&#91FOUNTAIN&#93Shedding the ‘3 poisons’

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&#91FOUNTAIN&#93Shedding the ‘3 poisons’

The distance from Namdaemun to the Blue House is about five minutes by car. But if you travel the distance by taking three steps and then kowtowing on the road, it would take more than five hours. The trip from Buan in North Jeolla province to the Seoul city hall is about four hours by car, but doing the “three-steps-and-a-bow,” it would take about 60 days. The differences between driving and the more arduous journey are speed or slowness, efficiency or meditation, progress or peace.
In Buddhism, bowing is the greatest show of respect to the Buddha or the teacher. It lowers yourself to the lowest level, literally, by putting your head, knees and elbows on the ground while elevating the object of the bow. The bow in Buddhism differs according to the culture where the religion has spread. In Tibet, it is done with hands and feet spread and body flat on the ground. In Thailand and Vietnam, one bows his head three times while on one’s knees.
A Buddhist monk who made believers bow scores of times was the late Venerable Seongcheol. Anyone wishing to see him was said to have had to bow more than 3,000 times before the elder monk would notice the supplicant.
The tradition of sambo, or “three steps,” is rooted in the idea of “three poisons.” Buddhist teaching has it that unless one is able to shed the three poisons ― greed, anger and inanity ― there is no use in practicing the religion no matter how hard he tries. So the custom of taking three steps came to signify shedding the three poisons.
The Jogye Order in Korea adopted the sambo ilbae, or three steps and a bow, in its curriculum designed for those who hoped to become monks. It is often the pain involved in this ritual that made would-be monks give up.
The Venerable Sugyeong of the Sudeoksa temple in South Chungcheong province linked the practice with environmentalism; that became the signature protest against the plan to drill a tunnel through Mount Bukhan and build a reservoir in Mount Jiri. A group of worshipers led by The Venenerable Sugyeong left the muddy beach of Buan on March 28 and entered Seoul Friday. Their journey was to stop the Saemangeum wetlands reclamation project.
This type of meditative approach to a cause is needed not only in the environmental movement. Stock investors, politicians and interest groups could do well to shed greed, anger and inanity.

by Lee Gyu-yun

The writer is a deputy crime news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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