Tag Archives: monk

Eilmer the Flying Monk

Main piece: There’s this, in the Abbey where my Gramps works, there’s a legend of Eilmer the Flying Monk. From what I remember, he is supposedly a monk who in the thirteenth century tried to fly by jumping off the roof of this abbey. And I don’t think he succeeded, but they call him the flying monk nonetheless. 

I definitely think it’s kind of farcical, it’s so British. Apparently he tried really hard… it is kind of referred to around Malmesbury, like there’s pubs named “Flying Monk” and there’s like, on the “Welcome to Malmesbury” sign, they have a sign about it. I think people just find it funny. 

People like to talk about him. He’s a fun kind of figure about the town that people know about. They’re like “this guy jumped off a roof in the 1200s and we’re never going to let him forget it”. You know, Malmesbury’s really small, it’s got a lot of history though, and I think that people just really like the image of a flying monk. Religion has a kind of social function there, but it’s pretty individual in their own take on spirituality and religion, but the center of the town is the abbey. The main street branches right off from that [the abbey]. And it’s kind of what people come to Malmesbury for. It’s a very small-scale tourist operation, people just don’t really come to Malmesbury. But when they do- I mean, the queen has been there – to the Malmesbury Abbey. My gramps met her there, once. 

I don’t think they have commercialized it that much. I mean, they have a 10k called the Flying Monk, there’s a beer, but I was never super aware of it being commercialized when I was there. It was just a story my dad told me. It might not even be Malmesbury companies that make it 

Background: O’s father grew up in Malmesbury, a town in Wiltshire, England. O has been visiting her grandparents (her grandfather is the town’s organist) and aunt, who still live there, once every year or two for a few weeks since as long as she can remember. He was the one who told her the story of Eilmer, and she finds it incredibly funny.

Context: When talking about Malmesbury, O immediately launched into a description of Eilmer the Flying Monk. Her grandfather (referred to as “Gramps” in the transcript) has been an organist at Malmesbury Abbey for decades, and O has spent a lot of time at the abbey with him, either spending time in the garden or in the graveyard of the church. 

Analysis: Malmesbury Abbey has a population of a little over five thousand, and much of its history occurred in the pre-Enlightenment era. As O said, the abbey is the center of a lot of the social life in Malmesbury, so it makes sense that their unofficial mascot would both connect to the historic events of the town, as well as the Church, even if it is in a fun, subversive way. Eilmer of Malmesbury was a real monk who in 1010 made an unsuccessful flying attempt using a primitive hang glider. It is believed that he broke both legs in the attempt (this was documented by historical William of Malmesbury). Although this is not widely known outside of Malmesbury or seen as a tourist attraction, the symbol of Eilmer of Malmesbury is seen as both a joke and a proud symbol of the Malmesbury people, an example Michael Herzfeld’s “cultural intimacy”, which is described as “the recognition of those aspects of a cultural identity that are considered as a source of external embarrassment but that nevertheless provide insiders with the assurance of common sociality” (Ginnging, 2)

Gingging, Flory Ann Mansor. “‘I Lost My Head in Borneo’: Tourism and the Refashioning of the Headhunting Narrative in Sabah, Malaysia.” Cultural Analysis 6 (2007): 1–29. 

“Eilmer the Flying Monk,” February 27, 2020. https://www.athelstanmuseum.org.uk/malmesbury-history/people/eilmer-the-flying-monk/. 

Wonhyo and the Skull Water

Main Piece:

The following was transcribed from a conversation between the interviewer and the informant.

Informant: Korean culture is built on Confucianism and Buddhist teachings are very common. So a lot of proverbs, old sayings, and things like that nature are based on these concepts. A very famous story that’s even relevant today is Wonhyo. Wonhyo was an early Buddhist monk, a scholar, and a philosopher in Shinla dynasty, which is around like during the 600s. The story goes that he was on his way to China for essentially a study abroad. One night on his journey, he found a cave to take shelter in and decided to spend the night there. Inside the cave he found a bucket of water, and because he was thirsty he drank it all and it was delicious- tasted like water. Next morning, we woke up and realized that it was actually a human skull not a bucket, and the water was actually like some remnants from the brain basically. He learned from that incident that everything is up to your own beliefs, because like he believed the water to be good and his body in part made him to believe that, you know, so he decided not to pursue the study abroad and came back to Shinla (Korea).

Interviewer: Can you give me examples of how this story has become modernized? How do people nowadays use it?

Informant: It’s mostly like for comedic, or funny situations. Like for example, I saw this post on Twitter that basically this girl who works at Subway ran out of salt, so whenever a customer would ask for more salt she’d had to shake an empty salt shaker just to front. But apparently one customer complained that there was too much salt in their sandwich. In that situation, Koreans would describe it as the ‘skull salt shaker’, it’s like you add skull in front of the object in question, that makes the joke.

Interviewer: Why and how do you think a story that old stayed relevant even till this day?

Informant: I think with stories like these, the older the better, because they’re so distanced from any time specific things that it makes the story almost universal. And it’s just a relatable morale, everything depends on how you decided to look at it, that’s something that people can think about, no matter what year it is.

Background:

The informant is a student living in Seoul, Korea. She’s finished all her general education (from elementary to high school) in Korea, and now currently goes to a college in Seoul. She describes that the first time she read about the story of Wonhyo was through a history text book in 5th grade. Even though the informant isn’t a practicing Buddhist (she describes herself as atheist, like most Koreans), these beliefs and teachings are widely accepted and used disregard one’s religious beliefs.

Context:

The conversation took place over the phone, while the informant was alone in her college dorm, in a safe and comfortable environment.

My thoughts:

Upon doing some research, I learned that there are a few different versions of the story of Wonhyo. In the Japanese telling, Wonhyo went inside a cave only to learn next morning that it was actually a grave (so the water and skull is absent in this version). In another telling, it’s the combination of the two- he went inside a grave and drank the skull water. No matter which version of the story is the most faithful to what actually happened, the central morale of the tale remains the same.

The Story Behind Japanese Saying: 情けは人の為ならず (One Good Turn Deserves Another)

Main Piece:

“There is a common saying in Japan, in Japanese it’s: 情けは人の為ならず.

Original script: 情けは人の為ならず

Phonetic (Roman) script: Nasake wa hito no tame narazu

Transliteration: the good you do for others is good you do yourself.

Full translation: One good turn deserves another. 

It means when you do things for someone, it’s not for them, it’s for yourself. So, I mean it connects to the story about like, ummm like an old man walking to a winter mountain, then he finds like three stone, umm what do you call those? Like statues of Japanese monk. It’s like a tiny mini one, really cute. And he’s like: “Oh no, it’s snowing.” It’s statue right? Obviously it has no feelings or anything. But then the old man was like:”Oh my gosh. It’s snowing and it’s probably really cold.” So he makes these like three ummm straw hats for those three stone statues and then place it upon them. Then he will like, you know, get along his life. When he goes home, and the next morning, he wakes up and he opens the front door, and then he finds like this chunk of rice. At that time, obviously rice equals money. So what happen was those stone statue, like the monks kind of came to life and came to life to thank him, saying like thanks for the straw hats. Oh I think he makes like straw coats as well. You know, just like something to put on the statue. And like these rice is just to show gratitude and everything. So yea, this is where this saying comes from. So 情けは人の為ならず is just do something for someone, like yea you are helping them but ultimately you are helping yourself. Like it’s always gonna come back to you. That’s like the saying.”

Background:

My informant was born in Osaka, Japan. Both of her parents are very Japanese. So although she immediately moved to Hong Kong after she was born, she learned Japanese and Japanese culture from her parents. She knew this saying and the story behind it because her dad told her when she was at a kid. She feels a lot of the time when people do things for someone or even just make friends with someone, they think about benefit or cost they get. But in her mind, because of this saying and the way her dad teaches her, she deems that in order to live a happy life, people need to do things for each other. So my informant is always happy to give out her help and be kind to people even when they are mean sometimes. Growing up embedded with this mindset, my informant feels this saying shapes her action and life attitude.

Context:

She is a good friend of mine since we both lived in Osaka for a while. This piece was collected as we had lunch at the USC village. I invited her to talk about her culture and we were sharing thoughts while waiting for the food. The conversation was conducted under a relaxing environment and we both feel pretty comfortable sharing our childhood experience.

Thoughts

Personally, I really like this folk piece because it’s not like other sayings that only have one sentence, this saying has a story behind it, which reflects a lot of Japanese culture. For example, it talks about Japanese monks which are associated with Shinto and Buddhism religions which are the two major religions in Japan. Also, the straw hat and straw coat that are mentioned in the story are also representations of Japanese tradition. Straw hat is often worn by Japanese monks. I remember when I was a kid, I used to watch Ikkyū-san, which is a Japanese anime about the life of a monk. In the show, I often see the character Ikkyū wears a straw hat. In addition, the straw coat, known as mino (蓑) in Japan, is a traditional Japanese garment that functions like a raincoat and is often used in snowy regions. Lastly, the gift of rice reflects the Asian culture as well. If it is a western story, it will probably be gold which is often seen in western fair tales. The presentation of rice shows culture difference between east and west.

 

 

The Monk and the Mouse

The tale: “So this monk was sitting on the beach when a kite fly, which I don’t really know what that is, but he saw a kite fly carrying a mouse and the mouse fell on the monk. So the monk wrapped the mouse with a leaf and took it home and prayed that the mouse would turn into a girl. And the mouse turned into a really beautiful girl, and the monk and his wife adopted her, so she like grew up and um, when she was an adult the monk told her that she should get married. And he told her to choose a man to marry, and the girl said she wanted like the most powerful man in the entire world. The monk thought she meant that she wanted the sun, so he went to like look for the sun and he found the sun and asked him if he wanted to marry his daughter. But the sun was like there’s someone more powerful than me…it’s um this cloud that covers me up during the day. So the monk left the sun and went to the cloud but the cloud was like there’s someone more powerful than me too, it’s the…um…oh yeah, it’s the wind. Because it blows me around. So the monk went to find the wind but the wind was like there’s someone EVEN MORE POWERFUL THAN ME, it’s the mountain, because it doesn’t move when I try to move him. So the monk went to find the mountain and the mountain says that the rat is more powerful because he can dig holes in me. So the monk finally goes to the rat and asks him to marry his daughter, but the rat says that he can only marry a mouse, right? So then the monk prayed that his daughter would turn back into a mouse, which God answered, and the mouse and the rat lived happily ever after.”

 

The informant is Indian American. Her parents are both from India, but she was born in California. She’s not very religious, but she considers herself culturally Indian. When I asked her where she heard this story, she said “The story is from The Panchthantra, which is an Indian book of myths and stories, and I used to have a comic book version growing up.” So the story is clearly a folktale that was transcribed into authored literature, which then became many different versions, one of which was a comic book. It follows traditional oral tradition, the most prominent of which is only two characters in a scene. The monk only speaks to one person at a time. I think the message of the story is to remain humble. The young girl wants the most powerful husband in the world, but it ends up being a simple rat. And even then she cannot marry him unless she is reduced to her original state; so regardless of her transformation into a beautiful woman, and her wish for a powerful husband, she herself is humbled by her transformation and her final choice of husband. I think another message is that power is not where we’ll expect it, and there are many different forms of power. This tale is probably a good one to tell to children who become to over-arrogant.

Xuanzang and Journey to the West

Item:

“I remember my grandma always talking about some Chinese monk and I never really pieced together until like… until I was much older that the show I watched was exactly that.”

The legend of Xuanzang, a Chinese buddhist monk who traveled from China to India on a pilgrimage, lead to many stories, authored works, and even some anthropomorphic tales that became prominent in popular culture. The informant grew up watching a TV show, Journey to the West, based on the legend. It covered the story of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, who was an anthropomorphized version of Xuanzang who went on a journey similar to that of the monk, but with obvious fictionalization for the purpose of the show.

 

Context:

For the informant, watching the show was a big deal. Being born in America but having only Chinese roots created a bit of a clash between cultures, especially at a young age. Hearing the story of Xuanzang from parents and grandparents, and then watching the show provided for her an entertaining connection to her culture. Beyond that, it was also a opportunity to talk to other 2nd generation kids about something they had in common outside of being just that.

 

Analysis:

It’s perhaps appropriate that the popularization and fictionalization of an authored work based on folklore is what it takes to connect some kids to the actual folklore in the first place. A TV show can captivate kids really easily, and then through curiosity they go about connecting with the actual folklore at the same time. Also, a lot of this comes from the 16th century novelization (also called Journey to the West) which can be found here.