Located in Gaya-san, Hapcheon province, Haeinsa Temple is said to be home to the largest number of monks who cultivate themselves religiously in Korea. The temple has a long history and is notable for housing the Tripitaka Koreana (Goryeo Daejanggyeong aka Great Collection of the Scriptures of Goryeo), the vast canon, proudly asserts that it is the utmost symbol of Goryeo Buddhism. It has a great collection of scriptures in more than 80,000 woodblocks. The scriptures are carved on both sides of these blocks and make a total of some 160,000 pages. Each side has some 300 characters and as such, the entire Tripitaka has some 52 million characters.
The temple has since been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995. It is the first temple dedicated to the Korean Avantamsaka School of Buddhism and it houses the most comprehensive woodblock edition of Buddhist scriptures ever made. The first woodblock version was compiled in China during the Song Dynasty. But all of the early Chinese editions were somehow destroyed. It was first destroyed during the Mongol invasions in the early 13th century. History textbooks explained that the Goryeo government undertook the project with the hope of expelling the Mongol invaders with the assistance of the Buddha.
The temple's layout is typical of a Korean mountain monastery. Let's explore this historical temple.
The first entrance into the temple is the One Pillar Gate which symbolises an aspiration towards Buddhahood. The gate itself represents the teaching of the Buddha that all things are illusionary, they aren't what they appear to be. Translating from the Chinese words, it also means the Gate of Non-Duality and it means the one-ness of all things and phenomena.
(The main gate facing outside)
(The main gate facing inside)
Not too far from the first gate stands the Gosamok Tree, which is a zelkova planted 1,200 years ago to commemorate the establishment of the temple. It is said that the king then planted this tree on his own in gratitude of the monks who helped to heal his queen of her disease. The tree has since withered but it is still kept as a monument in the temple.
The next gate, which leads to the main temple compound, is the Haein-Chongrim which means the Haein Forest Monastery. This is also the Cheongwang-mun which enshrines four fearful-looking guardians of the heavenly king who guard the Buddhist world and fight off the evil.
The storage halls of the Tripitake Koreana are located on the highest level of the temple compound, and designed to facilitate natural ventilation, humidity and temperature control with no obvious device other than the open grill windows.
The compound consists of 4 buildings and each building is laid out in rectangular shape. With careful planning, the buildings face the southwest so as not to get direct sunlight. And to maintain the right humidity inside the buildings, salt, charcoal, powdered lime and sand are used in the inner floorings.
The Tripitaka Koreana consists of three collections - Buddhist Scriptures, Precepts and Discourses. The Buddha was a great teacher born more than 2,500 years ago and taught the way for liberation for 45 years. These collections captured the Buddha's words systematically.
The Tripitaka Koreana is also called the Goryeo Daejangkyung (高丽大藏经) because it was published in the period of Goryeo and it reflected the people's aspirations for overcoming the nation's crisis by relying on the Buddha's teachings against the invasion of the Kitan and the Mongols.
Each block measures about 68cm by 24.5cm, and weighs about 3.2kg. Unfortunately, the halls are not open to the public and I could only view the wooden blocks through the gaps outside the halls. Only 1 piece amongst the thousands of wooden blocks was on display, which has the Heart Sutra text engraved on it.
Haeinsa is the first temple in Korea dedicated to the Korean Avantamsaka School of Buddhism, and hence the master Buddha of the Avantamsaka Sutra, Vairocana Buddha, is enshrined in the main hall known as Daejeokgwagjeon, meaning the Hall of Great Silence and Light.
Stone Pagodas are found in most (if not all) temples. Historically, pagodas were meant to house the remains of the Buddha. In Korea, these pagodas house the remains of Buddhist monks or nuns in that monastery. Therefore, it is not unusual to see people paying respects to such pagodas.
For temples that are found in the forests, the compound is spacious and there is usually an open hall (Bumjong Gak) with 4 percussion-like instruments. Known as Samul, they include the Dharma Bell, the Dharma Drum, the Wooden Fish and the Cloud Gong.
The Dharma Drum sends the message of the Dharma to lead all land animals to enlightenment.
The Dharma Bell is rung to redeem the souls of beings in hell, to gather people in the temple, and to announce the time.
The striking of the cloud bell, usually made of bronze or iron, is to lead all air-living creatures into the heavens.
The Wooden Fish is in the shape of a carp and the hitting on this instrument is meant to send message to beings living in the water so that they will realise the awakening too.
In case you are wondering if there is anything less religious, there is a cosy tea-house, Haein Café, in the temple's vicinity! It is an ideal place to really rest, chill and relax.
The overall experience in Haeinsa has been an pleasant and peaceful experience. The key to visiting temple is to allow yourself time to explore and immerse into the serenity. The compound is big and is surrounded by a several other smaller temple. Every turn is an experience!
Getting to Haeinsa
- From Dong Daegu KTX Station, walk to the Daegu Subway station (2 mins)
- Take Line 1 (Red Line) to Seongdangmot Station (9 stops, 15 mins)
- Exit the station by taking the lift to the street level (Exit 3) and walk to the West Daegu Intercity Bus Terminal (2 mins)
- Buy the bus ticket to Haeinsa. Bus leaves every 40 mins. The journey takes about 1.5 hours.
There is quite a distance to go even after you've passed the Haeinsa gate. I alighted at the last stop where there were shops and hotel-alike building and took a taxi to Haeinsa temple. The journey took about 5 mins.