Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Woodblocks, Metaltype Printing in Goryeo

I went back to Los Angeles this past Friday for a friend's birthday and more -- on Sunday Morning, I took my grandmother to the Korea (Goryeo) Buddhist Temple (고려사, 高麗史) in Los Angeles. I'm not a religious person as in, perhaps, I consider myself to be spiritually devoid -- though that seems to take on too much of a negative connotation here, but my core values and interests overlap with that of tradition, family, and history.

These sermons are very difficult for me to follow the sermons and the chants/recitations make no sense to me whatsoever. To me they are all archaic Sino-Korean characters (next to each Korean character is a Hanja character), so it's difficult to follow what goes on (of course, the interesting topic to pursue, would of course be on how to make Korean Buddhism relevant in today's Korea).

Fortnuately, a large part of Sunday's sermon revolved around the history of Woodblocks and Metaltype Printing done during Goryeo of Buddhist scripture. On a side note, my grandmother whispered to me that "you are so lucky that you came today." She knows that I do have a deep interest in Korea (I ask her all the time how life was like when she was young).  So, while usually I would have a difficult time following the sermon, it was somewhat easier this time as I had read up a little bit on the topic of woodblock and metaltype printing done in Goryeo.

Moveable metaltype printing is claimed to have first been developed in Goryeo (a Korean dynasty preceding Joseon), though woodblock prints have a history of much more extensive usage in Korea for a number of reasons. And, just as the Bible was the first book to be published in the West, so was Buddhist text printed in the Far East. However, unlike the Bible, and please, I'm not here to argue who invented what first or to even acknowledge that it's relevance in this discussion (though I do put up a link below on this topic below), but this printing could be considered a wonder of the world. It's not just a book that was printed, but an entire library. 

It [The Tripitaka Koreana, 팔만 대장경, 八萬大藏經] is the world's most comprehensive and oldest intact version of Buddhist canon in Chinese script, with no known errors or errata in the 52,382,960 characters which are organized in over 1496 titles and 6568 volumes. Each wood block measures 70 centimeters in width and 24 centimeters in length. The thickness of the blocks range from 2.6 to 4 centimeters and each weighs about three to four kilograms (The Tripitaka Koreana, Wikipedia).
It is and has been housed in Haein-Sa temple (해인사, 海印寺) for centuries now and was originally created so that Buddha would help defend the country from Khitans (early Manchurians). Anyways, I wanted to get a better idea of the Tripitaka Koreana/PalMan Daejanggyeong, so I thought I'd share a site that might be of interest to others as well.

For its historical relevance in terms of how it influenced East Asian Buddhist Scripture, check the UNESCO listing. For how it may have influenced the West (well and then the world over again), check out Gutenberg and the Koreans: Did East Asian Printing Traditions Influence the European Renaissance? (Thomas Christensen)

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