Ilyeon – 일연 (1206-1289)

일연스님2

Ilyeon, the Author of the Famed Samguk Yusa

Hello Again Everyone!!

This is the tenth installment about prominent Korean monks. And this article is about the famed monk Ilyeon, who wrote the historic Samguk Yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms).

Ilyeon was born during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) in Korean history. Ilyeon’s birth name was Kim Gyeong-myeong. Amazingly, Ilyeon became a monk at the age of nine at Muryangsa Temple in Haeyang. Then, at the age of 13, he became a novice monk at Jinjeonsa Temple. And he passed the Seon national exam at the age of 22.

Memorabilia_of_the_Three_Kingdoms_in_museum

The Samguk Yusa

During his lifetime, Ilyeon was a prolific writer. In total, and according to his tombstone, he wrote 80 volumes of work that focused on Buddhist topics. His most famed contribution, and the only one to survive to the present day, was the Samguk Yusa. The Samguk Yusa was written in Classical Chinese, which was used by the literate at that time, and it focused on folktales, legends, and biographies of famous monks from the early period in Korean history. Also, it is the earliest record of the Dangun foundation legend. It was written at the end of the 13th century, purportedly, at Unmunsa Temple in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

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Unmunsa Temple, Where Ilyeon Purportedly Wrote the Samguk Yusa

At the age of 54, Ilyeon was given the rank of Great Teacher. Also, he traveled to Ganghwa-do Island, as instructed by King Wonjong (r. 1260-1274), to establish Seonwolsa Temple. Then, at the age of 63, in 1268, he was appointed the chief presider of the Tripitaka consummation ceremony at Eunhaesa Temple at Mt. Palgongsan over 100 prominent Seon masters. And at the age of 78, King Chungnyeol (r. 1274-1308) offered the position of National Preceptor (보각국사) to Ilyeon, which he declined. Once more, he was appointed to the position of National Preceptor (Guksa), and he arrived in the then capital of Gaeseong (then Gaegyeong) to assume the position. However, not long after assuming the position, he returned to his mountain temple with the excuse that his mother was sick. Finally, on the eighth day of the seventh month in 1289, Ilyeon passed away after conducting interviews with various monks.

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