In the back of Palolo Valley, a half hour from the bustle of Waikiki, lies an oasis where yogis can deepen their meditation practice amidst lotus ponds, towering Buddhas, and the sweet smell of incense. The Mu-Ryang-Sa Temple is the largest Korean temple outside of Korea, its grounds home to a dozen buildings, towers, statues, and monuments. Yogis can stroll and relax here, in what seems a patch of East Asia transported to Oahu.
It’s clear that the temple is an extraordinary, sacred space from the moment one steps into the main gate, a portal guarded by colossal, ornate statues of Buddhism’s Four Heavenly Kings. Beyond the gate: a collection of buildings constructed in the architectural style of Korean temples, and replicas of pagodas and statues dating to the 5th century. It’s a place of profound peacefulness, the usual quiet broken only by the sounds of birds and the trade winds in the palms.
“It’s very powerful,” says Tami Cole, a yoga teacher who occasionally meditates at the temple to supplement her daily home practice. “There’s a lot of really good energy back in the valley, away from the hum of the city.”
Since 1999, Gregory Pai has been leading a Saturday afternoon, donation-based meditation class at the temple, guiding a practice known as “insight” or vipassana meditation, said to be the style practiced by the Buddha himself. The goal is to help cultivate the same sort of awareness that many yogis seek to develop on their mats: a way of abiding with the feelings that surface during self reflection or difficult postures.
When the mind stills in meditation, emotions naturally rise to the surface, Pai says. The meditative mind can perceive these emotions calmly.
“When you sit, you’re bound to experience some restlessness,” says Pai, a retired chief bank economist who is also an accomplished fine arts painter. “The objective of the meditation is to develop an awareness of what’s arising, rather than just reacting unconsciously.”
The format of the meditation session is simple. Participants begin arriving at the meditation hall shortly before the 4 p.m. session. People may take a seat on one of the cushions laid out in rows on the floor and pick up an additional pillow for extra support. There’s no regimented way to sit or breathe, Pai says. The goal is to be comfortable. Participants who want extra back support can sit on benches along the wall. Those who prefer to lie down are free do so at the back of the hall near the bench, Pai says.
Although the session is not technically a guided meditation, Pai guides practitioners through deep breathing exercises to encourage relaxation. Pai follows the meditation with a short reading, usually from the book Insight Meditation: The Practice of Freedom by Joseph Goldstein or Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Pai, who has been studying meditation since the 1970s, closes the session with a one-hour talk exploring an aspect of Buddhism in depth. Attendees are free to leave the session during transitions.
The format makes the class especially accessible to beginners who don’t wish to stay for the whole two-hour session of meditation and discussion, says Cole, who teaches at Purple Yoga, Hot Yoga 8, the Honolulu Club, and Island Club and Spa.
“It’s very open,” Cole says of the class format and atmosphere. “It’s not very rigid and strict.”
Address: 2420 Halelaau Pl, Honolulu, HI 96816
Hours: 9 am to 5 pm – every day
(Place in any donation box)
Senior (60+): $2.00
Children (under 12): $1.00
Groups (5+): Reserve in advance
Stewart wrote the novel Crawfish Bingo and his work has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Travel + Leisure, and Coastal Living. Although Stewart took his first yoga class almost 20 years ago, it wasn’t until he discovered power yoga in 2013 that he began to practice regularly.