Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Bubblegum Buddha

This picture does not do justice to the sequined, birthday-frosting-pink gaudiness of the Buddha I saw Saturday when strolling around art museums near Anguk station.The Buddha suction-wrapped in a representation of modern materialism, bright and shiny but still wearing the sage smile of a Buddha.

Of all the paintings, photography and 3-D art I saw, this one caught my attention the most. At first because of the glittering, sacrilegious nature of the piece but after initial regard, because of the paradoxical balance that still exists between old and new Korea- in particular between the fast-increasing consumerism trends and the established ideas of Buddhism in Korea.

Seoul gives me the same feeling I get when looking at this statue on some days when transitioning back and forth so quickly between two extremes:

From brightly lit and always busy shop-lined streets to places such as the ancient and sacred temples where attachments are forsaken along the journey to enlightenment.

From the children whose mothers have permed and dyed their hair (and their dogs hair) to bald monks at Dharma talks.

From the overcrowded streets of Gangnam and Shinchon to the serene hermitages that can be found on many mountains surrounding the city.

From the hordes of women and men in Seoul who go to Apkujeong and believe they've found their fountain of youth in the unlikely form of a scalpel to the simple monks who live their lives in the mountains where the only reflection they glimpse is an occasional distorted one in a stream or lake.

The contrast can be overwhelming. There seems to be no middle ground. Consume, consume, consume, bigger, better, younger, newer, faster, more, more, more...

For now, I'm growing accustomed to the incongruousness of Seoul. I love living here and continue to find constant amusement in the "newness" of everything around me.

"Nothing is permanent."

-Buddhist teaching