One of the interesting things about Korea are the tigers. Where I grew up, team mascots were always fierce and realistic. Perhaps it’s about balance: we, who knew basically nothing of real violence, chose mascots that had a threat of violence. Yet in Korea, where every man serves in the army, where there are tank traps and massive artillery bases north of Seoul, this was the mascot they chose for the 1988 Seoul olympics:
Often tigers were used as comic relief, according to David Mason. With their fierce pride and dignity, they resembled the yangban, or aristocratic class. In images like this tiger, you can see the puffed out chest and aggressive expression, filled with pride about its noble heritage and superiority to all, but, where did those spots come from?
It seems the tiger’s mother had an affair with a lowly leopard! Here the tiger is used to mock the arrogance and unearned pride of the yangban.
On the other hand, in mountain-spirit portraits, images of tigers often served to symbolize the power of the mountains and nature, as well as the power of spiritual practice to help us become one with this.
More tomorrow about tigers and spiritual practice.