Sunday, May 14, 2017

Donguibogam Village: Gi Energy Rocks

The Donguibogam Village in Sancheong, Gyeongsangnam-do, was built in 2013 after the Donguibogam, the old 25-volume compilation of health and medical treatment, was recognized by UNESCO in 2009. The layout of the very wide "village" is divided into areas -- a kiddy area, a health and healing area, and a tiny village accommodation area with healing facilities like steam bath. 
Near the entrance to the complex. The turtle is a symbol of longevity in Korea, and a golden turtle (modern concept I think) symbolizes great wealth, value, preciousness.
A massive copy of the Donguibogam (published Western-book-style) at the entrance to the extensive grounds.
Because the Donguibogam is recognized by UNESCO, suddenly the value of the text skyrocketed! 

If I were to have a favorite person in history, it would be the court physician Heo Jun (1539-1615) who was in charge of compiling the Donguibogam, literally "Mirror of Eastern Medicine". Between the first and second Japanese invasions of the late 1500s, Heo Jun was appointed as writer of the text to guide people on the principles of health prevention and intervention, and for the next 14 years he labored on the compilation, which was finally completed in 1610 and published in 1613.

"Basking in Samseok (Three Rock) Energy"

I'm fascinated with the physician Heo Jun, and even visited the museum in Seoul dedicated to him, but actually the big attraction in visiting the Donguibogam Village was because I saw a picture of the turtle rock, the second of three rocks that are said to transmit energy to those who petition the rock(s). The turtle rock reminded me of the petroglyphs of Ulsan so I ardently wanted to come, see and learn about it, not realizing that it was (1) one of three powerful rocks for conveying energy, but (2) it is ultra modern and therefore not steeped in old tradition and gi powers.

The sign beside the "turtle rock" or Gwigamseok gave a light translation of the purpose for the gi-giving rocks -- see quotes below.

First rock: Restoring Health Seok Gyeong (Stone Mirror)

"Seok Gyeong (Stone Mirror) allows one to look directly into one's being. That is why it is believed that looking into the stone mirror takes away negative energy and restores a sense of balance. For instance, the culture and tour guide of Sancheong-gun said his sore back began to feel better when he started to visit Seok Gyeong frequently for his work. So why not pay a visit to Seok Gyeong, whether for a cure or for relaxation?"

A very impressive stone!
To gain gi-benefits from this rock, a person must stand in the recessed area and press hands flat and forehead against symbols or a stone. Technically, looking to the side breaks the flow of energy ... ...
More information and testimony about the rock.
Second rock: The Stone of Guigam aka the Stone Engraved with Virtuous Letters

"On May 2009, the Korea Tourism Organization organized a visit to Sancheong to take in the positive energy emanating from the Samseok (Three Stones) erected in Donguibogam Village. KTO President Lee also went along as a guest. Back then Lee had no connections with the organization but not for long -- he was recommended as president soon afterwards. Hundreds will testify that the rock's energy helped them get a new job, pass a test, or fulfill whatever wish they had made. In fact, many people visit the rock, either to make a wish or to express their thanks. [Lee Charm, President of the Korean Tourism Organization et al, (Gwigamseok, Stone Engraved with Virtuous Letters)]"

Gi is the life-force and the energy of vitality. In the central part of the Gwigamseok,
gi is believed to gather at the central hole and surge out.
To press one's whole body against the gi-giving stone is to absorb more of the energy emanating from the rock.
These ladies, after standing with their bodies and hands pressed against the rock for a few minutes, busily checked their energy level by making circulation circles with their middle fingers and thumbs while the friend would try to break the middle-finger-thumb connection. The ladies seemed quite proud that they had more strength after pressing themselves against the rock.
Even a little girl had a go at getting energy, after watching her elders make petitions against the rock.
Third rock: Overcoming Infertility with Positivity (Bokseokjeong, a Dish for Happiness)

"A lot of the stories involving Samseok's miracles involve blessings of childbirth. There was a civil servant working in Busan who had had no children in seven years of marriage. However, just one week after he was dispatched to Sancheong to prepare the World Traditional Medicine Fair and Festival, his wife was found to be with child. Another woman who had been infertile for ten years had a child after visiting the Samseok (Seokgyeong, Gwigamseok, and Bokseokjeong). There are many other such cases that attest to the vital energy surrounding those rocks."

Samseok: Real or Pseudo-science?

So after I posted pictures on the Samseok in the Donguibogam Village on Facebook, a brilliant friend and Korean history scholar Jihoon Suk hit my blog and called the village a pseudo-scientific hall of fame. His exact quote: 

"For me, the whole 동의보감촌 complex is nothing more than a massive pseudo-scientific hall of fame - but just a stroll of the place is at least pleasureable enough - placebo or not... 

There is no history in this complex. The entire complex was built out of a thin air in 2010 after the tremendously popular MBC TV drama, "허준", transformed the 산청군 area into a holy site of the so-called "Korean traditional medicine". Naturally, everything you see in this complex is less than 7 years old.

This particular stone [Seok Gyeong, stone mirror], probably one of the inspirations of this modern sculpture, is just a modern creation - the design is based on Korean bronze age mirrors found in archeological dig but added more modern elements...."

Korean bronze age mirror
I felt gypped after reading Jihoon's comments and said I went to the village mostly to see the Gwigamseok, which I thought was one of the most authentic parts of the complex. Jihoon's immediate response was:

"Unfortunately not [the most authentic part of the complex]. And looks like 동의보감촌 people don't say a word about its true origin to the visitors. Not many people would give a try to these "medicinal" stones if they know these things are less than 10 year old!"

I asked what clued him in about their lack of authenticity, and Jihoon replied, "I don't want to brag about myself but I do know about practically every cultural heritage sites in this country by heart, and I never have heard about this place before. The whole thing certainly wasn't there when I made a visit to the area in 2008."


For those interested in pursuing the pseudo-science complex (even if there's no gi in them, the stones really are quite impressive!)

Set out on a Healing tour to the Donguibogam Village - (the only web site you need b/c everything is linked from here!) -

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