Haeinsa Temple in Gyeongsang Province
Nestled within the hills of Mount Kaya in Gyeongsangnam-do Province, Haeinsa Temple, or Temple of Reflection on a Smooth Sea, as it is so poetically titled in the English translation, is home to the most complete collection of Buddhist texts and teachings in the world. Engraved onto a staggering total of 81,258 wooden printing blocks, they are collectively known as the Tripitaka Koreana. Haeinsa Temple and the storage facility for the Tripitaka Koreana were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 and is one of the Three Jewel Temples of Korea. In this issue of ACCESS, the unique characteristics of this temple which earned itself the honourable title of UNESCO World Heritage Site will be explored and is worth noting as an impressive landmark in our sister province of Gyeongsangnam-do .
The Three Jewel Temples of Korea signify Buddhist temples in Korea that are meant to represent the three jewels of Buddhism: the Buddah； Dharma, or Buddhist teaching； and Sangha, or Buddhist community. Haeinsa Temple represents Dharma, as embodied in the Tripitaka Koreana. Although most Korean Buddhist temples consider the most important building to be the central hall where important historical figures of the Buddha are displayed, in the Three Jewel Temples of Korea, it is the structure that emphasizes its respective “jewel” that is the most revered. Therefore, at Haeinsa, the two large buildings which house the Tripitaka Koreana are considered the most valuable.
Organized onto 81,258 wooden blocks, with a total of 6,568 volumes and 1,496 titles, and conveyed through 52,382,960 characters, one would assume the Tripitaka Koreana must be in deplorable condition today due to its sheer immensity. On the contrary, it is precisely the amazing condition that these wooden blocks have been left in that prompted the UNESCO committee to note the genius peculiarities of the structure that preserves the Tripitaka Koreana, thereby justifying its designation as a World Heritage Site.
This storage site is known as the Janggyeong Panjeon complex and is designated as the 52nd national treasure of Korea. Since its construction in 1488, it has been protecting the woodblocks for centuries and is the oldest section of the temple. During the Korean War, it narrowly avoided being bombed when an air force pilot was ordered to drop bombs on the mountain to subdue North Korean troops hiding there. However, recalling the existence of a temple that housed a national treasure on the mountain side, the pilot deliberately disobeyed orders, thus ensuring the preservation of the Tripitaka Koreana in the immaculate condition that countless Buddhist scholars around the world can find them in today.
Several ingenious techniques are used to preserves the blocks in the Janggyeong Panjeon. Standing at 655 meters above sea level the temple faces southwest, thereby allowing it to avoid damp southeasternly winds from the valley below while at the same time buffeting the cold north winds using the mountain peaks. The numerous windows are intended to maximize ventilation and moderate the temperature, and no part of the complex is exposed to shade. Charcoal, calcium oxide, salt, lime and sand fill the clay floors to absorb moisture when it rains, reducing the amount of humidity, and conversely retains moisture during the dry winter months.
The woodblocks themselves were soaked in seawater for three years, then cut into blocks and boiled in salt water. Afterwards, they were dried in the shade and exposed to winds for another three years before the surface was planed smooth. After the text was engraved, the blocks were given a poisonous lacquer coating to repel harmful insects and each corner was reinforced with metal to prevent warping. These precautions against aging and weathering have preserved the wooden blocks of the Tripitaka Koreana for over 750 years! Having survived in such excellent condition for so long, the Tripitaka Koreana and the Janggyeong Panjeon are worth noting and even perhaps, taking that short trip across the Sea of Japan to visit.