Printing woodblocks of the Tripitaka Koreana and miscellaneous Buddhist scriptures

With the coming of Buddhism to East Asia came the Buddhist scriptures ("tripitaka"). These were first brought to China from India and translated into Chinese. In early centuries, many variant versions of the scriptures circulated, some translated better, and some poorer. A printed, definitive edition was badly needed. The first attempt at this was undertaken in late 10th century during the Northern Sung dynasty, the second around early 11th century in the Liao dynasty, and the third in Korea (in 1087 but the copy was destroyed during an invasion by the Mongols). A new edition ("Tripitaka Koreana") was completed in Korea in 1251. This last edition was paid for by the state and was a massive scholarly effort, involving in-depth study of the texts by a large group of scholars to establish the best possible translation. Having established a definitive text containing about 52 million Chinese characters, the 81,258 woodblocks required to print it were cut. The blocks were cut with great care, the characters of great beauty, the wood of the highest quality, and the workmanship superb. The Tripitaka Koreana exemplifies the sophisticated technique and culture of East Asian woodblock printing at the time. A further 5,987 woodblocks commissioned by the Haeinsa Monastry were cut between 1098 and 1958 to allow printing of other miscellaneous Buddhist texts.

These woodblocks have been carefully preserved until today, and are still perfect: they were used to print copies of the full text of Tripitaka Koreana until recent years. They are the only woodblocks of these scriptures to have survived. This text was taken as definitive by the Japanese scholars who printed the first modern copy in 1922–1934, and remains the definitive text of the scriptures. It is central to the whole Buddhist tradition in East Asia, and as such is a historical document of the great importance. These 87,245 woodblocks were inscribed on the International Memory of the World Register in 2007.

International Register



The woodblocks are housed in specialist facilities in the Haeinsa Monastery designed to aid their preservation by natural means. ~ Haeinsa Monastery