Tripitaka Koreana

 The Tripisaka Korana is the oldest surviving version of the Buddhist doctrine and the most complete collection of Buddhist texts, laws and treaties engraved on about 80,000 wooden blocks. It was built in the 13th century. Tripisaka Koreana is engraved in the Hanja script and contains over 52 million characters, arranged in over 1,496 headings and 6,568 volumes. The height of each wooden block is 24 cm and the length is 70 cm. If they were stacked one on top of the other, they would be as tall as Mount Baikdu at 2,740 meters. If laid along the length, they would be 60 km long and weigh 280 tonnes in total.

The original Tripisaka Korana was carved over a period of 70 years in the 11th century, but was destroyed during the Mongol invasions of Korea in 1232. In the hope that the Buddha would intervene and help drive out the Mongols, King Gojong ordered its subsequent revision and - again - the composition of the Tripitaka. Thus the carving started in 1237 and was completed in 12 years. It was a massive project employing thousands of scholars and craftsmen. The dedication and the huge national commitment of money and manpower involved would be comparable to that of the Apollo missions in the 1960s.

According to tradition, the monks used wood from silver magnolia, white birch and cherry trees from the southern coast of the peninsula. The wood was soaked in sea water for three years, then cut into individual blocks. The blocks were placed in the shade and exposed to air for another three years, at which point they were ready for carving. After each block was carved, it was covered in a toxic lacquer to keep insects away and then lined with metal to prevent warping. The method of preservation worked exceptionally well as the blocks are now more than 780 years old and in pristine condition.

In the early years of the Yi dynasty, the Tripitaka was moved to the Temple of Hinshaw on the slopes of Mount Guaisan, where it has remained in four buildings from 1398. The building where Tripitaka resides is called Janggyong Panjon. It was built in the 15th century, specifically to hold the blocks.

Jangyeong Pangeon is a marvel in itself for the remarkably effective conservation solutions that were employed in their design to protect the wooden blocks from deterioration, while providing easy access and storage. Janggyong Panjian is made up of four halls with several rooms arranged in a rectangle around a courtyard. The store complex was built at the highest point of the temple, which is about 650 meters above sea level. Janggyeong Panjeon faces southwest to avoid moist southeasterly winds from the valley below. The cold north wind is blocked by the mountains. On both the north and south sides of the main hall different sized windows are used to control ventilation and temperature. The clay floors were filled with charcoal, calcium oxide, salt, lime and sand, which reduce moisture when it rains by absorbing excess moisture that is then retained during the dry winter months. The roof is also made from clay and the bracketing and wooden rafters prevent sudden changes in temperature. In addition, no part of the complex is exposed to the sun. These sophisticated conservation measures are widely credited as having survived the woodblocks in such great condition to this day.

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