South Korean Buddhist temple going to the dogs

Seoul, South Korea - The newest acolyte at a temple on an outlying South Korea island is a dog who has learnt to sit, stay and perform Buddhist prayer rituals alongside the monks.

Monks at Buljang Temple on Chindo island off the southwest coast said the stray called "Hama" now joined them at prayer.

Hama -- Korean for hippopotamus -- follows monks into the temple and bows in the same manner for prayer, a temple official said. Some local Buddhists, who believe in reincarnation, are wondering what Hama may have been in a past life.

"Since about a month ago, when the monks were performing a ceremony paying respect to Buddha, they were joined by this one-year-old dog", the official said by telephone.

Hama is one of a traditional Korean breed called chindo, which originated on the island.

Hama's exploits have made the national news in South Korea and attracted a lot of curious onlookers to the temple, where about 30 other stray dogs live.

"The dog bows just like a monk," said college student Park Sang-jin, who visited the temple after hearing about Hama.