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The Contents of Tripitaka Koreana, More Significant than the Scale of the Woodblocks
By Kim Jong-mok
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Koreans regard the Goryeo Daejanggyeong (Tripitaka Koreana), inscribed in the Memory of the World Register, as an object, in other words as printing woodblocks. They focus on its age, as the world's oldest wooden printing blocks of the Tripitaka, and on its immense scale, with 1,538 scriptures and 81,258 wooden printing blocks. The scientific technology which preserved the original wooden plates is also the basis of public interest and pride.


Cho Sung-taek, a philosophy professor at Korea University claims that the public's perception of the Tripitaka as just wooden blocks was born from the loss of sovereignty and experience as a colony in the early 20th century. Cho said, "The most certain way to confirm the ethnic identity and pride was through cultural heritage which one could experience with one's five senses." However, he continued, "The Tripitaka is not simply an old and beautiful work of woodcraft, but the intellectual product and academic fruit of the Koreans in the 13th century. Its value lies in the accuracy of the text, which was possible thanks to world-class intellectual and academic capacity."




An international symposium on "The Thoughts, Culture and System of the Tripitaka Koreana" was held on September 3 at the Seoul Plaza Hotel, organized by Haeinsa Temple, South Gyeongsang Province, and Hapcheon-gun. The speakers included Lewis Lancaster, professor emeritus at UC Berkeley; Robert Buswell, a professor at UCLA; Hisayuki Baba, adjunct professor at Bukkyo University in Japan; and Choy Young-ho, a professor of archaeology and art history at Dong-A University, while Cho Sung-taek, and Cho Eun-su, a professor of philosophy at Seoul National University attended as discussants.


Buswell joined the Buddhist priesthood in the 1970s at Songgwangsa Temple in Suncheon and engaged in Zen meditation for five years becoming one of the first "Buddhist monks with blue eyes." He introduced Sugi (1236-1251), a monk-scholar who was in charge of creating the Tripitaka and explained the significance of the Tripitaka Koreana in the world's history of knowledge.

He defined Sugi as a pioneer who first engaged in the formal technique of literary criticism and assessed him to be a more excellent literary critic than Erasmus. Buswell said that the thirty volumes of the Goryeoguksinjodaejanggyojeongbyeollok which Sugi left behind recorded in detail the entire process of how they collected and compiled thousands of various editions of scriptures. According to Buswell, Sugi made some speculative revisions, but added the warning, "In hopes that a future wise man will solve the problem." Buswell added that Sugi was great for he did not distinguish the fine line drawn between secular texts and Buddha's teachings.


Buswell also pointed out that it was inappropriate to call the Goryeo Daejanggyeong the Tripitaka Koreana in English. Tripitaka Koreana is Sanskrit and by calling Daejanggyeong Tripitaka, which means "three baskets" or "three storage places" Buswell claimed the English name seemed to keep the Daejanggyeong within the category of the Indian model of Tripitaka. He suggested that it should be called the Korean Buddhist Canon or by its Korean name, Goryeo Daejanggyeong.


Hisayuki Baba revealed for the first time that Japan used the Tripitaka Koreana in national prayers. He said, "The Ashikaga clan, which ruled Kyoto, the capital of Japan in the 15th century Muromachi period, read the Tripitaka Koreana in their prayers, and prayed not only for the well-being of their clan but also of Japan. These prayers were carried out in Kyoto and its surrounding areas as well as nationwide."


According to the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty, Japan requested Joseon for the Tripitaka Koreana 65 times. Joseon bestowed 45 copies of The Tripitaka. The Ashikaga clan received 20 copies. Professor Baba said, "From the academic aspect, the Tripitaka Koreana was excellent as a text. It also had value in terms of faith for they installed a rotating device (a device with eight sides created to allow readers to read the scripture in a Buddhist sanctuary) in the sanctuary, which allowed believers to gain the same merit of having read the Tripitaka in full when they turned the device a full circle. Japan used the Tripitaka Koreana as the original script for the쟆apanese collated edition of the Tripitaka (Dainihon kotei kunten Tripitaka) and the Taisho Tripitaka.


Choy Young-ho claimed that during Japanese occupation, several researchers applied cultural identity and heteronomy to the Tripitaka Koreana and pointed out that facts concerning those responsible for the creation of the Tripitaka and the nature of the Tripitaka had been distorted. Choy said, "At the time, many scholars identified the Tripitaka Koreana as a reprint of the Song Dynasty's Tripitaka. They claimed the Tripitaka was produced on orders by the military rule of the Choe family and stated the purpose of the Tripitaka as securing their rule, reducing the historical fact that the purpose of the Tripitaka was to bring peace and security to the nation by overcoming the Mongolian invasion."


Lancaster said that the research of the Tripitaka Koreana should not be limited to a few disciplines. He claimed that only a collaboration of various disciplines including the humanities and social sciences as well as the material sciences could properly evaluate the nature and significance of the wooden blocks. This symposium was held prior to the 2013 Tripitaka Koreana Festival. The festival will be held from September 27 to November 10 at Haeinsa Temple and at the Tripitaka Koreana Record Culture Theme Park.

Copyright The Kyunghyang Shinmun. All rights reserved. Reproduction and redistribution without permission absolutely prohibited.

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