The Samguk Yusa
삼국유사      三國遺事
Myths and Legends of the
Three Ancient Korean Kingdoms
Overlooked Historical Records of the Three Korean Kingdoms
Hardcover – March 11, 2006   by Ilyeon (Author)  Translated by Kim Dal-yong

Hardcover: 432 pages
Publisher: Jimoondang / DongSongSa; 1st edition (March 11, 2006)
Language: English      ISBN-10: 8988095944     ISBN-13: 978-8988095942

There was an earlier translation of the Samguk Yusa, titled "Samguk Yusa: Legends
and History of the Three Kingdoms of Ancient Korea", by Ilyon, translated by Grafton
Mintz & Ha Tae-hung, Yonsei University Press 1981 and then Silk Pagoda, 2008.  But
the 2006 version by by Kim Dal-yong is far superior!  Better wording, many footnotes
that explain what terms & phrases mean.

"Overlooked Historical Records of the Three Korean Kingdoms deals mainly with materials
related to the foundation of various old Korean kingdoms, to the factual history of the Shilla
Kingdom, and to the lives of famous Korean Buddhist monks. This book not only presents
various myths and legends that reveal the phases of Korean ancestors' old social life,
economy, culture, and thoughts, but also furnishes ample data on their traditional manners
and customs, whose traces are still found in modern Korean culture. The author particularly
highlights the special roots and quality of the Korean race, as distinguished from those of
the Chinese people, by inheriting Korean ancestors' sense of the presence of the past and
explaining the birth-myths and historical events of all the known Korean kingdoms.  The
author also attempts to examine Buddhism's influence on Korean culture, uncover the
religiously-conditioned behavior and thinking of the Korean people, and clarify their
cultural personality and identity. The book considers the great quantity of Buddhist
narratives, anecdotes on primitive beliefs, and folktales, explores the religious
consciousness of the Korean people, and studies their archetypal mindsets."
From my 2011 Encyclopedia of Korean Buddhism:
Samguk Yusa  삼국유사  三國遺事
     Omitted, Supplementary or Overlooked Historical Records,  Legends and Myths
of the Three Kingdoms

This is a well-known treasure of Korean Buddhism and literature, generally believed to
have been written by Master Iryeon (一然, 1206-1289) in the Goryeo Dynasty.  It is a
collection of Buddhist legends, Shamanic folk-tales, biographies and historical accounts
from and concerning Korea’s prehistoric proto-states, the ancient
(三國時代, Three Kingdoms Era) and the Unified Shilla Dynasty (統一新羅, 668-935).
It is structured and apparently intended as a semi-historical narrative of Korea as a
culturally-unified Korean ethnic nation with a single stretching back for thousands of
years in multiple political configurations. The text was written in Classical Chinese,
which was used by all literate Koreans at that time.

It is thought that Iryeon wrote it around 1280, when he was the resident Juji (住持, Abbot)
of remote Unmun-sa (雲門寺, Cloud Gate Temple), and later Hwa-san Ingak-sa (麟角寺,
Qilin 麒麟 Horn Temple).  However, while Iryeon was a prolific writer, authoring some 80
volumes on Buddhism according to the inscription on his official memorial biseok (碑石,
standing stone stele) at Ingak-sa, none of those survives today, and the Samguk Yusa is
not mentioned in the inscription at all.  For this and other reasons, some scholars now believe
that he only actually composed the fifth chapter of this work, and it was not
compiled in its present form until the end of the Goryeo Dynasty, by other scholar-monks.
The oldest version of this text now extant was printed in 1513 by Neo-Confucian scholars
of the Joseon Dynasty who were interested in the historical narrative it presents about
an ancient Korean nation thousands of years old, with a singular origin and a distinct
(from China) and unique culture.

The Samguk Yusa was compiled at least more than a century after the
Samguk Sagi
(三國史記, History of the Three Kingdoms, 1146), and can be seen as a response against
it.  The Sagi is a long and detailed Confucian-style historical compilation, and while it is
quite sympathetic to Buddhism as the evolving national religion in those ancient centuries,
it left out many old myths, legends and folk-tales, mostly with Buddhist and Shamanic
themes, including tales of miracles involving deities, biographies and enlightenment-stories
of monks, and establishment stories of great temples. Master Iryeon seems to have felt
that these tales and records were essential to truly understanding the history and ethnic
identity of Korean culture, and so he complied this complex work and entitled it “Omitted
Tales” (遺事, Yusa), which has also been translated as extra, supplementary or overlooked
stories or myths & legends, all clearly referring to some previous work that left them out.

It begins with a collection of foundation myths of many proto-Korean tribal groupings and
states, attempting to organize them into a coherent narrative.  It is the earliest extant
record of the Dan-gun myth (檀君神話), which recounts the founding of Gojoseon as the
first “Korean nation” and remains supremely important in nationalist thinking today in both
North and South Korea. The rest of it is a collection of stories and records related to the
transmission of Buddhism to Korea and its centuries of development during the Three
Kingdoms and Unified Silla periods.

Iryeon portrays a holistic view of Korean Buddhism in which all schools, traditions and
practices are legitimate, and even Daoism, Confucianism and indigenous Shamanism fit
in seamlessly with it, as Korea’s wider religious culture.  Syncretic tendencies like this
are considered fundamental and distinctive in the entire history of Korean Buddhism,
leading to the doctrinally-inclusive Jogye Order of today, and so the Samguk-Yusa
remains a fundamental work for understanding its broad but harmonious palate of flavors.