2010 Sejong Writing Competition
Winning Entries :: Essays :: Senior third place
Society is comprised of two types of people: those who are enlightened and teach others through their actions, and those who need guidance. The teachers, when faced with certain situations in life, make choices that respectfully reflect their true self and moral beliefs. The learners, on the other hand, make less heartfelt decisions. Because these different kinds of individuals connect to each other, learning from their mistakes and seeing the effects of their actions, we form a society where everyone is exposed to kindness, loyalty and selflessness. As a result of these interactions, people grow both spiritually and emotionally. This idea is clearly expressed in the tale of Shimchong: The Blind Man’s Daughter, where the genuine hardships and the sacrifices that Shimchong endures for her father transform her into someone who can influence her father’s heart and eventually, everyone else’s around her.
The name Shimchong is written “心淸”, with “心” being the Chinese character for “heart” or “mind” and “淸” for “pure.” Thus, Shimchong can rightfully be considered a person with a pure soul and a kind heart not only because she sacrifices her life for her father’s wellbeing and endures sadness, but also due to the meaning of her name. Shimchong lives with her blind, beggar father Shim Hakkyu, who stands in stark contrast to his daughter. After falling into a deep ditch one day, Shim Hakkyu is aided by a monk who demands three hundred sacks of rice in return for the old man’s renewed sight. Shim Hakkyu foolishly lets himself believe the monk’s promise for vision and volunteers his daughter to die for his cause. After processing the magnitude of his selfish error, he comments, “I was filled with gladness and the world seemed bright to me… All I wanted was to return his kindness, and look what I have done.” Unfortunately, Shim Hakkyu can only see the value in something when a reward is presented to him. Thus, Shim (心) the blind man has a mind so obscured by human desires and materialistic needs that he physically cannot see.
The difference between the two is further explored through their quests to help Shim Hakkyu recover his vision. Shim Hakkyu tries to open his eyes by making a deal with a monk and handing over an exorbitant amount of rice as a sacrifice to the Buddha, an act driven by obligation and calculation. Consequently, Shim’s life becomes emptier, devoid of both sight and love. On the other hand, when Shimchong forfeits her life on her father’s behalf, gives up the heavenly privileges underwater so she can return to her father, and even utilizes her social status as queen to reunite with him, she is able to be reborn into an extraordinary being. In religious terms, Shimchong’s plunge into the water resembles a Christian baptism, “a rite of washing with water as a sign of religious purification and consecration,” and the restoration of vision on the day of the banquet is reminiscent of the miracles performed by Jesus Christ. Her rebirth in the lotus flower can also be considered a form of enlightenment, because “in esoteric Buddhism, the heart of the beings is like an unopened lotus: when the virtues of the Buddha develop therein, the lotus blossoms.” When she is reunited with her father and exposed to the rest of the men, who are blind in both physical and spiritual meanings, her goodness shines light upon them and illuminates their hearts, truly affecting the way they see the world; they transform from individuals driven by selfish whims into respectful and hope-filled men. While Shim-Hakkyu searches for a far-fetched miracle, Shimchong inadvertently becomes a savior through her deeds and forgiveness of past offenses.
A few weeks ago, The Cape Cod Times published an article about a girl named Chelsea Miller, who has suffered from Type 1 diabetes since the age of ten, but recently managed to graduate from high school as valedictorian of her class, as well as an accomplished violinist and a cross-country runner. Chelsea, through her perseverance, bravery, and positive outlook on life, is very similar to Shimchong. For instance, her illness was once an obstruction that prevented her from participating in many sports and activities. Much like Shimchong who overcomes her father’s disability, poverty and betrayal, Chelsea has managed to carve out a fulfilling, interesting life for herself in spite of limitations. She now babysits for a Type 1 diabetic named Katie Mousseau, whose mother Sally is also a diabetic. Through their relationship, Chelsea provides experienced knowledge and support, something that she never would have been able to give without the hardships that she faced. A close friend even mentions, “I think Chelsea was sort of a godsend for Katie. It’s been a very good experience for Chelsea and Katie alike.” It is because of people like Chelsea and their potential for positive growth that society is able to advance, because those who face roadblocks are usually more determined to find productive solutions and more likely to maintain a mature outlook on life.
The tales of both Shimchong and Chelsea involve women who overcame exceptionally arduous challenges and gave back to the people around them. Even in society today, there are plenty of people who are deterred from what they truly seek because of financial, social, physical or even spiritual obstacles. Hundreds of years have passed since the legend of Shimchong was first put into words, but the conflict between altruistic ideals and the pursuit of materialistic, self-serving desires remains pervasive. Shimchong’s choices and impressive loyalty are admirable, and as shown with the story of Chelsea, there are still individuals who choose similar paths. Taking this into account, Shimchong can be considered a hero even in this time. Perhaps that is the message our ancestors meant to pass on in this tale: that to be spiritually blind is a great travesty, but there are always Shimchongs who can open our eyes to what truly matters.