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Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Namo Palbeon Daebosal, Part V: Haeinsa, Hapcheon, Southern Gyeongsang

Haeinsa (Hangul/Hanja/English: 해인사/海印寺/Temple of the Ocean Mudra) is a head temple of the Jogye Order (대한불교조계종, 大韓佛敎曹溪宗) of Korean Buddhism in 122 Haeinsa Drive/Haeinsa-gil, Chiin-ri 10-beonji, Gaya-myeon, Hapcheon County, Southern Gyeongsang Province, South Korea. Located at the slopes of Mount Gaya, Haeinsa is most notable for being the home of the Tripitaka Koreana, the whole of the Buddhist Scriptures carved onto 81,350 wooden printing blocks, which it has housed since 1398 (6th Year of King Taejo Yi Seonggye of Joseon Dynasty).

Haeinsa is one of the Three Jewel Temples of Korea, and represents Dharma or the Buddha’s teachings. It is still an active Seon/Zen (선, 禪) practice center in modern times, and was the home temple of the influential Rev. Seongcheol (성철, 性徹), who died in 1993.

The temple was first built in 802. Legend says that two Korean monks returned from China, Suneung and Ijeong, and healed King Aejang's (애장왕, 哀莊王) consort of her illness. In gratitude of the Buddha's mercy, King Aejang of Silla Dynasty (40th Monarch) ordered the construction of the temple. Another account, by Choi Chi-won in 900 states that Suneung and his disciple Ijeong, gained the support of a queen dowager who converted to Buddhism and then helped to finance the construction of the temple.

The temple complex was renovated in the 10th century, 1488, 1622, and 1644. Huirang, the temple abbot enjoyed the patronage of King Taejo Wanggeon of Goryeo during that king’s reign. Haeinsa was burned down in a fire in 1817 and was rebuilt in 1818. Another renovation in 1964 uncovered a royal robe of King Gwanghae, who was responsible for the 1622 renovation, and an inscription on a ridge beam.

The main hall, Daejeokkwangjeon (대적광전, 大寂光殿: Hall of Great Silence and Light), is unusual because it is dedicated to Vairocana where most other Korean temples house Shakyamuni (Kr. Seokgamoni/석가모니) in their main halls.

The Temple of Haeinsa and the Depositories for the "Tripitaka Koreana" Woodblocks, were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995. The UNESCO committee noted that the buildings housing the Tripitaka Koreana are unique because no other historical structure was specifically dedicated to the preservation of artifacts and the techniques used were particularly ingenious. The temple also holds several official treasures including a realistic wooden carving of a monk and interesting Buddhist paintings, stone pagodas, and lanterns.

After the Gwangbokjeol, when the Korean War broke out, Haeinsa encountered a crisis. In September 1951, after the Battle of Inchon, South Korea turned the war around but then North Korea did not retreat so the remnants of one thousand North Korean soldiers around Haeinsa enacted guerrilla war. UN forces were ordered to bomb Haeinsa with four bombers. However, at that time Kim Young-hwan, Leader of Air Force pilots worried about the loss of Haeinsa Tripitaka Koreana and did not obey the command. Due to his lack of action, Haeinsa weathered the crisis and did not experience the bombing. The monument of Haeinsa Gongdeokbi honors him with the landscaped grounds of Haeinsa.

The 52nd Korean Republic National Treasure: Janggyeong Panjeon (장경판전/藏經板殿)
The storage halls known as the Janggyeong Panjeon complex are the depository for the Tripitaka Koreana woodblocks at Haeinsa and were also designated by the Korean government as a national treasure of Korea on December 20, 1962. They are some of the largest wooden storage facilities in the world. Remarkably, the halls were untouched during the Japanese invasion of Korea and were spared from the 1818 fire that burned most of the temple complex down. All told, the storage halls have survived seven serious fires and one near-bombing during the Korean War when a pilot disobeyed orders because he remembered that the temple held priceless treasures.

Janggyeong Panjeon complex is the oldest part of the temple and houses the 81,258 wooden printing blocks from the Tripitaka Koreana. Although the exact construction date of the hall that houses the Tripitaka Koreana is uncertain, it is believed that King Sejo expanded and renovated it in 1457. The complex is made up of four halls arranged in a rectangle and the style is very plain because of its use as a storage facility. The northern hall is called Beopbojeon (Hall of Dharma) and the southern hall is called Sudarajang (Hall of Sutras). These two main halls are 60.44 meters in length, 8.73 meters in width, and 7.8 meters in height. Both have fifteen rooms with two adjoining rooms. Additionally, there are two small halls on the east and west which house two small libraries.

Several ingenious preservation techniques are utilized to preserve the wooden printing blocks. The architects also utilized nature to help preserve the Tripitaka. The storage complex was built at the highest point of the temple and is 655 meters above sea level. Janggyeong Panjeon faces southwest to avoid damp southeasterly winds from the valley below and is blocked from the cold north wind by mountain peaks. Different sized windows on the north and south sides of both main halls are used for ventilation, utilizing principles of hydrodynamics. The windows were installed in every hall to maximize ventilation and regulate 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. Apparently, animals, insects, and birds avoid the complex but the reason for this is unknown. These sophisticated preservation measures are widely credited as the reason the woodblocks have survived in such fantastic condition to this day.

In 1970, a modern storage complex was built utilizing modern preservation techniques but when test woodblocks were found to have mildewed, the intended move was cancelled and the woodblocks remained at Haeinsa.