Asian Ethnology 82-2 | article Engaged Buddhism in Mountain Monasteries Templestay as Wellness Tourism in South Korea

Kyoim Yun

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Templestay engaged Buddhism South Korea (un)happiness branding wellness tourism

This article examines Templestay, a short-term retreat program held for laypersons at Buddhist monasteries, as a form of wellness tourism amid the prevailing social malaise in South Korea. Initially designed to engage foreign visitors during the 2002 World Cup, Templestay has become popular among Koreans struggling to cope with an ever more competitive and precarious social and economic environment. Drawing on ethnographic research and an examination of the history, statistics, marketing, and program content of Templestay, this article challenges the polarized view that posits socially engaged Buddhism as the opposite of traditional monastic Buddhism and suggests that Templestay facilitates Buddhism’s engagement with the prevailing psychological predicament of society. Opening monasteries day and night for a standard fee, a way of formatting staying at temples as an experiential commodity, allows the distressed laity space for self-reflection and a perceived enhancement of their wellbeing. Templestay sheds light on the interplay of wellness tourism and engaged Buddhism in the contemporary world.