There is a documentary on the Amazon Fire Stick that is titled “Zen Buddhism: In Search of Self (English Subtitled)” and its the first ever video recording of the Zen Tradition that dates over 1,000 years. Nuns meditate, fast, and contemplate deeply for ninety days in the mountains of South Korea.
The documentary shows footage of the extremely strict rules they follow while on this retreat on November 29,2001 to February 26,2002. The Nuns goals while at the temple and retreat is to attain enlightenment like Buddha did. This video shows the retreat happening at Baek Hung Buddhist Temple in South Korea. This temple was built during the Silla Dynasty (AD 57-935) and has been practicing strict Zen Buddhism since.
IF YOU WANT TO BE SURPRISED BY THE DOCUMENTARY DONT CONTINUE READING. The below text is recapping information from the documentary that might be beneficial to someone who would rather read about this historical winter Zen retreat.
Dong Ahn Geo – A 1,000 year-old Winter Zen Retreat for Buddhist monks in Korea.
The documentary was filmed during the 90 day meditation of Buddhist nuns at Baek Hung Temple, Palgong Mountain, Daegu, Korea. Baek Hung Temple was built in the 10th century by the Great Monk Hyecheol – the most revered Buddhist monk during King Kyungmoon’s reign of the Silla Dynasty.
This documentary is the first ever recording of this yearly winter retreat that has been happening for thousands of years. [You need to get an Amazon FireStick so you can watch this documentary.]
It starts off with a zen riddle;
“What is this?”
Dong Ahn Geo:
- Initiation – November 26, 2001
- Making Kimchi Together – November 27, 2001
- Settling for Retreat – November 28, 2001
- Pre-Retreat Ceremony – November 29, 2001
- Meditation Begins – November 29, 2001
This documentary records the very secretive 90 day journey in which nuns are in search of self.
Baek Hung Temple – has a sign on the door that reads “Meditation Temple. No Trespassing.” Sim Kum Dang is the name for the meditation room. All the nuns sit around the room in grey outfits on large square pads. The room is extremely silent.
Cham Sun – the contemplation of profound questions (Hwa Du) to attain enlightenment
Hwa Du – Profound riddle that causes great doubt leading to enlightenment
The most popular Hwa Du is “What is This?”
Po Hang – walking in a circle to release the fatigue from meditation
The nuns are shown leaving the Meditation Room (Sim Kum Dang) and walking in a circle in the center of the temple. The nuns constantly keep their eyes on the ground when they are walking in a circle or sitting and meditating.
Yong Mang Jung Jin – rigorous meditation without sleep or rest to commemorate Buddha’s Enlightenment from December 1st to 8th by Lunar Calendar
The room is full of nuns again and they are sitting on their pads as they were before. The lighting is dimmer, maybe because the sun is setting? I can’t tell.
Jung Gun Juk Bi – A large bamboo stick is used to awaken or correct the posture of practitioners
A nun walks around the room with the large bamboo stick. She taps the meditators on each shoulder with the stick a few times and then they bow to one another. They aren’t terribly hard hits with the stick… just enough to make noise and create some sensation in the meditator. The meditator goes back to meditating and the walking nun moves to the next person who needs to be awakened.
During Yong Mang Jung Jin, the nuns sit face to face to stay awake. They don’t seem to be looking at one another though. Their gaze seems to be on the ground directly in front of them.
At this point in the film, it is night time, and the nuns are up walking in a circle again to awaken. There isn’t much light present; seems to be just enough to see the path.
Reverend Moo Jin is a Buddhist Nun at the Baek Hung Temple. She says that “Sung Do Jul is the day when Buddha attained enlightenment. Sung means attainment. Do means the way. Buddha was originally an average human being. He suffered greatly. To annihilate his suffering, he performed penance for six years. On December 8th, he attained enlightenment. On December 1st, we begin Yong Mang Jung Jin, the most rigorous meditation. We all wish to be the Buddha on the 8th.”
Sung Do Il Do Ryang Suk – Awakening mankind at 3:00AM on December 8th
A man is standing in the center of the temple banging a circular item/drum with a stick. You can hear someone singing as well.
Daybreak Bell – Praying for all mankind to have an easy passage to paradise
A nun sits in front of the daybreak bell after ringing it saying prayers.
Sung Do Il Daybreak Homage – At 3:30AM, bowing to pay homage to Buddha
All the nuns in the meditation room repeat standing and bowing, bringing their heads all the way to the floor. There is a person who makes a sound with a bamboo stick… each sound encourages a separate movement in the bowing.
Reverent Ji Um is a Buddhist Nun at the Baek Hung Temple. She says, “After Yong Mang Jung Jin, it is our custom to cook rice gruel at 5:30AM to protect the pure spirit from the evil spirit. On the day of enlightenment, we eat rice gruel instead of a regular meal for breakfast.”
She sits stirring the pot with a giant wooden spoon. It moved to show her scooping the resin/cinnamon colored mush out of the pan and into another metal container. Rice gruel is a thick dish that is similar to porridge. It is made by cooking white, long grain or glutinous rice in water, stock or both.
The nuns are no longer wearing the all grey outfit they had on earlier but now one with a cinnamon/saffron red color. They go back to repeating the bowing process of standing up and crouching all the way down, bringing the forehead to the floor with hands palms-together. The sun is barely rising and they’ve already accomplished so much.
Call For Hiking – 8:00AM, Day 54
A nun is wearing a zip up jogger type jacket and sweat pants and is ringing the drum with a stick. You start to see the nuns gathering in the center of the temple, palms together, repeating mantras in unison. All of the nuns are in grey again, with hats, thick clothes and hiking shoes.
They all start to leave the temple and they look so happy and full of joy. They are free to laugh, converse and look around and observe the environment. One by one they all start heading up a hill to follow through with their hike.
At the top of the mountain the nuns chitter chatter and enjoy the scenery. They are all drinking from little metal cups, eating little bars of food and smiling. The scenery is beautiful, showing miles of the Korean landscape full of greenery. They post for photographs and giggle. The ground is covered with snow… its winter and very cold. It shows a close up as they trudge higher into their hike, their pants are tucked into their thick winter socks. The terrain has hard snow and areas that look slippery if not paid attention to. At the top they bow, but this time just the upper body, instead of bowing all the way to the ground as they do in the meditation room.
Reverend Myo Sun is a Buddhist Nun at the Baek Hung Temple… she starts singing a song in Korean which inspired laughter, joy and dancing amongst the other nuns.
They all start heading back down off the mountain towards their temple. One by one in a row on the trail.
Upon their return they sit in the room and get to eat a bowl of rice. Amazon has a similar bowl for sale here, so you can reference what it looks like.
It looks like their silverware has been wrapped to the bowl. I am unsure though. Some of the nuns gather in the center of the room towards the large metal containers of rice. They walk around serving the rice to the other nuns. They always end with a bow.
They eat in silence.
In a drop of water is a cosmic blessing, in a piece of grain is the sweat of 10,000 men. As this meal keeps me healthy I vow to save people from suffering.
When they all were done eating they took the towels that were wrapped around their bowls and start wiping them clean. They put all their items back together and wrap them up tight with the grey cloths. A nun makes a few slapping sounds with a wooden stick and all nuns bow together at once without saying a word during the entire process.
It appears as if the weather has become dreary at the zen monastery. You can see clouds crawling over the mountain tops and the rain drops fleeing from the roof creating trickling sounds on the ground below.
Call for Meditation – 2:20PM, Day 60
Despite the rain, the nun stands outside beating her circular drum. The sound of her beat seems intentional in the spaces she creates between each beat. They start off slow and then picks up speed. She hangs these items up on a post.
The movie moves back inside to the nuns meditating in order around the room. They sit with their left palm on top of their right palm with thumbs touching each other. Their eyes are closed. No movement. No sound.
Here is a thing that is so bright and divine.
Never born. Never dying.
No name. No form.
What is this?
It’s snowing outside the meditation room. It’s silent but seems peaceful. The snowflakes float through the air onto the ground.
Po Hang 8:00AM, Day 61
The meditators maintain their meditation until a nun hits a bamboo stick with her hand. All the nuns begin to stand up and move their way out of the meditation room. They put jackets and scarfs on. Their shoes stay outside of the building under the awning.
They walk in a circle still meditating in their minds but allowing their bodies to move. They continue down some stairs and through a walk way. The nuns all follow the leading nun holding the bamboo stick. No speaking, no noise… just the sounds of shuffling feet in the snow following the nun in front of them. The nun hits the bamboo sticks and the nuns break free from their form.
A nun wipes the snow off of large containers outside of the building. Other nuns sweep snow off of the pathways with elongated brooms. They cover a broad amount of space very efficiently. Still no talking… just silence and working on their task.
Eventually the nuns are back to meditating again. In their room, on their pads, still and focused.
What was I before birth?
Who am I after birth?
Momentarily a human I have been,
After this, who will I be?
There is so much self control. Not a single person moving or making sound. Just plain silence.
Some nuns are found on their hands and knees outside of the meditation room. They clean the floors on both hands and knees. They are meticulous and extremely detailed. Still, not speaking, just focused on the task at hand.
Ool Lyuk – physical labor after meditation.
A nun stands out front banging the drum again. The nuns are now talking again, moving about, putting mittens and beanies on.
They head out into a forested area and are seen carrying logs around. They work together, talking, laughing, and handing wood over. They eventually get to sit down and eat a meal. It looks like a soup with vegetables in it but I am not sure. After eating they continue working and the documentary shows them all working together to load the logs they collected onto a truck. The logs are delivered back to their buildings and they work together to stack them up in an orderly fashion for later use.
Evening Meditation 6:40PM, Day 68
A nun makes sound with the bamboo stick three times as they all are seated back onto their meditation pads and ready to begin again. They all are immediately silent again. All still, silent, not moving. Some nuns sits with their eyes slightly open, focused on the floor infront of them, and others keep their eyes shut. Some sit with their palms ontop of one another and thumbs touching while others simply have them resting on their legs.
One thought arising, it is hell,
One thought reversed, it is heaven.
The next day seems peaceful, birds chirping, clouds and bits of sunlight coming through.
The documentary shows all the nuns working together to make a meal. There isn’t any talking. They are strictly focused on the job at hand. Taking good care to do their jobs perfectly and mindfully. Every single person seems to know exactly what to do and how to do it. They all work collectively well and efficiently. The stoves they cook on are wood fire heated. One completed dishes looks like delicious dumpling’s which they end up laying in the sunlight. Other dishes look similar to Egg Foo Young. I don’t know if that’s exactly what it is they made, but that’s what it reminded me of when I saw it. Since this is a Korean monastery I doubt entirely it’s Egg Foo Young! 🙂 If you watch the documentary and know what it is leave a comment below and enlighten me please.
Reverend Yuk Moon – Head Priestess, Baek Hung Temple, walks over to the table covered in dishes and places a paper upon the table. There are nuns standing around and bowing and holding their own pieces of paper. There is a nun seated beating her drum. Rev Yuk Moon bows in front of the table, all the way down, forehead touching the floor.
Buddhist Mass to the Mountain God 1:00PM, Day 77
It begins snowing again, no more sunlight and spaced out clouds. The sky is completely grey and snowflakes fall onto the scenery as the nun continues drumming.
There are candles lit and various items in front of an image of a man.
A nun beats her drum and says mantras aloud.
Buddhist Mass to the Kitchen God 4:30PM, Day 77
There are two white candles on a shelf and some silver dishes, which are laid out under an image of a man. The nun beats her drums and says the mantras aloud. All the nuns recite the mantras together in front of their pots and wood burning ovens. Behind them are large orderly stacks of branches.
When they are done they bow to the image in unison.
Sung Bul Do Game On New Years Eve 7:00PM, Day 77
It is dark outside and all the nuns are collected in a building. There seems to be a playing board with images of Buddha. Each Buddha image has a red number on it between 1 and 4. They are connected to other larger numbers in writing I cannot read. They shake dice and drop them into the center of the game. The nuns are all excitedly gather around the game pieces. They all laugh, talk and cheer one another on. Some of the nuns chant a mantra while the nun shakes the dice and lets them go. They all clap and cheer joyfully.
The three winners receive three bows from other players.
Three nuns, with large smiles on their faces, begin bowing. They bow all the way to the floor, forehead touching the ground, their fingers point up to the sky in unison almost cupping the ear, and then they rise to repeat the process again two more times.
When they are done they all laugh together. All the remaining nuns take turns to bow in front of the three winners.
Hyang Soo Hae Rye – 3:30AM, On New Year’s Eve; paying homage to all Buddhist saints
There is a beautiful altar set up with gold statues, candles, flowers, and other items. There is a scroll beneath the altar hanging up with writing all over it. Unfortunately, I cannot read it.
Tong Al – 3:40AM, on New Year’s Eve; Bowing to Buddha and all mankind
There is a drum beating and all the nuns recite their mantra together in unison. They brow all the way to the floor once and continue the mantras and prayers.
Eventually one nun sings in the center alone for a moment before they all join in and bow while chanting and praying.
Jin Yung Gak Cha Rye – 5:30AM, on New Year’s Eve; Bowing Ceremony to the Founders
The nuns in a room full of food laid out on a table. There are candles and incense burning. They all bow in front of the food.
Late at night, a nun bangs her drum. It shows them all collected together eating food on the floor. They are all chatting silently and enjoying their food.
The next day the sun is shining very brightly. The nuns are gathered in a room and they are all bowing to two people seated up front, one of them being Reverend Yuk Moon. Reverent Yuk Moon hands out pieces of paper to the nuns that bow and they share words.
Reverend Yuk Moon – Head Priestess, Baek Hung Temple, has a cleanly shaven head, tidy clothes and glasses that frame her eyes. She speaks to the nuns who are sitting in an orderly fashion and listening with smiles on their faces.
“In this New Year, I wish all of you attain Buddhahood and all your dreams come true. I salute to your determination to endure hardships living in the monastery. You have only 15 more days to go. Thank you for your effort. I pray for your Buddhahood.” – Reverend Yuk Moon
All the nuns are walking and talking together towards another building. The building has elaborate rails and roofing. Its a dark red, green and white colored. There is writing on the top of the building but I cannot read it. It must be the temple though because it is the room with large statues, candles, incense, food and other items.
They all bow in unison and stay quiet.
Reverend Bup Eui, Head Priest, Eun Hae Temple.
The nuns all bow in front of him and they give him a treat. These little treats look like they are made out of seeds. I am not completely sure what they are made of or called.
He hands a piece of paper over and he says “I have a small gift for you. Happy New Year!”
Eun Hae Temple; Oon Boo Hermitage
There are monks seated in meditation. This room looks quite different. A monk slaps the bamboo three times and all the monks rise.
On New Years Day, monks from the neighboring temples visit the nuns.
The nuns are seated on the floor, dressed in grey clothes. The monks are standing and bowing to them. They are dressed in white and dark cinnamon colored clothing.
The movie moves to a room where they are all seated eating at these small tables. The monks and nuns seem to be eating and enjoying each others company.
Yut Nori Game – Playing the 4 stick game
There is a large green rug laid out on the floor and the nuns and monks seem to be taking turns throwing the four sticks onto the rug. They laugh and cheer each other on throughout the game. One nun is so excited she is clapping the sticks together and chanting along in joy.
Reverend Bup Tah – Eun Hae Temple
Rev Bup Tah rises after the game and hands out little envelopes to the winners.
The next year’s game will take place at Oon Boo Hermatage. One says to the other, “We are not going to lose next year” with laughter and joy in her voice.
The monks gather their shoes outside of the building and they all start heading back to their temple.
Reverend Jung Ho – Director, Baek Hung Temple
They seem to all be serving tea to one another. They sit on the floor in a circle talking and sipping their tea.
Reverend Jung Ho says, “Last year, we won. The more we won, the more exciting it was. But this year, the monks from Oon Boo Hermatage won. Well, they were out guests… we were just nice to them. The monks from Gigi Hermitage never won but did well this year. Tomorrow, we have a long trip visiting many places…” all the nuns listen with smiles on their faces, “including Bup Joo temple… let’s plan accordingly.”
Call for Pilgrimage – 7:30AM, Day 79
A nun stands in front of the temple and hits the drum as they’ve done throughout the film. All the nuns, dressed in thick clothes and beanies gather outside and start walking.
Eun Hae Temple – Geo Jo Hermitage
The nuns all enter the temple in pairs of two.
500 Disciples of Buddha, Yung San Temple
As the nuns enter and walk around there are (I’m guessing 500) statues sitting around the room with little bowls placed in front of each of them. Each statue seems to be white, some of them have black hair and facial features painted on, others are more simple looking. Some of them have very large smiles while others have calmer more meditative appearances on their faces.
The nuns, seemingly randomly, bow in front of the little statues. The documentary shows closeups of the statues, they are each incredibly unique. There is an individual being represented in each image, while there are also similarities. Some of the similarities are the materials they have been carved out of and they’re all wearing robes. Not all of the robes are the same color, but they are all robed none the less. They were not laymen.
Each bowl in front of the statue seems to have money or candy or trinkets in them.
Reverend Bup Deung, Head Preist, Temple of Three Buddhas.
The nuns head to another temple, the Temple of Three Buddhas. They visit a statue of Buddha which is accompanied by two other statues. Based on the name of the temple I’m assuming these are the three Buddha’s they are referencing.
Rev Bup Deung shows the nuns around and shares, “This is the original Buddhist seminary of the Silla Dynasty (AD 57-935).” As he speaks the nuns bow to the images.
Mi Ruk Bul, Stone statue of a merciful Buddha.
The scenery is absolutely beautiful. There are rainbows of color in the light that glistens in between the branches of the trees that surround the temple. There are splotches of snow on the ground covering the soil that is keeping these trees alive.
They come upon a stone statue of Buddha and all bow to it. The stone statue looks quite different from the other statues in the film.
At this point in the film, the nuns are again enjoying a giant feast. They all chit chat, enjoy their food, share commentary and enjoy each others company.
To know how it ends… I’m sorry, but you must watch the movie. I hope this shed some light on what happens behind the scenes at a South Korean Buddhist Temple for Nuns.