Sunday, June 24, 2012

Epics and the Culture of Life

Epics appeared late in the maturation of culture, allowing us to appreciate the progressive  unfolding  of humanity in  narrative, poetry, and  myths, which gradually developed into the literature of the country.

Writing in the Peace Weekly a professor, in the Culture of Life Research Institute, reflects on epics and what they can tell us about humanity, about the meaning of life, our relationship with nature and, ultimately, about human desires. Reading the classics, the professor says, opens us to another way of seeing our world, and coming to a new understanding of  the conditions and meaning of life. The tragedies of life make us think deeply of their meaning. We ask ourselves, what are our tragedies and how can we best face them.

The legend of Tangun, for example, familiar to all Koreans, tells us about a particular image of humanity and its character by recounting the tale of Hwanin (God of Heaven) and his love for the earth and humanity. Hwanung, the son of Hwanin, wanted to live on the earth to provide humans with great happiness. When he learned that in a cave lived a bear and a tiger praying to become human, Hwanung gave them garlic and some mug wort. They were to eat this food and stay out of the sunlight for 100 days. The tiger gave up but the bear remained and was transformed into a woman. The woman prayed to be blessed with a child. Moved by  her prayer Hwanug took her for his wife, and she gave birth to a handsome son named Tangun--the beginning of the Korean people.
This legend tells us much about how we see ourselves. The temptation to get out in the sunlight was too great for the tiger and he failed the test of endurance. It is when we are suffering the greatest ordeal that we show our humanity. Truth, even when not acknowledged, makes itself known. 
Human life here on earth is temporary, but our life narrative does not disappear. With the passage of time this narrative continually changes, but remaining ever new, and the value of life and its mystery becoming clearer. We are the writers of this epic. We are the ones searching for this exalted life: the epic of our one, beautiful, and sacred life.

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