Organized Panel Session
My paper concerns “The Tale of Sŏn Master Chaun,” an oral tradition about a Buddhist nun, which had been passed down as local monastic lore in the South Chŏlla region until it was penned in the 1970s. This folktale is a rare piece of Buddhist literature that portrays a female monastic as a mysterious prophet and brilliant strategist. Moreover, in the tale, she serves as a military counselor to Admiral Yi Sunsin and becomes the self-sacrificing deliverer of the nation during the Imjin War.
According to my preliminary research, the above narrative was derived from scattered anecdotes on the real-life monk, Chaun. As an eminent scholar on the Hua-yen doctrine, Chaun is known to have served as leader of the monk soldiers who joined Admiral Yi’s naval forces during the Hideyoshi Invasion.
My paper examines the significance of Chaun’s gender transformation in the process of narrativization. I will first trace the historical sources of the tale. This will be followed by an analysis of the characteristics of a messianic vision embedded in the narrative. The main focus will be on the tale’s epilogue, in which Chaun is identified as a reincarnation of the three women related to Samyŏngdang, a well-known war hero. By investigating Chaun’s relationship with Samyŏngdang in history and fiction, I will demonstrate the complex dynamics of the Buddho-Daoist legacies under the framework of post-war folk imagination.