[Oh, Korea-②] Dan-Gun Mythology and Philosophy
[Oh, Korea-②] Dan-Gun Mythology and Philosophy
  • 김정남(본지 고문, 전 청와대 사회교육문화수석)
  • 승인 2022.05.06 13:28
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By Jeongnam Kim
(Former Senior Presidential Secretary for Education·Culture·Society, World Korean News advisor)

Danjai Sin Chae-ho once said that our history was a history of struggles between “Myself” and “Not-Myself.” According to him, “There is a constant struggle to keep “me” and raise “myself” within myself and within the body of community, and this is our history. Now we must ask, who is “I,” who is “We”?

I cannot help but give a few words about our Dan-Gun Mythology, for our nation's history originated from it. Even though this was a fable, this mythology implies and tells us where we came from and where we are going to. The Dan-Gun story, written in Chronicle 1 of Samguk Yusa(Reminiscences of Three Nations) goes like this:

Once upon a time, Hwan-Woong, the natural child of Hwan-In, a Heavenly Emperor, often had the earth in his heart and wanted to save the world of humans. His Father became aware of his Son's desire, and observing the Great Mountains in the northern regions of the Korean peninsula, found it worth helping the humans. The Heavenly Emperor handed to Hwan-Woong the three stamps, a symbol empowering him to rule the land.

Thus Hwan-Woong came down to Sindan Lake, on the top of Taebaek Mountain, accompanied by a throng of three thousand. Hwan-Woong built a city on the mountain, called God's City. A god who ruled the wind, a god who ruled rain, and a god who ruled the clouds had served Hwan-Woong, who, in turn, ruled the land, controlling some 360 kinds of human affairs, including crops, destiny, justice, and good and evil.

At this time, a bear and a tiger lived in the same den, praying earnestly to Hwan-Woong to allow them to become human. Hwang-Woong gave a bundle of mystic mugwort and 20 garlic bulbs, saying: “You take these and if you do not come to light for 100 days, you will be able to become human.

The bear ate them and pledged himself for 21 days, at the end of which it became a woman, but the tiger was unable to get human for he failed to prepare himself for the transformation.

The bear-woman did not have a counterpart to wed, and she prayed to get pregnant under the Sindan Lake. Moved by this earnest prayer, Hwan-Woong temporarily transformed himself to a man and married her. The bear-woman became pregnant, gave a birth to a son and he was named Dan-Gun Wang-Gum, the forefather of the Korean people.

The first message this Dan-Gun mythology brings us is that we are a nation descended from Heaven - or the children of God. Therefore, we should not only have pride and dignity, but also live a life worthy of the descendants of God.

The second message teaches us that the birth of our nation itself was very much philosophical and of the science of humanities. The substance of the Dan-Gun mythology is that God resides in Heaven and animals live on the land. The marriage of Hwan-Woong, who came down to earth from Heaven married the Bear, an animal, gave us the birth of Dan-Gun, the forefather of our nation. This fable contains the ideology of three elements, or Heaven, Earth and Humanity.

The science of humanities is to explore the relationship among Heaven, Earth and Mankind. This science passes through all of history. The Dan-Gun mythology itself is a textbook example of the science of humanities teaching “How we will live.” No other nation in the world has a nation-building mythology that contains philosophy and the science of humanities throughout the history of civilization.

As such, the philosophy of the Dan-Gun mythology shows an ocean of difference between the nation-ness of our people and our cultural pattern with those of other nations. We have accepted Buddhism and Confucianism from abroad, but we have deepened our philosophy and spirituality far more than the Indians and Chinese.

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