Tag Archives: buddhist

King Śibi and the Dove

This is the story of King Śibi in India, who was a uhh devout Buddhist, so uh in theory he was a devout Buddhist. … Umm one of the Kings of the gods, Indra, wanted to sort of test his faith and see how faithful he truly was. So he and a, and a companion got together and transformed themselves, one into a dove, one into a hawk. And the dove came into King Śibi’s house, palace, and uh and said “I need you to protect me” and he said “Of course I’ll protect you, that’s my role as a King”. Right afterwards the hawk comes in and says “Well I’m ready for my breakfast, where is my dove?” and he says “I can’t let you have the dove because I’m … because he’s under my protection now as the King”. And he says “Well if I don’t have the dove to eat then I’m going to die, I’ll starve to death. So why don’t you have to protect me too, do you have to do something to protect me as well?” And he says, “Well what if I give you … uh flesh off of my arm in the same amount, same weight as the dove?” This is where the pound of flesh came in Shakespeare comes from, an old Indian folklore actually. And umm said, “Ok that’s fine”. So he puts the dove on a scale, one of these scales like they have and he cuts off some of his flesh and puts it on the scale, but the dove is still too heavy. So he cuts the flesh off his other arm and puts it on the scale, the scale still doesn’t bounce. So he starts cutting off his leg flesh, and puts it up there and still the dove is heavier. And finally he somehow manages to raise himself up onto the scale, climbs into the scale himself and just at that moment, both the dove and the … and the hawk transform back into their, their um original form as gods and said, “This was simply a test”. And they restored him to his original health and his devotion was proven.

Background: The informant was previously a monk turned professor of buddhism. They learned this story in their studies of Indian buddhism and through researching and writing papers on the topic. They mainly know about Korean Zen buddhism having spent time as a monk in Korea, however they know about Indian buddhism as well. They picked up this text in their studies of Indian buddhism.

Interpretation: This text lays out and reinforces the fundamental belief in Buddhism that one should give up attachments to their worldly possessions. In this case the Buddhist in question ends up being willing to sacrifice his life in order to save the life of an animal. This act also shows equality in all things, with the human being willing to sacrifice his life for the life of the dove. It also shows this by having the dove weigh the same as the human on the set of scales. Similar motifs can be found in tales such as the tale of the Buddhist monk that throws himself off a cliff in order to feed a starving family of tigers. Another version of the text where a monk feeds himself to tigers is found here. (Wu, Ming-Kuo  (2018, May 7). Jataka tale: Prince Mahasattva. Dunhuang Foundation. http://dunhuangfoundation.us/blog/2018/3/7/jataka-tale-prince-mahasattva).

49 Days After One’s Death in Korean Buddhism

Main Piece : 

49 Days After One’s Death in Buddhism

Context :

My informant is an adult female who was born in Seoul, South Korea. She received Korean education throughout her life and mainly speaks Korean. She believes in Buddhism and has been attending temple events for a long time. Her family also are Buddhist and follows the Buddhist way when it comes to events such as funerals and ancestral rites. Here, she is describing how a Buddhist ancestral rites is done during 49 days after one’s death. She is identified as K, and I will be identified as E in the dialogue. This piece was collected over a phone call in Korean and was translated into English.

K : In Korean Buddhist belief, 49 days after one’s death is the most critical time after the funeral. Once someone dies, they do not go to heaven or hell but are kept in a ‘middle-zone’ between Earth and the heavens for 49 days and are sent to seven stages of hell to judge whether they have lived an honest life.

E : What does it mean by ‘honest’ life?

K : It means that they haven’t done any wrong doings. One must not lie, not kill someone, not trick someone, and stuff like those. Even telling a small lie to your friend also counts as wrongdoing. Each hell determines if you have committed a crime. One category of these hell judges a ‘crime you have committed with your words’. This would include speaking bad about your friends, hurting your parent’s feelings with words, or lying. Like this, the ‘crime’ itself doesn’t always need to be a serious offense such as murdering or deceiving multiple people for money. We might be committing a ‘crime’ even now as we talk. 

E : So it means that you must be aware of what action you take, I guess. 

K : Yes. This belief tells people that anyone can be an ‘offender’ in the afterworld and makes them cautious. After the 7 weeks and 7 trials, they are then determined what life they will be living in their next life. Depending on how you lived your previous life, you might be reborn as a human, an animal, or even a non-animal such as a rock. The better life you lived, the more human you will become. If you commit a big crime, you will be reborn as an animal such as a dog or a pig. If you didn’t commit any sort of crime and lived a very pure life, that’s when you get your chance to enter heaven. 

E : Does that mean it’s impossible since we all commit ‘crimes’?

K : It sounds like it, doesn’t it? But it’s described to be possible. That’s why Buddhist monks shave their head, live in the temple, and train to strengthen their mind and body. This is also related to why they don’t eat any kind of meat – it means that an animal must unnecessarily die for the monks for their meal. In order to stop the unnecessary death, they eat with vegan choices. They are the closest beings to heaven since they consciously try to prevent themselves from commiting wrongdoings. Also, know that during those 49 days, the family members of the recently deceased are recommended to not participate in any events that are enjoyable. This includes drinking alcohol, going to a party, or going on a trip. It’s not set as a strict rule, but you just need to do it to show respect. You also wear only dark-colored clothes such as black or dark grey. 

Analysis :

This proverb shows how the Korean society believes in the Karma system and the cycle of life. In Buddhism belief, when one dies, they don’t directly go to heaven or hell like Christianity but are judged for the next 48 days for how they have lived in their previous life and how many wrongdoings they have done. I think the fact that the trial of one’s death is continued on for a long time is also to give a sense of pressure to people to not commit wrongdoings when they are alive. It pressures people to only act nicely if they do not want to be suffering even after their death. 

For another version of this story, take a look at the film, “Along with the Gods”. This Korean movie was made in 2017 and was based on the comic by Ho-Min Ju. The movie is about what happens in one’s afterlife in Buddhist belief and gives a good summary of the informant’s piece. 

Buddhist Belief About Food Leftovers

Main Piece:

Subject: When I was little my grandma would always tell me and my cousins that if we had any leftover food in our plate that we’d be forced to eat those when we died in Hell. And it’s not even like you eat these leftover items one by one… No that’s hell. Folks would mix everything and you have to eat it all. The thing is in buddhist belief (which my family is) and especially the Korean and East Asian branch, they say that everyone goes through multiple layers of Hell when you die. No exceptions. Everyone goes through different Hells where you’re judged for different punishments, and that’s why the concept of Hell isn’t that scary to elderly Koreans because like everyone be going. And on top of that my grandma lived through the Korean war she was very little but you ask anyone who lived through that era when food was so scarce, having leftover really is a crime. There is also a very common phrase that’s like “밥그릇 싹싹비우다” which translates to airing out  your rice bowl clean, and it’s used to describe like a delicious meal so in result you would eat all of that food with no leftovers. Older Koreans can be really strict about finishing everything given to you and it’s part of like the general culture to try to finish everything in you plate. In schools and military and people are taught to empty their plates clean, or you’re being wasteful and rude to the cook.

Context: The subject is a 20-year-old Freshman screenwriting major at USC who was born in South Korea, and currently resides in Los Angeles, California. They are a close friend of mine, and we are currently quarantined on opposite coasts of the country. They are in LA, and I am in Charleston, South Carolina. I called them up one afternoon and asked if they had any folklore they would willing to share with me, and this is what they told me.

Interpretation: This folk belief sounded pretty personal to the subject and their family. There are apparently 18 layers of Hell according to Buddhist beliefs. They all seem quite torturous and uncomfortable. I found it interesting that everyone must go through these layers of Hell once they die. As the subject mentioned, there is a sort of comfort to that, and it does take some of the fear away to know that it is a collective experience. One of the major beliefs of Buddhism is that suffering is caused by greed, so it makes sense that it would be encouraged not waste any food, or get more food than is absolutely needed.

The Dog Buns

Context: One of my roommates, when he heard me explaining to a friend about how stressful it was to try and find folklore from different sources, offered some of the stories he knew from his childhood.

Background: This is a tale my roommate heard  when he was a kid.

Dialogue: It goes… There’s this Buddhist who’s, you know, vegetarian, everyone loves him, he’s very holy, um, and, the queen of the land who, I guess doesn’t really like him or wants to bring attention away from him and to herself, uh, comes up with this plan to make everyone hate the monk… So, she, um, cooks these dogs, and… puts them into meat buns… um, which could also look like vegetarian buns, and she gives all of them, uh, to the monk, and, she says, “Look! I’ve, I’ve prepared these nice, uh, veggie buns for you! Why don’t you go eat them?” Uh… She’s thinking, then she’s going to reveal they’re made of dog, and he ate them, and everyone’s gonna hate him… Um, but the monk instead digs a hole in the ground, buries the buns into the ground, puts dirt back over them, and waters them, and then the dogs come back out of the ground! And, then people realize that the evil queen put dog in the buns and now the dogs are back to life, and now they get rid of the queen, and everyone loves the monk again.

Analysis: Sort of just a cute story, really something meant for kids, like a fairy tale (and perhaps it is, and my roommate just didn’t refer to it as such). Nice little morality tale about not letting jealousy get to you, with the added iconography of the Buddhist monk instead of the traditional Western protagonist.

Shim Chung

심청은 태어나자 마자 어머니를 여의고, 맹인 심학규의 딸로 홀로 아버지를 극진히 모시며 살아간다. 어느 날 심봉사는 실수로 개천에 빠져 허우적거리는 것을 지나가던 한 스님이 구해주고, 그 스님에게 부처님에게 공양하면 눈을 뜰 수 있다는  말에 넘어가 절에 공양미 300석을 바치겠다고 약속한다.

 

심청은 중국과 조선을 오고 가며 장사를 하던 상인들이 물살이 심해 사고가 자주 발생하는 인당수 지역에 용왕님을 달래기 위한 인신공양으로 바칠 사람을 찾고 있다는 소문을 듣고, 아버지의 눈을 뜨기 위해 자신이 그 제물이 되기로 작정하고 공양미 300석을 받고 인당수로 몸을 던지는데…

 

이에 감복한 하늘에 의해 용궁을 거쳐 다시 지상으로 올라가 황후가 되고 맹인 잔치를 벌여 아버지를 찾게 되었으며, 딸과 재회한 기쁨에 심봉사도 눈을 뜨게 된다는 내용.

 

Shim Chung lost her mother as soon as she was born, and lived alone with her father, Shim Hak-gyu, who was blind. One day, Shim Hak-gyu fell into a river and saved by a Buddhist priest and promised him that he would give 300 bags of rice to the temple, for which Buddha would fix his blindness.

 

Shim Chung heard rumors that the merchants who went to China and Chosun and went to the market looking for a person to serve as a human sacrifice in order to appease the King Yongdang in the frequent occurrence of accidents. In order to open his father’s eyes, she determined to become this, and take the 300 bags of rice throwing herself into the sea.

 

When she threw herself into the sea, the heavenly god was moved and saved her. She became the wife of a king and the King provided a party for blind people and her father was invited there and met her daughter. Surprised and pleased, he opened his eyes.

 

Background Information:

 

This story emphasizes serving one’s parents with devotion which is very important in Korean culture. This story is in children’s book and learned at elementary school.

 

Context:

 

This is mostly performed as Korean traditional opera.

Personal Analysis:

This story shows that Korean people care about respecting elders. It’s a part of their culture that respect is given as a default unlike in America where respect should be earned. The happy ending seems a bit unrealistic, but it shows the daughter doing her duty to serve her dad as well as the blessings that came because of it.