2: Three Hundred Sacks of Rice
One day, Old Man Shim was out alone begging for alms and he stumbled into a deep irrigation ditch. As he was foundering in the water, trying vainly to climb out, bemoaning his bad fate and his handicap, he heard a voice speak to him from above. “Old man,” it said, “I have heard you lamenting about your blindness. If you will give 300 sacks of rice to my temple as a tribute to the Lord Buddha, we will offer up our prayers to return your sight.” Gentle but firm hands that seemed to reach down from the heavens themselves took hold of Old Man Shim’s trembling arms and pulled him from the water. Shim was so thankful and so full of hope that he momentarily forgot his dire circumstances, and without thinking he blurted out, “Thank you kind monk. Thank you! I will give you those 300 sacks of rice! I swear it!”
It wasn’t until much later, when his elation had worn off, that Old Man Shim had the terrible realization that he did not have the means to offer three bowls of rice—let alone 300 sacks—to the temple.
“Shimchong-ah,” he said to his daughter that evening, recounting his misfortune. “What shall I do? I was filled with gladness and the world seemed bright to me. Other men jostle me out of the way or steal my alms from out of my hands but the monk was kind. All I wanted was to return his kindness, and look what I have done. What terrible thing will befall us if I have offended the Buddha?”
That night Shimchong lay on her thin bed mat unable to sleep, worrying about her father’s promise to the monk. She could think of no way to raise the 300 sacks of rice as tribute to the temple, no matter how much she pondered it, and by and by she drifted off into a restless sleep.
In her dreams, her mother appeared and told her how she might get the rice for her father. “Go to the harbor,” she said. “There you will find a merchant looking for a young maiden. Go with him and he will provide the 300 sacks of rice.”
It just so happened that the Dragon King of the East Sea was displeased with the merchant fleet and had sent foul weather and storms that had sunk ship after ship on its way to China. To appease the Dragon King, the merchants needed to sacrifice a beautiful maiden, but as of yet they had found no family willing to sell a maiden daughter. So when Shimchong appeared the next dawn and offered herself in exchange for the tribute for her father, the captain of the merchant fleet was more than happy to accept.
The 300 sacks of rice were taken to the temple and the prayers to the compassionate Buddha were offered up as agreed, but Old Man Shim did not immediately regain his sight as he had hoped. The monks said that it would not simply happen overnight. Now Old Man Shim was not only poor and blind, but had lost his only daughter.
The sea was calm at the beginning of the voyage, but soon the sky grew gray and ominous. The water, at first, was only choppy, but then the sea boiled as if the Dragon King were thrashing his massive body beneath the waves. Lightning flashed from the dark clouds and the wind ripped at the sails. Oars and anchor chains snapped in the violent sea.
The merchant captain brought Shimchong out of the hold, dressed up in brightly-colored bridal finery. Although Shimchong told him that she would leap into the waves of her own will, he did not believe her, and he had her hands and feet securely bound. The sailors all wept copiously with their admiration for her bravery and her filial virtue as Shimchong said a quiet prayer and leapt overboard into the ocean. And just as she disappeared under the waves, the violent seas grew calm.