Printing woodblocks of the Tripitaka Koreana and miscellaneous Buddhist scriptures

The Goryeo Daejanggyeong (Goryeo dynasty Tripitaka), known as the “Tripitaka Koreana” to the modern scholarly world, is a Korean collection of the Tripitaka (Buddhist scriptures). Carved onto 81,258 wooden printing blocks in the 13th century, under commission by the Goryeo dynasty of Korea (918-1392 CE), it is currently stored at Haeinsa Monastery in the southwest of the Korean Peninsula. It is often called the Palman Daejanggyeong ("Eighty-thousand Tripitaka") due to the number of the printing plates that comprise it. 

The Tripitaka (in Sanskrit, meaning "Three Baskets"), or Daejanggyeong in Korean, refers to the collection of Buddhist scriptures, or Buddhist canon, that relate to discourses with the Buddha (Sutta-pitaka), regulations of monastic life (Vinaya-pitaka), and commentaries on the sutras by renowned monks and scholars (Abhidhamma-pitaka). When Buddhism was transmitted to East Asia through China, and the Buddhist scriptures translated from various Indian and Central Asian languages to classical Chinese (the lingua franca of educated discourse throughout East Asia, including Korea), there were several attempts by several countries to inscribe them in wooden printing blocks for distribution. However, the Tripitaka Koreana is the only complete canon still extant on the mainland of Asia. 

Though the Tripitaka Koreana was a task commissioned by the Goryeo dynasty to produce an edition of the Tripitaka in wooden printing blocks, there were also individual woodblocks of miscellaneous Buddhist scriptures commissioned directly by Haeinsa Monastery. With year of scribing dating from 1098 to 1958, there are 5,987 miscellaneous woodblocks that have been created and stored at Haeinsa Monastery. These miscellaneous scripture woodblocks, some of which are the only extant copy in the world, were created to supplement the Tripitaka. 

The woodblocks of the Tripitaka Koreana and miscellaneous scriptures possess high cultural value as an example of the best printing and publishing techniques of the period. Each block was systematically and meticulously prepared, and individually and beautifully inscribed with a great degree of regularity. Their excellent durability has been proven well, as the printing blocks can even now print crisp, complete copies of the Tripitaka, 760 years after its creation. 

Due to the sophistication of its editing and process of compilation and collation, the Tripitaka Koreana is known as the most accurate of the Tripitakas written in classical Chinese; as a standard critical edition for East Asian Buddhist scholarship, it has been widely distributed and used over the ages. 

The woodblocks of the Tripitaka Koreana and miscellaneous Buddhist scriptures show an outline of a complete "knowledge system" that produces and distributes knowledge. The Tripitaka is a compilation of Buddhist literature including scripture, disciplinary manuals, commentary, doxography and history; based on this collection of information a unique system of scholastic research was established. 

These wooden printing blocks became a medium through which knowledge could be produced and distributed continuously. Using these woodblocks, Haeinsa Monastery printed copies every time need arose, as resources for research and material for the education of the ordained. Accordingly, Haeinsa Monastery was able to become a central locus for the traditional practice of knowledge transmission, where Buddhist education, the preservation of knowledge, and scholastic research could be conducted. Even in the present, Haeinsa Monastery reflects this tradition as a centre of Buddhist scholastic study as the designated Dharma-jewel Monastery of Korea, responsible for the teaching and transmission of the Dharma, amongst the Three Precious Jewels of Buddhism: Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, i.e. Buddha, the Law, and the Ecclesia or Order. Read more about this element on the UNESCO Memory of the World website.

The Silk Roads on the Map

Country profile

flag Republic of Korea
Capital: Seoul
Region: Asia and the Pacific

This platform has been developed and maintained with the support of:


UNESCO Headquarters

7 Place de Fontenoy

75007 Paris, France

Social and Human Sciences Sector

Research, Policy and Foresight Section

Silk Roads Programme

Follow us