[Weekender] Mind your surroundings

By Yoon Min-sik

Ancient art of pungsu looks to find meaning and significance of the environment

  • Published : Jun 22, 2018 - 16:59
  • Updated : Jun 22, 2018 - 16:59

The next time you are atop one of Seoul’s mountains, take a look at what surrounds the megalopolis buzzing below you. More specifically the old Seoul, referring to the modern-day city’s northern area surrounded by four gates.

It is said that the city has the perfect balance between yin and yang. The water is supposed to be yang, which forms the Han River on the old city boundaries. It is in harmony with the mountains -- the yin -- which extends from all the way back from Baekdusan, thus completing the form of “Bae San Im Su” -- mountain to the back and water to the front.

At least, that is what those practicing the art of pungsu jiri would say.  

Pungsu jiri, originated from China’s feng shui, refers to East Asian art of geomancy, concerning harmony between people and their surroundings.

The art reads the “gi” -- or energy believed to be emitted off of elements of nature such as mountains, the ground and water -- and places the people -- namely constructions of homes, graveyards or other structures -- in the most proper locations. The earliest traces of the ideology on the peninsula can be dated back to the Silla Kingdom (57 BC-992 AD).

Over time, it would grow to affect even political decisions at the highest levels. Seoul -- then Hanyang -- was designated the new capital at the start of the Joseon era (1392-1910), due to its advantages from a geomancy standpoint.

Even during the previous Goryeo Kingdom (918-1392), King Gongmin sought to move the capital to the city -- known then as Namgyeong -- due to the superstitious belief that “16 countries would bow down” to his.

It sounds like an antiquated superstition, but such a practice is not merely a remnant of the past when people believed the location of your parents determined your success.

Schools like Dong-eui University operated a department in pungsu jiri in the mid-2000s, although it was shut down after just a year.

Theories that the Cheong Wa Dae site had back luck resurfaced around the time former President Park Geun-hye was impeached and arrested for corruption. Such a theory had been going around even before her misfortunes, and Choi Chang-jo was one pungsu pundit who had raised the theory.

Choi, a former professor of geography at Seoul National University, wrote in his book “New Pungsu Theory” that the site in front of the mountain Bugaksan is the key location of Seoul, in that it has Naksan and Inwangsan to either side “in the form of dragon and tiger” to welcome visitors. But such a site is not to be tampered with by men, which he explained may explain the bad luck following former occupants of the presidential office.

Pungsu jiri’s application in the modern era is particularly noted in real estate. The upcoming Real Estate Expo at Coex even presents an option for visitors to seek counsel from pungsu jiri experts in Korea concerning properties.

Choi said pungsu jiri is beyond mere superstition, but actual science. But he says that pungsu is more than looking for a magical land that will make you rich.

He stated that one should not look to become rich and famous via land, and that a town that has “produced a number of talented people” may have done so due to psychological effect.

“What pungsu is about is essentially that the land belongs to all people, and they should enjoy its fortunes equally. The idea that a small amount of ideal spots exist in certain places sparks confusion that leads to greed. And as long as there is greed involved, pungsu loses its place,” he wrote in his book, “Pungsu Jiri of Korea.”

“Rather than to look for ideal spots, pungsu is about how to turn all land into such ideal spots.”


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