Humanities: The Arts and Culture of Asia
Literature is a form of art in words. It is important in society, as it helps people to realize the changes that have occurred throughout history. Literature is a way of representing culture and preserving history. It provides a way for the authors to express themselves by displaying their beliefs, attitudes, and thoughts concerning life. Literature serves the purpose of entertainment and shows creativity, and therein is its artistic beauty. The book “The Nine Cloud Dream” by Kim Manjung is a reflection of the author’s beliefs and attitudes, yet it also portrays his culture at the time. There are many cultural elements in the novel, especially pertaining to religion and philosophy. Elements of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism are present. The three forms of religion were the most common in East Asia during the time. In this novel, Kim is able to preserve history. He enables people in the present time to know how people behaved at the time, and what led them to behave the way they did. The novel contains various cultural and religious beliefs at the time, which influenced all the aspects of people’s lives.
“The Nine Cloud Dream” is a novel about a young man and eight fairies caught between life’s pleasures and religious ideals. The young man, Song-Jin lives an obedient and strict life as a Buddhist, until the dragon king deceives him. Song-Jin ends up drinking three glasses of wine, something he has never done before, and this makes him feel dizzy. On his way back to the monastery, he encounters a group of eight fairies. After he goes back to the monastery, he cannot stop thinking of life outside the monastery. He begins envying those who practice Confucianism, since they can be religious and at the same time enjoy some of the pleasures of life. His master sends him to hell, as a punishment of desiring life’s pleasures. The story moves from reality to supernatural. Song Jin is reborn, and he ends up luring young girls, who were once the fairy maidens, using his music, beauty and charm. He ends up having eight wives and all the pleasures he desires. In the end, Song Jin realizes the illusion and the emptiness that life’s pleasures can bring, and he seeks the truth.
Elements of Buddhism are especially evident in the story. The young man is a practicing Buddhist living in a monastery with his master and other Buddhist. He follows the Buddhist traditions of chanting and meditation. This is especially the case when he drinks wine, and he falls for the eight maiden fairies. He says his beads, chants and calls upon all the Buddha he knows to help him deal with the temptations he is facing. He does not drink wine, and he notes the effects it has on people. He tells the dragon king about the maddening effects of wine. He vehemently refuses to take wine, but the dragon king is persistent, and he ends up succumbing to his charms. The practices of Buddhism are aimed at bringing enlightenment and blessings to the person. Buddhists practice meditation, and they believe that they are liberated when they meditate.
In Buddhism, priests have a chance to progress and attain high status. Those who progress to the higher stages have power, and they act as if they are gods. They can create heavenly realms where people are reborn. The punishment or reward depends on the Buddha or the merit of the individual worshipper (Eckel 28). This is clear in the story. Once Song Jin’s master expels him and condemns him to hell, the gods there have to decide what to do with him, and they decide that he will be reborn as a human being. The fairies and Song Jin are born as humans, and they have different talents. Their guardians and parents recognize their supernatural being, this means that the Buddha recognized the adherence of the worshippers, and they did not punish them harshly.
Buddhists believe in the concept of rebirth or reincarnation, which in essence means wandering from one lifetime to another. There are six realms of rebirth, which include human, animal, hell, and gods. Hell and animals represent unfavorable places of rebirth, while heaven and humanity represent favorable places of rebirth. Song Jin experienced this, when he was reborn as Yang. As Song Jin, he was a priest, but he became Yang after his rebirth. Rebirth depends on karma, or the moral actions that people used to do in their first life. A person who has good karma when he or she is living is reborn in a favorable situation (Eckel 88, 2009). A person who had bad karma when they were living does not live an honorable after life. He or she may be punished in hell, where it is believed their sins are wiped out, before being reborn as humans. Most of the society believes and practices Buddhism. This is seen in Jewel, who says her Buddhist prayers. She reveals to her sister that she will practice purity when she lives, so that she will not be born as a woman.
Buddhists believe in suffering. They believe that those who suffer have more confidence, and this produces joy and happiness. Happiness leads to concentration, and concentration leads to knowledge, which in turn enables people to see things in their true form. In the book, the practice of Buddhism emphasizes the misguided nature of human desires (Bantly 9). Buddhism discourages desire and ignorance, because it sees them as the causes of al human suffering. People crave for pleasure, immortality and material goods, yet humans cannot satisfy these desires. Ignorance in Buddhism refers to not seeing the world in its real and actual form. People sin because of desire. In the book, Song Jin desires the life that those who practice Confucianism lead. He desires the good life, after encountering the maidens and after drinking the wine. Song Jin was overwhelmed with desire, and he could not forget the beautiful faces or the gracious forms of the maidens.
Song Jin desired the freedom of the Confucians, and the luxurious lives they led. He admired the fact that they could dress in silk, meet and dine with royalty, see beautiful things, and hear delightful sounds. He did not like the fact that Buddhist lived a life of want, where they only had a “little dish of rice and a flask of water” (Kim 12). As a Buddhist, he had to read many dry books and say his beads until he was old and gray. It was clear that Song Jin wanted and desired a different kind of life, where he would live a legacy. Song Jin lived in ignorance, for he failed to see the world as it actually was at the time. When his master summoned him, he admitted that he was dark and ignorant, and he did not have any knowledge concerning his sins.
Although Buddhism seems to be the predominant religion in the region, the people exhibit several elements of Confucianism principles. According to Confucian thought, every person has his or her proper place in the society. There is a place for masters and servants, and there is a place for fathers and sons. Every person is expected to uphold the responsibilities due to him, for the sake of maintaining proper order. Confucianism separates the functions between husbands and wives, and between younger and older siblings. Women knew that the society placed them beneath the men, and they had accepted this fate. Chin See admitted that a woman’s lot in life was to follow her husband, irrespective of the glory and shame that her husband would bring her. Women saw their husbands as their lords and masters (Kim 25). Confucianism thought and principles guided civil administration, and many Confucians were employed in the government. Before Song Jin’s expulsion from the monastery, he was thinking of how he can be employed in the government, and how this would help him achieve high status. As a teenager, he leaves his home so that he can take government examinations. Passing the government exam was a sure way of getting a good job in the government, and this was a guarantee that someone would live a better life.
Buddhism and Confucian practices are dominant in the book, but the people also practice Taoism. After Yang escapes to the mountains during his travels, he meets with a Taoist genius, who surprises him for he knows a lot about him. Taoist ethics included humility and femininity. The Taoist combined different traditions and practices from the dominant religions and philosophies of Buddhism and Confucianism (Moore 53). The Taoists believe that the sages are generous to the good and not the wicked. When Yang meets the Taoist genius, he offers him shelter and protects him. He also teaches him how to play the harp, and he gives him some money for his journey home. Taoists advocate the practice of humility. When Yang meets the Taoist genius, he tells him how he does not have any knowledge. He emphasizes the fact that he is dull and slow of intellect. Yet this is not the case, as he was considered one of the most intelligent and brilliant people in his hometown. Taoists discourage vices such as greed, theft, curses, gossip, and insults. They also discourage followers from engaging in fornication, breaking promises, anger, curiosity, and hardheartedness (Moore 56)
The novel ends when Song Jin realizes the emptiness of the pleasures and glory he had yearned for when he was in the monastery. The ending of the book seems to display the superiority of the Buddha and the Buddhist traditions, yet as one reads the book, it is clear that the philosophies of Confucianism and Taoism have influenced people. The three traditions and philosophies have a lot of influence on how the people lead their lives. People do not ascribe to a specific religion. They mix most of the positive elements of the different religions, and abandon the negative elements. The book illustrates how people can live with different religious beliefs. It has preserved the people’s culture and history. It has incorporated creativity, and although it deals with some serious issues, it manages to entertain the reader.
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Chung, David and Kang-Nam Oh. Syncretism: The Religious Context of Christian Beginnings in Korea. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2001. Print
Eckel, D. Malcolm. Buddhism: Origins, Beliefs, Practices, Holy Texts, Sacred Places. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002. Print
Eckel, D. Malcolm. Buddhism. New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group, 2009. Print
Fowler, Merv. Buddhism: Beliefs and Practices. United Kingdom: Sussex Academic Press, 1999. Print
Kim, Manjung and James S. Gale. Kuunmong: The Cloud Dream of the Nine. Intercom, 2003. Print
Moore, O. Jennifer. Taoism: Origins, Beliefs, Practices, Holy Texts, Sacred Places. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2003. Print
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