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What is Samguk Yusa?

“Samguk Yusa” is a chronicle-style history book written based on Yumun (遺文) and Ilsa (逸事) records on Gojoseon, the Three Kingdoms, Garak, and the Later Three Kingdoms, which are not included in the Jeongsa (official history, 正史) of ancient Korean history.

Samguk Yusa consists of 5 volumes, 2 books, and 9 chapters.

Samguk Yusa is a great source on the history, customs, religion, literature, art, and language of ancient Korean society, and describes countless historical anecdotes and incidents not available in Samguk Sagi.

Currently, it is unclear exactly when Samguk Yusa was first published. However, the surviving editions do not date back to the Goryeo Dynasty period - they were all printed during the Joseon Dynasty.

Samguk Yusa consists of five volumes, two books, and nine parts. The nine parts are: records of kings, records, of great wonders 1; records of great wonders 2; rise of Buddhism; pagodas and Buddhist images; anecdotes of renowned monks; tales of divination and miracles; emotional tales of devotion; seclusion; and stories of filial piety.

Part 1 (records of kings, records, of great wonders 1) details the lineage and chronology of monarchs who ruled the Three Kingdoms, Garak, and the Later Three Kingdoms. Specifically, it includes the lineage and generation of each monarch, the year of his accession to the throne, the years of his reign, the name and location of the tomb, the records of his cremation, and records of the king's mother, description of queens, use of era names, negotiations with China, explanation of country names, construction of temples, relocation of the capital, fortress, embankment, and market building techniques, records of foreign invasions, and other important national events.

Volume 1
  • “Records of great wonders 2” contains records on various countries throughout the history of Korea, including the Proto-Three Kingdoms (Samhan), Buyeo, Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla that all came after the fall of Gojoseon. It includes 36 items collected from historical records and inquiries on ancient history, stretching from Dangun Joseon to the reign of King Taejong Muyeol, who ascended to power just before the Three Kingdoms were unified by Silla.
Volume 2
  • Listed without any demarcation of separate parts, Volume 2 describes Silla, Baekje, Later Baekje, and Garakguk after the reign of King Munmu, after the unification of the Three Kingdoms. It contains 23 items in the same manner as Volume 1.
Volume 3
  • “Rise of Buddhism” describes the history of the introduction of Buddhism, with most of the focus given to Silla. “Pagodas and Buddhist images” describes various objects of the Buddhist faith such as stone pagodas, temple bells, Buddha statues, and Buddhist temples.
Volume 4
  • “Anecdotes of renowned monks” contains biographies of scholar monks and great teachers of Silla.
Volume 5
  • Part 6, “Tales of divination and miracles,” contains historical records of esoteric Buddhist priests, whereas Part 7, “Emotional tales of devotion,” lists moving stories on the subject of devotion. Part 8, “Seclusion,” includes biographies of high priests who went into exile, and Part 9, “Stories of filial piety,” tells beautiful stories of filial piety and gratitude.

Author of Samguk Yusa

Il-yeon was born in Jangsan-gun (present-day Gyeongsan), a subordinate county of Gyeongju, in the 2nd year of King Huijong's reign (1206 CE) of Goryeo.

At birth, his surname was Kim, and his given name was Gyeon-myeong.


At age 9, Il-yeon became a monk and began learning Buddhism at Muryangsa Temple in Haeyang (present-day Gwangju). At the age of 14, he received his Upasampadāfrom elder Daewoong of Jinjinsa Temple deep in Seoraksan Mountain. Thereafter, Il-yeon gave lectures and built Buddhist temples. Il-yeon was hailed as the best of the “Nine Mountain Temples and Four National Monasteries” at the time by his peers, and passed the national examination for Seon Buddhism at the age of 22 (he passed the Sangsang category at Seonbuljang). He then meditated at Bodangam Hermitage in Posan Mountain. He ended up staying in various temples in Posan for 22 years, exploring various beliefs and ideologies without being bound by a specific school or sect.

At age 44, in the 36th year of King Gojong's reign (1249 CE), Il-yeon was invited to Jeongnimsa Temple in Namhae, founded by Jeongan, and became its chief Buddhist monk. At the age of 54, in the 46th year of King Gojong's reign (1259 CE), Il-yeon became a Daesonsa (master). Two years later, in the 2nd year of King Wonjong's reign (1261 CE), he was invited to Ganghwa by royal decree and worked at Seonwolsa Temple. In the 5th year of King Wonjong's reign (1264), Il-yeon withdrew to Oeosa Temple on Unjesan Mountain in Yeongil, and soon moved again to Inhongsa Temple in Posan. In 1274 CE, when King Chungnyeol ascended to the throne, Il-yeon renovated and renamed Inhongsa Temple in Posan, which had been in use for 11 years, Inheungsa Temple with some private contributions. He also renovated and renamed Yongcheonsa Temple on the east of Posan Bulilsa Temple. The following year, Il-yeon published “Yeokdaeyeonpyo” at Inheungsa Temple.

At 72 years old, in the 3rd year of King Chungnyeol's reign (1277 CE), by royal decree, Il-yeon was sent to Unmunsa Temple to teach and give lectures. In the 8th year of King Chungnyeol's reign, the King brought Il-yeon to the capital and had him stationed at Gwangmyeongsa Temple in Gaegyeong. The following year, Il-yeon, now 78, was appointed as “Gukjon” (the nation’s chief Buddhist monk) and gave him the title “Wongyeong Chungjo.” The reason he was appointed a “Gukjon” instead of the more conventional “Guksa” (national preceptor) was because the Yuan Dynasty interfered to prevent them from using the latter. Thereafter, Il-yeon withdrew to Ingaksa Temple and hosted the Gusanmundohoe twice, which was aimed at securing Buddhist religious authority centered on Gajisanmun. In the spring of the 15th year of King Chungnyeol's reign (1289 CE), Il-yeon commissioned the “Incheonbogam” at Ingaksa Temple and passed away in July at the age of 84. The King awarded him with a posthumous title, “Bogak,” and assigned a byname “Jeongjo.”

In the 21st year of King Chungryeol's reign (1295 CE), six years since Il-yeon's passing, a memorial stele engraved “Goryeo Gukhwasan Jogyejong Ingaksa Gajisanga Bogak Gukjon Bimyeong” (composed by Min Ji and written by Wang Xizhi) based on the records of Hongu (Mugeuk) i.e. Cheongbun was installed at Ingaksa Temple. On the back of the stele, the inscription describes how the stele was created by Jinjeong Daeseonsa Cheongbun (Mugeuk), and lists the names of disciples and monks. The stele also lists more than 100 books published by Il-yeon, including two volumes of the “Eorok,” three volumes of the “Gasongjapjeo,” two volumes of the “Jungpyeonjodongowi,” two volumes of the “Joppado,” seven volumes of the “Jeseungbeopsu,” three volumes of the “Daejangsujirok,” 30 volumes of the “Seonmunyeomsongsawon,” and 30 volumes of the “Jungpyeonjojeongsawon.”