The Tripitaka Koreana, a collection of Buddhist scriptures carved into more than 80,000 wooden printing blocks and reputed to be the oldest and most extensive extant collection of its kind, will be opened for public viewing beginning later this month, the Korean temple housing the sacred artifacts has announced. According to local media reports, this will be the first time that the Tripitaka Koreana, which is listed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, has been made accessible to the general public since its creation in the 13th century.
The Tripitaka Koreana (Kor: 팔만 대장경 [Palman Daejanggyeong]) was carved onto 81,258 wooden printing blocks in the 13th century. The woodblocks are now stored at Haein-sa (해인사), one of the principal temples of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, a school of Seon (Zen) Buddhism and South Korea’s largest Buddhist order.
“As it was created with a yearning to overcome national crises of the past, we decided that the same message of hope could be applied to our current national plight posed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” stated Jingak Sunim, a senior monk from Haein-sa, during a press conference in Seoul on 3 June. (The Korea Herald)
The temple has said that public tours will be offered at 10am and 2pm every Saturday and Sunday from 19 June. The tours, lasting 50 minutes, will be restricted to a maximum of 20 visitors for each time slot. Online booking is available through Haein-sa’s official website.
The Tripitaka Koreana is much broader in scope than the traditional Pali Tipitaka or Pali Canon, and includes a wealth of additional texts and other content, such as Buddhist travelogues, Sanskrit and Chinese dictionaries, and biographies of notable female and male monastics. Painstakingly engraved into 81,352 wooden printing blocks, with no known errors in the 52,330,152 Hanja or Chinese logograms, work on the Tripitaka Koreana began in 1237, during the time of the Goryeo kingdom (918–1392), and was completed in 1248. Korea designated the Tripitaka Koreana a National Treasure in 1962, and the collection was inscribed in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 2007.
King Gojong (고종; r. 1213–59), who commissioned the work, believed that the Tripitaka Koreana would offer protection for Goryeo and drive out Mongol invaders. Following the loss of the original Tripitaka to fire during the Mongolian invasion of the kingdom in 1232, Gojong ordered the woodblocks to be remade in an appeal to the compassion and authority of the Buddha. The woodblocks are now widely recognized by Buddhist scholars for their outstanding accuracy, superior quality, and artistic merit.
In 2000, after nine years of work, the entire Tripitaka Koreana was digitized to ensure their preservation. Efforts are also underway to transfer the texts onto copper plates to serve as a physical backup.
Heian-sa, first built in 802 CE, is one of the three principal Buddhist temples in South Korea, each of which represents one of the three jewels of the Triple Gem: Tongdo-sa in South Gyeongsang Province represents the Buddha, Haein-sa represents the Dharma or Buddhist teachings, while Songgwang-sa in South Jeolla Province represents the sangha.
The Tripitaka Koreana has been housed at Heian-sa, which stands on the slopes of Mount Gaya in Gayasan National Park, South Gyeongsang Province, since 1398. The Buddhist mountain temple and the two 15th century Janggyeong Panjeon, purpose-built depository buildings which house the Tripitaka, were declared a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site in 1995.
According to census data for 2015, the majority of South Korea’s population—56.1 per cent—holds no religious affiliation. Christians make up the largest religious segment of the population at 27.6 per cent, while Buddhists account for 15.5 per cent.
Haein-sa (Official website)
Tripitaka Koreana to open to public for first time (Yonhap News Agency)
Tripitaka Koreana to open to public for first time (The Korea Herald)
Haeinsa Temple Janggyeong Panjeon, the Depositories for the Tripitaka Koreana Woodblocks (UNESCO)
Printing woodblocks of the Tripitaka Koreana and miscellaneous Buddhist scriptures (UNESCO Memory of the World)
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