The Korea Herald


Tripitaka Koreana gets last public display

By Korea Herald

Published : Nov. 24, 2011 - 16:34

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National museum marks millennial anniversary of ancient Buddhist printing blocks

For those who have yet to see the wooden printing blocks of the Tripitaka Koreana, the world’s most comprehensive and oldest intact Buddhist canon, the time is now or never.

The National Palace Museum of Korea is holding a special exhibition celebrating the millennial anniversary of the ancient Korean relic, showcasing the Haein Temple’s wooden printing blocks of the Buddhist scripture to the public for the last time. The exhibition, which kicked off on Nov. 15, runs until Dec. 18.

The UNESCO-designated Haein Temple, which stores the wooden blocks in Hapcheon, South Gyeongsang Province, has decided not to have the relic available for public viewing after the exhibition, for preservation reasons, the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) of Korea said.

Titled as “Into the Future with the Record of a Millennium,” the exhibition features a total of 51 items related to the Buddhist canon, including the wooden printing blocks. Most of the featured items are the prints of the “Chojo Daejanggyeong,” the first edition of the Tripitaka Koreana.

According to Cultural Heritage Administration, the Buddhist scripture consists of Buddha’s teachings after he entered Nirvana. 
First edition of Tripitaka Koreana, Hyeonyang seonggyo ron (Acclamation of the Scriptural Teaching). (Cultural Heritage Administration) First edition of Tripitaka Koreana, Hyeonyang seonggyo ron (Acclamation of the Scriptural Teaching). (Cultural Heritage Administration)

“Chojo Daejanggyeong” was created in 1011 during Korea’s Goryeo Kingdom (935-1390), as the authorities sought to protect their nation through the Buddhist spirit.

They created a collection of Buddhist scriptures by carving wooden printing blocks, thinking it would invoke Buddha to send fortune to their country.

The earliest engraved version of the “Tripitaka” or “three collections of Buddhist scriptures,” was in fact created in 971 during the Song Dynasty of China, which later motivated the people of Goryeo to make their own.

However, “Chojo Daejanggyeong” was destroyed in a fire during the Mongolian invasion of Goryeo in 1232. A project was initiated by King Gojong of Goryeo from 1236 to 1251, to carve the whole Tripitaka all over again. The second edition, which is the result of 16 years of carving 81,258 blocks, is what is now stored in the Haein Temple.

“Both the first and second editions of the Tripitaka Koreana reflect the desire of Goryeo people to preserve and pass on the teachings of the Buddha with their own hands,” Kim Chan, administrator of CHA, said in a statement.

Now known as the 32nd national treasure of Korea, Tripitaka Koreana was inscribed in UNESCO’s Memory of the World in 2007. Its depository, Janggyeong Panjeon of the Haein Temple, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995.

Prior the exhibition, the Buddhist temple also held a 45-day international festival from Sept. 23 to Nov. 6, celebrating the millennial anniversary of the Buddhist canon. The event consisted of exhibitions of Tripitaka Koreana, academic forums and a showcase of woodcut works by 60 international artists.

The museum is open everyday except Mondays. Admission is free. An English language tour is available at 3 p.m. For more information, call 02 3701-7500.

By Claire Lee (