Tripitaka Koreana

Oct 6, 2021 3 comments

The Tripiṭaka Koreana is the oldest surviving version of the Buddhist canon and the most complete collection of Buddhist texts, laws and treaties extant, engraved on approximately 80,000 woodblocks. It was made in the 13th century. The Tripiṭaka Koreana is engraved in Hanja script and contains more than 52 million characters, organized in over 1,496 titles and 6,568 volumes. Each wood block measures 24 centimeters in height and 70 centimeters in length. If they are stacked on top of another, they would be as tall as Mount Baekdu at 2,740 meters. If laid along the length they would measure 60 km long and weigh 280 tons in total.

Photo: xiquinhosilva/Flickr

The original Tripiṭaka Koreana was carved over a period of 70 years in the 11th century but was destroyed during the Mongol invasions of Korea in 1232. In the hope that Buddha will intervene and help drive out the Mongols, King Gojong thereafter ordered the revision and re-creation of the Tripiṭaka. Thus carving began in 1237 and was completed in 12 years. It was a massive project employing thousands of scholars and craftsmen. The dedication and the enormous national commitment of money and manpower involved would have been comparable to that of the Apollo mission in the 1960s.

According to tradition, monks used wood from silver magnolias, white birches and cherry trees from the Southern coast of the peninsula. The wood was soaked in sea water for three years, then cut into individual blocks. The blocks were placed in the shade and exposed to the wind for another three years, at which point they were ready to be carved. After each block was carved, it was covered in a poisonous lacquer to keep insects away and then framed with metal to prevent warping. The method of preservation worked exceptionally well as the blocks are now more than 780 years old and are in pristine condition.

Photo: Jim Mitchell/Flickr

In the early years of the Yi Dynasty, the Tripitaka was transferred to the Temple of Haeinsa on the slopes of Mount Gayasan, where it has remained housed in four buildings since 1398. The building where the Tripitaka resides is called the Janggyeong Panjeon. It was built in the 15th century, specifically to house the blocks.

The Janggyeong Panjeon itself is a marvel, for the remarkably effective conservation solutions that were employed in their design to protect the woodblocks from deterioration, while providing for easy access and storage. Janggyeong Panjeon is made up of four halls containing numerous rooms arranged in a rectangle around a courtyard. The storage complex was built at the highest point of the temple, which is about 650 meters above sea level. To avoid damp southeasterly winds from the valley below, the Janggyeong Panjeon faces southwest. The cold north wind is blocked by the mountains. Different sized windows on the north and south sides of both main halls are used for ventilation and regulating temperature. The clay floors were filled with charcoal, calcium oxide, salt, lime, and sand, which reduce humidity when it rains by absorbing excess moisture which is then retained during the dry winter months. The roof is also made with clay and the bracketing and wood rafters prevent sudden changes in temperature. Additionally, no part of the complex is exposed to sun. These sophisticated preservation measures are widely credited as the reason the woodblocks have survived in such fantastic condition to this day.

Photo: Mark DeMaio/Flickr

The buildings where the Tripitaka Koreana is kept. Photo: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra/Flickr

The buildings where the Tripitaka Koreana is kept. Photo: xiquinhosilva/Flickr

Comments

  1. Very frustrating: This does not describe what these blocks actually are. Where is the script? Is there no paper? is script carved on one side? Need to pull a block out so we can see it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The blocks are the pages. The text was carved into the wood.

    ReplyDelete

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