Someone is Listening (Revisiting the Legend of the Dan-Gun)

As teachers, parents and even friends it is always gratifying to find someone listening.  This past week at our belt promotion one of our young students repeated the following story which I had told maybe twice in class. It provides good talking points on all our tenants (courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self control, indomitable spirit) but is also very much about listening – to our own heart, as well as others.  

“The Parents of the Dan-Gun: A Korean Foundation Legend”

retold by mfptkd

A long time ago, when the earth was young, mountains powerful, water clear, and noble trees still covered the land, Hwanung, a young son of the Lord of Heaven, admired the world and longed to live among the people. Alone in his high tower overlooking the universe, he was conflicted, because although everything was perfect, Hwanung was unhappy. He was ambitious, wanting to do something important, even if it forced him from the safety of paradise. Looking down on the earth, he found a place where he could make a difference. Hwanung was brave, strong and wise beyond his years and went to his father to beg permission.

“I will build a great city to honor you, Father.” Hwanung said.

“Who will advise you, where I can not be present?” his father asked.

“Pung-Beg, the Earl of Wind; U-Sa, the Chancellor of Rain and, Un-Sa, the Minister of Clouds will be my guides. We will work in harmony to ensure the fruits and grains grow, the people prosper and evil will never out balance good.”

The Lord of Heaven, pleased with Hwanung’s forethought and showing of respect, allowed him his choice of islands on which to build his city. The new leader chose the most beautiful island of Korea. The city was built high on Baekdu Mountain and called “Sinsi” or “City of God.” The citizens were educated and treated with justice. The population flourished and other forming societies attempted to copy their righteous government and promising culture.

The many animals who made their home on the mountain, watched Hwanung with respect and admiration. A bear and a tiger were so impressed by his nobility, that they asked to be made human, in order to serve him. At first, Hwanung dismissed their wishes but they were so fervent and consistent in their prayers, that he relented. The seriousness of the request, prompted Hwanung to test their determination.

“You must stay out of the sunlight and in your cave for 100 days, eating only garlic and mugwort. Then you can be transformed.” He instructed.

The bear and tiger agreed, anxious but happy and sure of success. One hundred days, however, is a long time. There was nothing to do in the cave except meditate and converse. The fierce tiger grew restless, bored and hungry. After only twenty days, he left the cave, unable and unwilling to complete the test. The bear, on the other hand, was patient and dedicated, even though the task had become harder, as after the Tiger left, she was alone. She stayed true, understanding the effort needed to be worthy of the reward. By the one hundredth day, she had become a beautiful women. She was called Ungnyeo.

At first, Ungnyeo was overjoyed at her success and content to serve the prince whom she loved, but her transformation, although wondrous, made the people understandably wary, so she was still alone. During the day, she smiled at the sunshine, was thoughtful toward her neighbors, and labored uncomplainingly, so as not to seem ungrateful of Hwanung’s gifts, but at twilight, when the other women would return to the comfort of their families, Ungnyeo knelt at the base of the Sindansu Tree and wept. She cried out of loneliness and wished for a partner and a child to ease the terrible ache in her heart.

Hwanung understood loneliness and was touched by her tears. Although her strength and sincerity and beauty moved him, he was surprised by the desire to grant her another gift. When he looked to find her a mate worthy, no one satisfied him. On a cold evening as heaven’s lights shone brightly through the stars, he met Ungnyeo at the Sindansu Tree to tell her to be patient. She could not disguise her joy at his company and the warmth which suffused them opened Hwangung’s eyes and heart with understanding. He made Ungnyeo his wife.

They were blessed with a son who was called Dan-Gun. He grew to be a shrewd and intelligent leader. Dan-Gun founded Gojoseon, the first state on the Korean Peninsula. He lived over a thousand years, and his spirit still resides in the mountain, so he can watch over his people.


Sources: ( Stories of National Spirit “Hwanin and Dangunwanggeom.”
Copyright 2005 The Overseas Koreans Foundation.
Baker, Laurie. Korean Stories of the Tiger: The Legend of Dan-gun, http://www,
“Korea-China Relations: Ancient Times – Founding Legend”
Copyright 2007 Northeast Asian History Foundation.
“Korean Creation Myth”
“Legend of Dan-Gun” Copyright 2006 Acestes Taekwon-Do Clubs



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