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JustBe Templestay: A “Zen Meditation Playground” for techno tourists in Hongdae

Buddhist temple meets hip youth hostel, inaugurated by the organic sounds of Akimbo

  • John R. Eperjesi
  • 7 September 2022

JustBe Templestay is a calm urban retreat for students, backpackers, dharma bums, and techno tourists that offers a range of sleeping options, from private to shared rooms, and a variety of courses for the Zen Tribe: meditation, yoga, 108 bows, tea, chanting, free dance and qigong.

On September 1, JustBe began a four-day-long opening event at its home in Hongdae, the legendary nightlife capital of Seoul. The opening party included a special DJ set by Akimbo, the founder of Tonal Unity, a record label specializing in “organic sounds from Asia and beyond.”

The temple setting provided a perfect context for hearing tracks from Akimbo’s new album, “Dancheong Vol. 2,” which mixes traditional Korean drums, gongs, chanting and wind instruments with heavy downtempo beats; a combination that is both earthy and otherworldly at the same time.

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JustBe was founded by two Buddhist monks, June Han Sunim and Baek Dham Sunim (Sunim is a term of respect added to monk’s names). Before they took vows and slipped into seungbok — the distinctive grey robes worn by monks in Korea — June and Baek were students and roommates at Washington University in St. Louis back in 2003.

While roommates, June and Baek turned their apartment into a meditation room and invited friends and students and professors over to chant, eat, drink tea and discuss Buddhist philosophy.

After graduation, June Han translated the Diamond Sutra and decided to become a monk. He trained for seven years at Sudeoksa and Haeinsa Temples. After a 1000-day solo retreat in Yangbaek Temple, he decided he wanted to be with people so moved back to Seoul.

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Baek Dham took a very different road, moving to China after graduation to open a franchise of his parent’s bakery. But the stress of the business world took a heavy toll on his body and soul, so in 2015 he decided to distance himself from the world of buying and selling and became a monk. Baek Dham Sunim is the older brother of DJ R2MP aka Raw Raw Project; the visual and performance artist who designed the JustBe event flyer.

To open JustBe, June Han Sunim and Baek Dham Sunim had to get the approval of the Korean Templestay Program, which was launched by the Cultural Corps of Korean Buddhism shortly before the 2002 FIFA World Cup. On May 11, 2002, 50 members of the corps gathered at Jikji Temple, nestled at the foot of Mount Hwangak, to spend the night absorbing the ascetic practices of the Buddhist monks. Another 32 Templestays opened shortly thereafter.

There are currently 137 Templestays around the country. JustBe is unique in that it sees its itself as “global meditation playground where laypeople and Buddhist monks eat and live together and co-create the project as a collective.”

JustBe is both a quiet escape from and convenient link to Hongdae nightlife. For techno tourists visiting Seoul, JustBe is a quick walk to legendary underground dance music clubs like Modeci and Vurt, as well as the newly opened Run, not to mention the hundreds of venues that offer everything from punk to k-pop.

For information about JustBe Templestay, head on over to their Instagram.

[Images via: John R. Eperjesi]

John R. Eperjesi is a literature professor at Seoul’s Kyung Hee University. Follow him on Instagram here.

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