There lived in ancient days an archer, whose home was near the Water Gate of Seoul. He was a man of great strength and famous for his valour.
Water Gate has reference to a hole under the city wall, by which the waters of the Grand Canal find their exit. In it are iron pickets to prevent people's entering or departing by that way.
On a certain afternoon when this military officer was taking a walk, a great snake was seen making its way by means of the Water Gate. The snake's head had already passed between the bars, but its body, being larger, could not get through, so there it was held fast. The soldier drew an arrow, and, fitting it into the string, shot the snake in the head. Its head being fatally injured, the creature died. The archer then drew it out, pounded it into a pulp, and left it.
A little time later the man's wife conceived and bore a son. From the first the child was afraid of its father, and when it saw him it used to cry and seem greatly frightened. As it grew it hated the sight of its father more and more. The man became suspicious of this, and so, instead of loving his son, he grew to dislike him.
On a certain day, when there were just the two of them in the room, the officer lay down to have a midday siesta, covering his face with his sleeve, but all the while keeping his eye on the boy to see what he would do. The child glared at his father, and thinking him asleep, got a knife and made a thrust at him. The man jumped, grabbed the knife, and then with a club gave the boy a blow that left him dead on the spot. He pounded him into a pulp, left him and went away. The mother, however, in tears, covered the little form with a quilt and prepared for its burial. In a little the quilt began to move, and she in alarm raised it to see what had happened, when lo! beneath it the child was gone and there lay coiled a huge snake instead. The mother jumped back in fear, left the room and did not again enter.
When evening came the husband returned and heard the dreadful story from his wife. He went in and looked, and now all had metamorphosed into a huge snake. On the head of it was the scar mark of the arrow that he had shot. He said to the snake, "You and I were originally not enemies, I therefore did wrong in shooting you as I did; but your intention to take revenge through becoming my son was a horrible deed. Such a thing as this is proof that my suspicions of you were right and just. You became my son in order to kill me, your father; why, therefore, should I not in my turn kill you? If you attempt it again, it will certainly end in my taking your life. You have already had your revenge, and have once more transmigrated into your original shape, let us drop the past and be friends from now on. What do you say?"
He repeated this over and urged his proposals, while the snake with bowed head seemed to listen intently. He then opened the door and said, "Now you may go as you please." The snake then departed, making straight for the Water Gate, and passed out between the bars. It did not again appear.
Note. - Man is a spiritual being, and different from all other created things, and though a snake has power of venom, it is still an insignificant thing compared with a man. The snake died, and by means of the transmigration of its soul took its revenge. Man dies, but I have never heard that he can transmigrate as the snake did. Why is it that though a spiritual being he is unable to do what beasts do? I have seen many innocent men killed, but not one of them has ever returned to take his revenge on the lawless one who did it, and so I wonder more than ever over these stories of the snake. The Superior Man's knowing nothing of the law that governs these things is a regret to me.