Posts Tagged ‘Buddhism’


January 1, 2018

While some folks talk their talk, others walk the walk.

President Moon Jae-in on Monday welcomed the new year with a three-hour mountain hike up Bukhan-san, [located north of Seoul], and watched the New Year’s Day sunrise.  Moon made the climb with a group of six young Koreans honored as “righteous persons” for the year 2017 because of their good deeds. Among them was Park Jeong-hyon, who was recognized for saving a woman from sexual assault despite being stabbed in the abdomen by the assailant.

Afterward, the hikers had breakfast with Moon’s chief secretaries at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae.

As I have pointed out on several prior occasions, political events and photo ops in Korea always have a subtext that is silently staged in the background, either with an artificial scenic backdrop or –as in this case– with a powerful natural landscape. Let’s review the messages and the medium.

First, Moon is acknowledging his political base –Korean youth– by publicly recognizing and rewarding their “righteous” civic behavior.  Moon is implicitly paying tribute to those tens (hundreds?) of thousands whose Yin Fire candlelight lit the way for his landslide election.  The fact that all six of his fellow hikers were male is either an effort to avoid sexist innuendo or a practical concession to the masculine feng shui energies of the current double-Yang-Water Rat month.

Second, President Moon is showcasing his personal physical vigor and active spirit. What other national leaders in the northeast Asian region are getting out of bed at 4AM in mid-winter for a three-hour mountain hike?  Kim Jong-eun? Not hardly.  Shinzo Abe? No chance.  Xi Jin-ping? Probably not.  Donald Trump? Not even for an early tee time.  Vladimir Putin? Sure, he could do it, but only for a covert operation.  Moon’s morning hike is a declaration that he’s healthy, he’s strong, and he’s going to work long hours to accomplish righteous deeds.

Third, the Bukhan-san Moonwalk evokes the awe-inspiring terrain and sweeping vistas that Koreans can expect to experience at the PyeongChang Olympics, just two months away.  Spectator attendance is likely to be a problem: bone-chilling cold and high travel costs will deter many Europeans and North Americans, as will lingering anxieties about potential flareup of geopolitical tensions in the region.  But all those doubts and inconveniences can be set aside when you’re gazing across a beautiful landscape from atop a majestic mountain peak.  At least that’s the hope of the PyeongChang Olympic organizing committee.

need lots more snow…


OK, that’s the more-or-less obvious political meaning to be inferred from President Moon’s New Year’s Day excursion. But what about the sub-subtext, the historical/cultural allusions that a cultivated Korean sensibility might be able to discern in this public performance? Here are some aspects to consider:

  • Location: Bukhan-san is a national park of 80 square km situated on the northern fringes of Seoul. Its name means “big north mountain.” It is also called Samgak-san, which means “three-peak mountain.”  In starting off his New Year by getting up early to climb the big mountain in the north, President Moon is yet once again asserting his intention to seek amity with the DPRK despite the fact that it’s uphill all the way.  Perhaps we can think of the three Kims as the three peaks of Samgak-san.
  • Amity is one thing, preparedness is another.  The mountain is also the site of Bukhansanseong fortress, built with a wall about 8.5 km long specifically to stop foreign invasion.  It is one of the representative mountain fortresses of the Joseon Era.  Who was invading Joseon back in the day?  Jurchen tribesmen from the north … or the Chinese.
  • Contemplate this: Sangunsa Temple (built by the monk Won-Hyo), Seungasa Temple on east Bibong Peak, Munsusa Temple halfway up Musubong Peak, and numerous other temples are scattered throughout the mountain area.

One day, King Taejo visited the great monk Muhakdaesa. The King wanted to amuse himself, so he proposed that they freely exchange jokes without concern for social status. “You look like a pig!” said Taejo to the monk.
Muhakdaesa replied, “And you, sir, look like Buddha to me.”
King Taejo was confused, “We agreed to forget our politeness and make fun of each other.  If you say I look like Buddha, how could that be funny?” asked the King.
Muhakdaesa replied, “Pigs can only see other pigs and Buddha can only see Buddha.”
Hearing this, Taejo realized his character was still immature and come to admire Muhakdaesa even more.

  • Taoism precedes Buddhism: The Year of Yin Fire Fowl is almost over, its flickering flame being inexorably quenched by the double-Yang-Water Rat (Dec/Jan) and yin-water/yin-earth Ox (Jan/Feb) months.  In forty-five days or so, the approaching double-Yang-Earth Dog Year will be here.  Double-Yang-Earth (strong earth supporting strong earth) is not merely soil heaped upon soil like a cropland furrow: it is solid rock piled high –a mighty mountain.  Moon Jae-in is already climbing that big north mountain, in company with six righteous citizens.  Does he know that the #5 Yellow Misfortune Star will reside in the North during the Year of the Dog?  I think he does, hence the six righteous citizens in his entourage.  There’s nothing like righteousness to ward off misfortune.

Later in the day, Moon made phone calls to public officials, including quarantine officials combating the outbreak of bird flu, PyeongChang Olympic organizers … and American soldiers stationed in South Korea and thanked them for their dedication to service.

On Tuesday, he is scheduled to invite people from every social sector, including business leaders, to his office to exchange New Year’s greetings.

Compare and contrast.



3rd Dan Brown Belt

May 17, 2014

Public imagination was captured by a novel idea — The End of The Law, an apocalyptic view of the end of the world linked to Mahayana Buddhist belief.  A deep pessimism took hold of people’s minds and they seemed to be awaiting some radical breakthrough.  In such an age, it might seem that the last thing to appeal to the human mind would be a solemn, gorgeous, and grandiose edifice; instead, an amorphous vision of infinite emptiness would probably take root.

At times when great emptiness prevails, the equilibrium of the status quo can easily be disturbed.  Disequilibrium then provokes excess, deviance, and a flippant inversion of expected norms.  It is at such moments that the creative spirit of the demiurge propels us to an achievement beyond human scale.  The image of the gigantic inspires a sublime excitement: the bizarre, the unsound, and wondrous are welcomed. Immersed in an aura of mass excitement, bigger is better, and a potlatch frame of mind prevails.  The resulting creative leap into the void entails construction of a volume of untoward proportions, importation of unfamiliar fabrication techniques, and the grandeur of a new and overwhelming spatial setting.

What is being described here?  The herd psychology that drives the annual Burning Man ritual?  The making (and re-making) of Godzilla’s cinematic adventures?  Donald Trump’s latest real estate venture?   None of the above:  instead, these paragraphs succinctly summarize Arata Isozaki‘s explication of the social context –1000 years ago– that eventually resulted in construction of Jōdo-dō temple.  But he might as well have been writing about the day before yesterday, because there too one might readily see “an infinite emptiness,” “a deep pessimism imprisoning people’s minds” as they “await some radical breakthrough.”  Status quo in disequilibrium?  Excess, deviance, and an inversion of social norms?  Got it all covered, right here and now.

So who is the creative demiurge ( demos + ergos –> the people’s worker ) who will propel 21st Century Americans to “achievement beyond human scale?”  If not Elon Musk, then perhaps Gov. Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown Jr.?

Brown [facing election later this year] presented a lively case for a fourth term in office, articulating a passionate defense of a high-speed rail plan connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco, a 520-mile project expected to eventually cost $68 billion.  Republican gubernatorial candidates have dubbed it the “Crazy Train.”

Huge Deficits Follow Balanced Budgets

“In America we’re losing the capacity to make decisions, to be unified as a nation and have a vision, and move forward to make it happen,” Brown said. “I’m going to build great things, I’m going to do big things, and I’m not going to be intimidated by fears of things that are part of life.  We can build it.  We can link the north to the south.  We can reshape land use in the Central Valley.  We can do it with renewable energy, we can do it in an elegant way … and it will be a model for the country.”

[In discussing budget conflicts with the California legislature,] Brown waxed philosophic. “First the desire emerges, then the desire becomes a need, and the need becomes a right, and the right becomes a law, and the law becomes a lawsuit,” he said. “When I was in Japan, practicing Zen meditation … each of us would say:  ‘Desires are endless.  I vow to cut them down.'”

… And yet … somehow the bullet train project is not (also)(merely) a desire?

What would Chōgen say?


Late Breaking Update:

A 35-foot-tall sphinxlike sculpture made of sugar is on display in the cavernous interior of the former Domino Sugar Refinery in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.  Artist Kara Walker‘s monumental installation used four tons of sugar to create the female figure, which wears a kerchief on her head and has slightly exaggerated African features.  Her breasts are bared and her fists are thrust out.  There are several smaller sculptures of young boys covered in molasses with fruit baskets holding unrefined sugar.

Richard Drew_sugarbaby

The full title of the work is “A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.”

Apparently, the giganticism of which Isozaki spoke also applies to the titles of artistic works in this age of infinite emptiness.

Walker said in an interview with Complex Magazine that she thought of the sculpture as “this woman-like creature or guardian of the city, the keeper of the riddle, the devourer of heroes.”

Lunghu has two comments:

  • Why not sculpt the figure out of brown sugar instead of white … or perhaps even jaggery?
  • Was the goddess Oshun specifically invited to the opening reception? She was definitely in attendance, but should have been seated at the ‘A’ table.



April 20, 2013

The subhead:  Putin pivots East.  And up.

Eighteen months ago, in an effort to shake off the most onerous shackles of Bush-regime foreign policy, U.S. SecState Hillary Clinton published an extensive policy pronouncement in Foreign Policy Magazine under the title “America’s Pacific Century.”  Perhaps significantly, she chose October 11 rather than September 11 as publication date. Based on two relatively minor uses of the word “pivot” in the article, the tagline “Pivot to Asia” immediately became Beltway shorthand for this policy initiative.

“The Asia-Pacific has become a key driver of global politics. … One of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will be to [make] a substantially increased investment — diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise — in the Asia-Pacific region. … [This is] a pivot to new global realities.”
“This kind of pivot is not easy, but … we are committed to seeing it through as among the most important diplomatic efforts of our time.”
“[The U.S. has developed] a coherent regional strategy that accounts for the global implications of our choices.  [This strategy includes] a sustained commitment to … “forward-deployed” diplomacy: strengthening bilateral security alliances; deepening our working relationships with emerging powers; engaging with regional multilateral institutions; expanding trade and investment; forging a broad-based military presence; and advancing democracy and human rights.”

Since then, in practice, here’s what the pivot has involved:

  • Intensified (re)engagement, trade development and bilateral cooperation with ASEAN nations — Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia — they’re seeking a counterweight to Chinese influence.
  • Assiduous reassurance to traditional military partners in East Asia  — Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand — that Uncle Sam still loves and cherishes them.
  • Getting all up in China’s business using what by American standards is the most painfully polite and correct manner possible.  That’s not exactly how the Chinese see it, but at least some CPC officials understand we’re making a greater effort than in the past to avoid bruising sensitive feelings.

Who’s feeling left out?  Comrade Bear.  Despite the fact that Russia considers itself (and is) a Pacific (Ocean) nation, none of Obama’s pivot play takes public notice of Asian terrain north of the Amur River.  Is that some kind of unspoken message?

It must certainly seem that way in Moscow and points East.  Perhaps that’s why Comrade Bear last week paid a whirlwind visit to the eastern extremities of his farflung empire.  His choice of whistlestop locations and policy themes was rather interesting.

Note the helo rotors and windsock outside the gate.

Note the helo rotors and windsock outside the gate.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday visited the Ivolginsky datsan, a Buddhist monastery, the center of the Buddhist traditional faith in Buryatia. The Ivolga datsan was founded in 1945, the year marking the revival of Buddhism in the Soviet Union. He [met with] Lama Damba Ayusheyev, head of the Buddhist Sangha of Russia.

Putin promised “100-percent support” for Russian Buddhists, whose number is estimated at 700,000 to 1.5 million. The president described Buddhism as a “kind, humanist learning based on love for others and love for one’s country.”  “Buddhism plays a significant role in Russia … It has always been that way.  It is well known that the Buddhists helped during both world wars,” Putin told the lamas.


Putin twice visited the palace of Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov, the 12th Pandito Khambo Lama, now buried in Ivolginsky datsan: during his tour of the datsan and prior to his departure.  Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov, the hierarch of Russian Buddhism, died at the age of 75 in 1927 while meditating in the Lotus pose.  His body was exhumed in 2002, [but it had not decomposed] after 75 years in the grave. The incorruptible body of Pandito Khambo Lama Dashi-Dorzho Itiglov has become one of the most revered Buddhist holy things.

Truly, the Lenin of Buddhism!

Closer to Heaven

Russian President Vladimir Putin on his Far Eastern trip visited the Vostochny cosmodrome construction site for the Soyuz-2 launch complex … being built in the Amur Region not far from Uglegorsk. The first launch of rockets from the spaceport is scheduled for 2015; the first manned launch for 2018.

Vostochny cosmodrome

During a video [chat] session with the International Space Station, Putin proposed naming the town that will be built near the cosmodrome after Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a Russian and Soviet rocket scientist and [early 20c.] pioneer of astronautic theory.
“A research center and a town will be built here — not just a spaceport, not just a launch site — so I think that it will be proper if after consulting with the local residents we name the future town Tsiolkovsky,” Putin said, noting that not a single locality in Russia currently bears the name of the scientist.

Who’s gonna argue with that?


Tsiolkovsky (1857 – 1935) spent most of his life in a log house on the outskirts of Kaluga, about 120 miles southwest of Moscow. A recluse by nature, he appeared strange and bizarre to his fellow townsfolk.”

Rockets of Another Kind

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said Friday that if an armed conflict breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, there is a risk that North Korean missiles [might accidently strike Russian territory].  “My apprehensions are not linked to the prospect of Pyongyang’s using them against Russia,” he said. “They can be meant against other countries but might suddenly turn towards us.”
“We must prevent a twist of events in this direction, because we can’t put at risk either our territory or our citizens. We have Space and Air Defense Troops for the purpose,” Rogozin added.


Meanwhile …

Marshal Shaposhnikov

 “The anti-submarine destroyer Marshal Shaposhnikov has made a routine visit at the South Korean port of Busan,” announced Captain First Rank Roman Martov, spokesman for the Russian Pacific Fleet. The Marshal Shaposhnikov, tanker Irkut and rescue tugboat Alatau are en route to their base at Vladivostok following a five-month anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden.  On April 16, an official Russian delegation headed by Commander of the Pacific Fleet convoy Rear Admiral Vladimir Vdovenko paid a protocol visit to the Command of the South Korean Navy.

Lunghu would have loved to be a fly on the wall at THAT drinking party!  Russians! Koreans! Sailors! Busan! Female entertainers! Certainly not a night that anyone will admit remembering the next day.

It may be worth noting that:

Marshal of the Soviet Union Boris Shaposhnikov was born in 1882 near Chelyabinsk, and later became the principal strategic thinker in the Red Army.  He was the author of Mozg Armii (The Brain of the Army), a three-volume treatise of military theory published between 1927 and 1929.  According to Shaposhnikov, “pre-mobilization” for war should consist of as many measures as could be taken to prepare for actual war mobilization, but in an atmosphere of the utmost secrecy.

What does all this mean?

It sure looks like a pivot to the East by President Putin and his supporting cast of characters.  Russia hopes to benefit from China’s discomfiture at the Asian “fullcourt press” diplomatic initiative being mounted by the United States, and thus seeks to enhance economic ties with China while improving bilateral relations in other areas as well:

  • Lunghu believes that Comrade Bear intends to use his public support of Ivolginsky datsan as an unmistakable hint to China about Russian expertise in co-opting Buddhists, lamas and religious fervor.  The subtext:  we might be able to help with your Tibet problem.  Maybe your Falun Gong problem too.  Comrade Bear is extending the friendly fraternal paw of socialist nationalism to like-minded neighbors in the southeast.  Just lookin’ to avoid Big Sha.
  • Both Russia and China intend to outflank/offset the United States’ air, sea and land initiative by vaulting into outer space in a big way.  Although ostensibly motivated by a quest for scientific exploration and mineral resources, this is really a race to the strategic high ground from which the entire planet can be commanded.
  • Russia also wants to leverage Korean uneasiness about being caught between China, the U.S., and Kim Jong-un.  Russia-ROK maritime trade is vital to the economy of Russia’s Far East, and South Korea is a prime target market for Gazprom exports.  And then there’s that whole thing with Katya Putin’s Korean boyfriend … Lunghu’s still waiting for the KBS k-drama television series.

Inveterate geopoliticians will see these efforts as the latest manifestations (version 3.0) of The Great Game between Russia and her Anglo-American competitor-adversaries. Unfortunately, that brand of 19c. thinking will doom us all to yet another cyclical repetition of history’s instructive mistakes.  The outcome of zero sum games is always zero for most of those involved.