Digital technology helps preserve South Korea's Buddhist scriptures

By Lim Yun Suk, Channel NewsAsia's Korea Bureau Chief, November 1, 2004

KYONGSANG, South Korea -- Modern technology has helped safeguard one of the world's best preserved collection of Buddhist scriptures in South Korea. For the past 12 centuries - Haeinsa Temple - meaning the "Temple of Reflections on a Calm Sea" - has been home to one of Korea's most treasured heritage sites, the Tripitaka Koreana.

In Korean, it's called Palmandaejangkyong, meaning 80,000 wooden blocks.

To be precise, there are 81,258 wooden printing blocks, all carved by hand with Chinese characters.

They've been housed in the temple since 1398 and inscribed with rules for monks, the Buddha's teachings and commentaries added down the ages.

Reverand Sae Min is the head monk at Haeinsa Temple, most famous for the Tripitaka Koreana, the wooden blocks containing the teachings of Buddha.

Now in his 60s, the monk has a new task to do - to ensure the Tripitaka Koreana can remain preserved for hundreds more years.

The writings will be transferred with the help of modern technology.

Woo Youn may be a medium-sized firm, but it has won several international awards, including the recognition from the South Korean government for its so-called "super-micro particle processing technology".

This enables it to make designs on copper or bronze plates by "etching" 26,000 micro holes per square metre.

The characters are digitalised and then transferred onto film before being branded onto a special bronze plate.

This goes through a chemical process of imprinting and melting.

And finally, it goes through this special machine, turning it into a duplicate of the original.

Instead of just making one copy of the Tripitaka Koreana's 81,000-plus blocks, it's doing them in triplicate.

The idea is one copy will be placed with the rest of the new set at Haeinsa Temple, a second can be taken home, and the third sent to North Korea.