November 28, 2006

Weekend Buddhists

James Shaheen

Templestay Korea, an organization that first invited visitors to experience Korean Buddhist temple life during the 2002 World Cup Tournament, was hosting over 50,000 would-be Buddhists by 2005, according to the New York Times. The brainchild of Korea’s largest Buddhist order—the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism—the program invites international guests to live the life of a monk for several days. Offerings vary to suit visitors’ tastes, and can include brief walking meditation retreats, sitting meditation, and calligraphy.

Not all are so enthusiastic about the program, however, although it has grown to include 50 temples. One American scholar in Korea expressed tentative concern about the program’s merit. She had mixed feelings about the idea of the Templestay, she told Tricycle, wondering if it was just one more instance of the “commodification of culture.” Still, having only read about it in the Times, she reserved judgment and remained open to “checking it out.”

Korea is not the only place that has offered a Buddhist tasting menu, of course. In 2003, Meditate New York City, organized by a number of New York Buddhist organizations, including Tricycle, invited the public to a series of evening lectures and open houses at more than 45 Buddhist centers in the city’s five boroughs. Thousands stepped through temple doors for the first time and took their seats on the cushion. Whatever the ambitions of the Jogye Order, if Meditate New York is any indication, plenty will come to stay while others will think twice, writing their experience off to yet another lost weekend.

James Shaheen, Editor

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