Meditation reduces the worsening of mental health, a 2021 study shows.¹ Along with physical exercise, the act of meditating can make people mentally healthier than they would otherwise be. As meditation is an English word that is applied to an aspect of spiritual practices that come from various religions and cultures, there are many opinions and ways to meditate. Meditation is defined by Merriam- Webster as “mental exercise for reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.”² Regardless of how it is defined, meditation is a healthy activity and there are places to meditate in South Korea for any newcomers or people who would like to take it up again. “There are many places in Seoul where you can practice meditation,” says Jeongeun Shin, an officer worker and meditator living in Seoul. Indeed, Seoul has a handful of options for those seeking to meditate and learn more about it.
Options in Seoul
Bongeunsa is a Buddhist temple with historical origins in Korea’s Silla Kingdom. After being renamed and relocated in Chosun times, the temple sits across from the CoEx in Seoul’s Gangnam area. Bongeunsa is an important hub in Korean Buddhism, and as such offers a temple stay and other services. Bongeunsa has a meditation course which is a three months course once a week for two hours and provides different ways of practicing meditation such as chanting mantras, energy, walking meditation, and others.
“You can try and experience various types of meditation but it is hard to find what would fit each person due to the short period of practice,” Shin says.
The Kwan Um Seoul Zen Group
The Kwan Um Seoul Zen Group is available to first time meditators or meditation enthusiasts. It is a Korean Zen group and has two locations in Seoul, one in Jongno and one in Gangnam. The group’s vision is to support Zen and meditation practitioners and to help them to thrive with their full potential. They hold regular meditation sessions, public talks with question and answer sessions, interviews, retreats, and community programs.
“The regular meditation sessions are great but it might be hard to understand it without knowledge of Buddhism. It depends on the individual and if they get it or not,“ Shin says.
Dhamma Korea is a meditation center that focuses on hosting Vipassana meditation retreats. The center is located in Deokcheon-ri in Jeollabuk-do, about three hours south of Seoul by car. However, it’s possible to find Vipassana in Seoul, as it has Dhamma Korea groups too. Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of self-observation. A typical Vipassana retreat is a ten day commitment. It requires a residential stay and is free of charge. During the retreat, the practitioner learns and practices the Vipassana meditation method.
“It’s powerful meditation but might not suit people who don’t get much from the ten day process,” says Shin. “Some people need more time to get the benefits or understand it.”
Shechen Korea is a not-for-profit organization that succeeds the Ning Mapa Dynasty of Tibetan Buddhism. The purpose of the group is for the translation of Tibetan scriptures into Korean and to convey the basic meditation and mercy practices of Tibetan Buddhism. The teacher is a Korean American monk named Ludrup Yongsoo who can be contacted on Facebook.
“It is for bringing Tibetan Buddhist culture and tradition to Korea,” says Neda Shenavi, a Seoul based meditator. “It’s a wonderful place but a bit far from the city.”
Various Types of Meditation
Shenavai shared her understanding of three categories of meditation, which could be useful for beginners. Learning about these three types might help prospective meditators decide on the type that best suits their needs. The three types are focused attention techniques, open monitoring types, and choiceless awareness. In the first type, focused attention techniques, the goal is “bringing back the attention to the single object of focus — be it the breath, a mantra, a chakra, feelings of loving-kindness, or anything else, external or internal, actual or imagined,” Shenavai says. In open monitoring types of meditation like mindfulness, the attention is constantly brought back to the perception of the present moment. “The contents of the perception are constantly changing, but not the fact of perceiving itself, says Shenavai. For the third type choiceless awareness practice, the attention is internalized. “The attention rests in pure consciousness itself, neither engaged with the present moment inputs — of the senses, body, thoughts — nor focused on anything in particular.”
Seoul has various options for beginner and veteran meditators, including Bongeunsa, the Kwan Um Seoul Zen Group, Dhamma Korea, and Shechen Korea. There are even additional resources and groups not focused on here, such as One Circle Community Meditation which can be found on the Meetup app. Once someone makes it to meditation classes or retreats, they can adjust and choose the type of meditation and setting that fits them. Regardless of the process of discovering meditation, beginning meditators can experience physical and mental health benefits if they pursue meditation. Meditation will help to relieve stress and bring more peaceful thinking to a meditator’s life. “Ultimately, you find your mind in peace and maintain a clear mind by removing negative thoughts,” Shin says.
This post was last edited on June 29, 2021.
1. Green J, Huberty J, Puzia M, Stecher C. The Effect of Meditation and Physical Activity on the Mental Health Impact of COVID-19-Related Stress and Attention to News Among Mobile App Users in the United States: Cross-sectional Survey. JMIR Ment Health. 2021 Apr 13;8(4):e28479. doi: 10.2196/28479. PMID: 33788698; PMCID: PMC8045775.
2. meditate. 2021. In Merriam- Webster.com.
Retrieved June 27, 2021, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/meditate
Kwan Um Seoul Zen Group
David Kute has an appreciation for Seoul’s distinct neighborhoods. From Dongdaemun’s market stalls to Hongdae’s rock music venues, the city continues to fascinate him. After spending many years living and working in Seoul and South Korea, he started the blog Rooftop on the Hanok. The blog is a place to share information as well as explore facets of life on the Korean peninsula. He enjoys writing fiction and playing basketball when he’s not researching or writing Rooftop on the Hanok posts.