Daegu National Museum
The Daegu National Museum, established in 1994, is a relatively small museum but I thought it well worth a visit as it gives you a nice introduction into the history of South Korea (all the signs being both English and Korean). The number of exhibits is relatively small so you are actually able to take all of them in without overloading your brain – unlike the National Museum in Seoul where you need repeat visits to make sense of it all. The other advantage of the Daegu Museum is that the entrance is free. The exhibits are spread across three different areas, namely, the “Ancient Culture Hall”, the “Medieval Culture Hall”, and “The Textiles and Clothing Hall”. The first two halls cover the South Korean history from the Stone Ages to the Joseon Dyanasty (i.e. the last Korean dynasty which lasted from 1392 to 1897) while the last hall concentrates, as the name suggests, on the history of textiles.
Haeinsa Temple is one of the Three Jewels Temples in Korea. These are the three most important Buddhist temples in Korea and each represents one of the Three Jewels of Buddhism. The other two are Tongdosa Temple and SonggwangsaTemple. Buddhists take refuge in these three temples which are also known as Triple Gem or the Three Refuges. Each of these temples represents the Three Jewels of Buddhism the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. Haeinsa Temple represents the Dharma are the teachings of Buddha. The Dharma are the teachings of Buddha. Tongdosa Temple represents the Buddha is the fully enlightened one and the founder of the Buddhism. Songgwangsa Temple represents the Sangha is the monastic order of Buddhism that practices the Dharma. Generally, the highest and most important building in a Korean Buddhist temple is the Mahavira Hall or Main Hall enshrining statues of Buddha and other important figures. But in the Three Jewel Temples the most important buildings are those that celebrate the particular jewel of the temple. In Haeinsa temple this is the Janggyeong Panjeon, halls that hold the Tripitaka Koreana or Daejanggyeongpan created in the thirteenth century. This is the complete works of the teachings of Buddha printed on wooden blocks, an achievement inextricably linked with the history of the temple.
The first temple was built on this site in 802 during the short reign of King Aejang of the Silla Kingdom. According to legend it was built by two Korean monks, Suneung and his disciple Ijeong. They had just returned from China and had discovered that Aejang’s was suffering from a tumour. The monks tied one end of a piece of string to the tumour and the other end to a tree. The monks chanted special verses and gradually the tumour started to wither. At the same time the tree began to die. When the queen recovered the king was so grateful that he decided to build this temple. But, there is a another, simpler story relating to its construction. Suneung and Ijeong gained the support of a queen Dowager who converted to Buddhism and then donated some money to the temple. This temple has been re-built and enlarged since it was first built. As the temples were built of wood they were often burnt down and re-built, the main hall dating from 1818 for example. The oldest part of the temple is the complex of buildings called the Janggyeong Panjeon, where the Tripitaka Koreana is kept. Although the date of their original construction is not known they were expanded and renovated in 1457. These halls have survived seven temple fires and escaped the bombs of the Korean War. During this war orders were given to bomb the temple but the pilot of the plane recognised the importance of the building and refused to bomb it. He was court martialled and imprisoned but later, when he was released he was hailed as a hero for saving the temple.
It took sixteen years to complete the Tripitaka Koreana. A copy of the Buddhist scriptures was commissioned by the Korean government (then in exile) in the hope of persuading Buddha to intervene in the crisis caused by the Mongolian Invasion. Over eighty thousand blocks inscribed with nearly seven thousand volumes were made. The wood blocks were made of white birch, a tradition in Korea. The wood is first soaked and then boiled in sea water for three years and then dried in the shade for three years. Once completed the blocks were stored and ingenious techniques were employed to preserve them. The storage unit was built at the highest point of the temple facing southwest to avoid damp south easterly winds and sheltered from the cold north wind by the surrounding mountains. Different sized windows were used for ventilation and to regulate the temperature. Filling the clay floors with charcoal and other moisture absorbing materials reduced the humidity when it rained by absorbing excess moisture. The roof was also made from clay and the bracketing and wooden rafters prevented sudden changes in temperature. No part of the complex was exposed to the sun and animals, insects and birds avoided the area but it is not known why. These preservation measures are deemed responsible for the wooden blocks surviving to this day. Although a modern storage complex was built in 1970 the woodblocks were not moved there as it was discovered they were mildewed. However, the words have now been recorded in electronic form. Note that you can not see what the actual scriptures look like, but you can see the wooden blocks by peering through the slotted windows from the courtyard.
I visited Haein-Sa during a day-trip from Daegu. Buses to the Haeinsa Temple depart from Daegu West Bus Terminal several times a day. Generally, there is no need to buy tickets in advance as they can easily be bought at the bust station. However, bring some cash as they did not accept foreign credit cards when I visited. The journey takes about 2 hours and the bus driver will shout out the stop for the Haeinsa Temple.