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Secular Happiness and Ultimate Happiness in the Story of the Monk Josin’s Dream of the "Samguk Yusa"

C.H. Park (Ven. Chŏngdŏk) | Dongguk University

This story is contained in the Samguk Yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms) compiled by Iryeon in 1281.

In this story known as “Josin’s dream” a monk falls in love with daughter of a county prefect. He prays for assistance in his love but the daughter marries another man. He has a dream where she appears and tells him that she secretly loves him and decides to spend her life with him. They live together for fifty years, have five children, and struggle with poverty. A son dies of starvation; a daughter becomes a beggar. Realizing their love has led only to their suffering, they decide to part. Waking from the dream Josin visits the spot in his dream where he buried his son and finds a Buddha statue buried instead. He establishes a monastery at the spot and dedicates his life to good deeds.

This story is told in a very literary style and consists of four scenes, the desire of the monk, the marriage of the monk, the monk’s loss of happiness, the enlightenment of the monk. Whether or not this tale is actually about a real person, it teaches an essential Buddhist concept that the secular joys of this world are an illusion and can only lead to unhappiness. This point is made doubly by both the narrative line of the story and the later recognition that the experience was in fact a dream. The primary function of this story is to reinforce traditional Buddhist concepts and to confirm Buddhist monastic practice. The story would have had importance both to the monastic community itself and the laity.

Dreams play an uncelebrated but important role in the Buddhist tradition. This story uses dream as a vehicle to understand the impermanence of secular happiness and shows that dreaming itself can be a practice for awakening or ultimate happiness.