith or fatherland. We had a diverse group from around the world – Mexico, Hong Kong, France, Germany, and me, repping the United States of America! Tucked away in the mountains outside of Seoul, Geumsunsa is one of the Buddhist temples throughout South Korea that offer what is known as “templestay” visits to foreigners from all over the world. Depending on how much time you have and where your travels take you in South Korea, there’s a templestay to fit every tourist’s itinerary. Upon arriving to Geumsunsa, I already felt at peace. Lush fall foliage, just changing their leaves, enveloped cozy colorful dorms and nearby sitting nooks. After setting up my modest room, I changed into the temple uniform and joined the rest of our group for the beginning of our stay. Sitting amongst the trees and the cool, crisp air was the perfect setting to listen to the monk’s words and simple wisdom. After a ceremonial ringing of the temple bells, our group enjoyed a vegan meal together. We ate in silence, as instructed, and with a renewed focus on my food, I felt satiated and healthy. As I carefully chewed each bite, my mind wandered and my thoughts drifted from the mundane, “why did I get so much rice at the buffet?” to the random, “I wonder if Buddhists have something like Lent?”.
I’ve been on my own spiritual search ever since those early days in Catholic school. While other children knelt with eyes closed, waiting for the bread to turn into the body of Jesus, I peered skeptically at the ceiling, looking for something, or someone to come from the heavens and turn the priest’s unleavened bread into a holy object. Our next activity was a visit to the temple – finally! The monk prepared us for our evening meditation, and the more mentally demanding 108 prostrations that were to follow. I really had no idea what to expect, as the extent of my exploration with Buddhism was reading my “Daily Tao” at bedtime back home. This was a bit more intense.So what is a prostration? I consider it a test of your physical and spiritual stamina in one move – and I truly didn’t think I would be able to do 108 of them. About ten minutes in, I felt fatigued, but the messages that the monk recited for us motivated my mind and body to absorb the meaning behind this physically demanding exercise. Upon finishing, we retreated to our rooms, and it was in this private space that I released all that had passed through me in the temple. I cried cleansing tears and wrote down some of the mantras I recalled, and what they meant for me.
I prostrate in gratitude for all those who made me suffer and helped me to become mature after hard times.
We’ve all cursed at those exes, annoying coworkers, and the guy that cut us off in traffic, or really anyone who has made us suffer! I thought about some of those people and how they helped me to evolve into the person I am today. I felt a renewed sense of gratitude.
I prostrate in gratitude for having my family who shares happy, sad, and challenging moments together.
Hearing the word “family” sent a flood of tears down my face as I thought about my grandfather and father, whose only visits to Asia had been for fighting wars. How lucky I was to be visiting this country on my own terms, with peace and open-mindedness in my heart. I was sad that neither of them had been so lucky to travel here as I had – seeing the beauty of a new culture.
I prostrate as a vow to blow all the jealousy, anger, and frustrations from my mind.
When I first started my company, a close friend told me that “only women with rich husbands or rich dads launch businesses like yours.” Ouch, that hurt! And it did make me angry and jealous for a time – and frustrated that I didn’t have those endless resources as some did. But I became resourceful and resilient, two things that make me an even better business woman today.
I prostrate in repentance for seeing this world as absolute right or wrong.
This led me to reflect on my faith, as something not so rigid, but fluid and evolving. I thought of all the friends I had of differing faiths: Christian, Muslim, Wiccan, Catholic, Jewish, and how at the heart of every religion seemed to be a message of love. Oh how I wished we could all be more accepting of each other and focus on our own spiritual growth, and not what others were doing wrong!
I prostrate as a vow to lead my life with passion.
This is harder than it sounds! I had a flashback to a short time in 2018 when I lost steam and suffered burnout. Life as a passionate entrepreneur was taking a toll! So I got back to basics, and did things to rejuvenate myself like listen to music, exercise more, and take care of my health. Only then could I really feel the passion for my work.
I prostrate as a vow to keep focused and refrain from many distractions.
Cell phone, anyone? To combat this distracting tool, I started setting aside time for Instagram, I shut off all notification banners, and did some other things to manage my use of technology. I admit, it’s a great tool – my favorite meditation app is on my phone! But everything has it limits…
I prostrate as a vow to be free from the ordinary standards that everyone in the world follows.
This was a memorable prostration, quite simply because it was a reminder that I was going in the right direction. My path didn’t need to look like everyone else’s. And it’s okay.
On the flight home from a luxury travel conference in France last year, I read through a pamphlet titled “Luxury Experiences in South Korea”. Flipping through it, I was surprised to find a segment about templestay visits in there. But as I reflected on my own templestay, I thought, yes, it was a true luxury to connect with myself. To connect with others. To connect with my soul. And this luxury is truly priceless.
Thank you, Geumsunsa Temple for the photos!