The Enlightenment Stories Represented in the Samgook Yusa and the Princess Bari

Terri Kim

Publisher: Trafford Pages: 276 Price: (paperback) $20.99 ISBN: 9781698711409 Reviewed: November, 2023 Author Website: Visit »

In this volume, author Terri Kim aims to tackle the formidable: to explore the broad concept of enlightenment, explain it in terms of two specific Korean texts, and to then compare those texts to other global myths and stories.

An ambitious analytical text like this usually opens with a thesis summary that clearly explains the research goal, followed by an introduction of key concepts. Kim instead relegates the description of her purpose to one paragraph in chapter one, then dives directly into the chronology, creating more of an ongoing research diary than a definitive text.

The author’s narrative leans toward long, unbroken passages that don’t allow readers to pause and digest the information. For example, discussion of the Samgook Yusa (a collection of legends, folktales, and historical accounts relating to the periods and states before, during, and after the Three Kingdoms period of Korea) and “Princess Bari” a shamanic song (the story of a human girl who lives in the land of the gods) is somewhat wordy, and readers new to this Korean mythology may have difficulty absorbing the baseline information before the author delivers the narrative’s compare-and-contrast portions.

Eventually, Kim settles into analysis mode when she defines enlightenment itself, including the concept of nirvana enlightenment, then presents both Eastern and Western views of mysticism and finally compares those concepts to the Korean myths. She cites numerable resource texts in her studies of the Samgook Yusa and Princess Bari mythologies and credits such global philosophical heavyweights as Buddha, Plato, and Meister Eckhardt in her comparisons. She employs less mystical contrasts, as well, as in the similarities of Princess Bari to Cinderella.

Kim provides ample citations for her findings and includes a thorough bibliography. The book’s presentation isn’t geared toward casual inquirers into enlightenment theory, however, or even readers moderately acquainted with mysticism, both Eastern and Western.

Readers with advanced knowledge, however, might benefit from the author’s presentation of Korean mythology and other enlightenment concepts.

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