Haeinsa Temple, located atop Mount Gaya in South Gyeongsang Province, is a renowned Buddhist temple in Korea. Its origins can be traced back to the Silla kingdom, with historical records indicating that the construction of the Haeinsa Temple began in 802. However, the temple’s fame extends beyond its architectural beauty and spiritual sanctity. Haeinsa Temple is home to an invaluable treasure known as the Tripitaka Koreana, a collection of historical records that has stood the test of time.
History of Haeinsa Temple
Haeinsa Temple owes its existence to a tale of gratitude and benevolence. Legend has it that two monks, Suneung and Ijeong, returned to Korea from China, having successfully cured the empress of King Aejang of a grave illness. In gratitude for the miraculous healing, the king undertook the construction of the Haeinsa Temple as an expression of thanks to the Buddha.
Over the centuries, Haeinsa Temple has undergone numerous renovations to maintain its grandeur and preserve its cultural heritage. From the 900s to 1644, the temple complex was meticulously restored several times. 1817 following a devastating fire, King Taejo supported the Haeinsa head monk, Hirang, to facilitate the reconstruction efforts.
Tripitaka Koreana: A Treasure of Knowledge
Nestled within the walls of Haeinsa Temple lies the Tripitaka Koreana, an extraordinary collection of wooden slabs meticulously carved with Buddhist scriptures. The Tripitaka Koreana consists of a staggering 81,340 individual pieces and dates back to 1087 when Goryeo faced the threat of invasion by the Khitans. Its creation aimed to seek the Buddha’s protection for Korea against its enemies.
The significance of the Tripitaka Koreana extends beyond its historical value. It represents a remarkable feat of craftsmanship and dedication and a repository of ancient wisdom and knowledge. Each wooden slab was intricately carved, and the entire collection is a testament to the devotion of those who preserved Buddhism and Korean culture in the face of adversity.
Rebuilding of the Tripitaka
Sadly, the original set of Tripitaka woodblocks was largely destroyed during the Mongol invasion of Korea in 1232. Although a small portion survived, the national capital was relocated to Ganghwa Island. Determined to preserve this cultural treasure, King Gojong initiated the reconstruction of the Tripitaka in 1236, a process that lasted for 16 years until 1251.
During the rebuilding of the Tripitaka, there was extensive support from the Choe clan, a prominent noble family, and the active involvement of monks from the Seon and Kyo sects. This collaborative effort ensured the meticulous recreation of the scriptures, resulting in what is now known as the Tripitaka Koreana.
After completing the second revision, the Tripitaka Koreana was carefully transported to Haeinsa Temple, where a particular library was designated to house this invaluable collection. Since 1398, these wooden slabs have been preserved within the temple complex, serving as a testament to the enduring spirit of Buddhism and Korean history.
In recognition of its outstanding cultural value, Haeinsa Temple and the Tripitaka Koreana were jointly named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. This prestigious acknowledgment not only highlights the architectural and artistic significance of the temple but also celebrates the enduring legacy of the Tripitaka Koreana.
Moreover, the Tripitaka Koreana was included in the Memory of the World Register. This UNESCO program seeks to safeguard and raise awareness about the world’s documentary heritage. This acknowledgment further emphasizes the global importance of this remarkable collection and its significance in preserving the history and wisdom of Korea.
Haeinsa Temple is a testament to Korea’s rich cultural heritage. Its historical significance is deeply intertwined with the presence of the Tripitaka Koreana, a magnificent collection of wooden slabs carved with Buddhist scriptures. The temple’s enduring legacy, along with the invaluable Tripitaka Koreana, symbolizes devotion, resilience, and the preservation of Korean history and spirituality.
Credit photo: By Steve46814 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8478088