From New World Encyclopedia
Haeinsa temple.jpg
Korean name
Hangul 해인사
Hanja 海印寺
Revised Romanization Haeinsa
McCune-Reischauer Haeinsa

Haeinsa Temple Janggyeong Panjeon, the Depositories for the Tripitaka Koreana Woodblocks*
UNESCO World Heritage Site
State Party Flag of South Korea (bordered).svg Republic of Korea
Type Cultural
Criteria iv, vi
Reference 737
Region** Asia-Pacific
Inscription history
Inscription 1995  (19th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

Buddhism has been a major force in the creation of Korean culture and civilization since the Three Kingdoms of Korea period. Missionaries from China brought the teaching of Buddhism that had originated in India. Korea proved a fertile ground for the acceptance, spread and development of Buddhism. Korea has a history of intense and fervent religious practice. Surely Haeinsa is one of the outstanding examples of that profound religious practice that epitomizes the Korean people and culture.

One of the foremost Buddhist temples in South Korea, Haeinsa has housed the Tripitaka Koreana since 1398 C.E. Although many East Asian Buddhist nations have full set of the Mahayana Buddhist Scriptures, the Tripitaka Koreana is reputedly the best. The Tripitaka Koreana 6,802 volumes carved on 81,258 double-sided wood printing blocks using 52,382,960 characters.

Haeinsa has been interpreted "Reflections of the Calm Sea" Temple. "Hae" is interpreted "sea," and "in" means "signature seal" = reflection made by the signature seal. A sign board at the temple site explains that the Haeinsa infers that an image reflected on calm water symbolizes the way Buddhist teachings reflect reality. The Hwaom sect, which merged with the Seon sect currently residing at Haeinsa, uses the symbolism of a calm sea, and the stormy sea.

The Hwaom doctrine holds that the stormy sea resembles the life of pain, suffering, and delusion while the calm sea resembles the harmony of existence and ultimate reality. Buddha's teaching is symbolized by the calm sea, that the understanding of reality comes only through Enlightenment. Haeinsa has also been interpreted as "Temple of Reflection on a Smooth Sea."


Legend says that King Aejang's wife suffered from a dire illness that failed to respond to all medical treatment. He sent royal officials throughout the country to seek out monks who might work a miraculous cure. Two Korean monks, Suneung and Ijeong from China had established a hermitage on the ground that Haeinsa now stands. One official came upon them mediating and witnessed a brilliant radiance emanating from them. They refused his request to accompany him to the palace, giving him a spool of thread with five colors. The monks instructed him to tie one end of the thread to the queen's finger and the other end to a pear tree in front of the palace. Following their instructions, the queen healed while the pear tree withered. The legend states that in 802 C.E. in the third year of his reign, King Aejang donated the Haeinsa site to Suneung and Ijeong and ordered a temple constructed for them.

Choe Chi-won in 900 C.E. provides another explanation of the foundation of the temple. A prominent writer and calligrapher of Silla who spent his last days in self-imposed exile in Mount Gayasan, Choe writes that Suneung established the temple after attaining Enlightenment in China. The queen, who supported Buddhist monks in her realm, converted to Buddhism under Suneun's instruction. She made offerings of food and abundant gifts. With the queen's support, students flocked to Haeinsa. When Suneung died unexpectantly, Ijeong inherited his work and finished the construction of the temple. The temple history records that Suneung had been the disciple of Sillim who had practiced with Uisang. Uisang is believed to have been the first monk to spread Avatamsaka Buddhism in Korea in the early 600s. The region first bore the name Kaya-sa, after the Gayasan, and later received the name Haein-sa.

Renovation History

First Renovation. In the 900s, the famous monk Hirang renovated Haeinsa for the first time. King Taejo of Goryeo, who founded the Goryeo dynasty, provided the funding and labor to construct the temple as a reward for helping defeat an enemy nation. King Taejo of Goryeo used Haeinsa as the site for royal rituals and religious ceremonies as well as storing important royal documents.

Monk Hirang is said to have carved a wooden image of himself. The image of the monk seated with his two hands clasped on crossed legs resides today in one of Haeinsa's 16 hermitages.

Second Renovation. The second major renovation took place in the late 1400s during the Joseon dynasty. The daughters-in-law of King Sejo, queens Insu and Inhye, commissioned the renovation. King Sejo and his wife, queen Jeonghi, planned to renovate Haeinsa after fifty sets of the Tripitaka had been printed. The both died before the task completed. Their daughters-in-law Insu and Inhya finished the task of printing the fifty sets under monk Hakcho's management. Insu and Inhya commissioned the expansion of Haeinsa, including the main shrines and the library for the Tripitaka, to the present setting completing the building in 1490 C.E.

Japanese invasions of Korea (1592-1598) and after. Haeinsa escaped the rampant destruction that met most buildings in Korea during Hideyoshi's cataclysmic invasion of 1592 to 1598. Some hold that the rough terrain in an out-of-the-way location saved the temple, others that divine intervention protected Haeinsa.

During a renovation in 1964, archeologists discovered a royal robe of King Gwanghaegun, the king responsible for the 1622 renovation, and an inscription on a ridge beam. Between 1695 to 1871, Haeinsa suffered destruction to most its buildings by fire seven times. Reconstruction projects over the years have brought the temple grounds and buildings back to the splendor of the 1490 reconstruction. Most of the buildings standing today had been constructed at the end of the Joseon Dynasty (1393-1905).

Korean War: A recent legend relates a story about a North Korean pilot ordered to bomb Haeinsa during the Korean War. Hidden deep in the mountains, South Korean guerrillas used Haeinsa as a base of operations. Taking aim on the temple compound, the pilot viewed the splendid temples. He preferred to disobey orders, receive a court martial and imprisonment rather than destroy them. After the North and South declared an official truce that ended the hostilities, the pilot became a national hero.


Haeinsa is one of the Three Jewel Temples of Korea, and represents Dharma or the Buddha’s teachings. Located on Gayasan (Gaya) Mountain in South Gyeongsang Province, Haeinsa serves as the head temple of the 12th Diocese of the Korean Buddhist Jogye Order, the largest Buddhist sect in the country.

The Tripitaka Koreana earned Haeinsa its reputation as one of Korea's three major temples representing the "three jewels of Buddhism." Haeinsa stands for dharma, or the Buddha's teaching. The two other "jewels of Buddhism" in Korea are Tongdosa and Songgwangsa. Tongdosa (in Yangsan, South Gyeongsang-do) represents the historical Buddha, Seokgamoni, while Songgwangsa (in Seongju, South Jeolla-do) represents the sangha or community of monks dedicated to the study, teaching, and preservation of Buddha's teaching. The Three Jewels of Buddhism embrace the person of Buddha, Buddha's teaching, and the community of monks.

A number of famous monks lived at Haeinsa. Prince Uicheon of the Goryeo kingdom compiled the Supplement to the Tripitaka while living there. Wongyeong, a Royal Preceptor, assisted Uicheon by serving as an editor for the supplement. He had traveled together with Wongyeong to China. A stone stele of Wongyeong greets the pilgrim at the entrance of the temple. A monk named Samyong has his remains kept in a bell-shaped stupa in the Hongje-am hermitage. He led a military unit of monks during the Hideoyoshi invasion of Korea (1592-1598). The reknown monk Seongcheol lived and died in the Paengnyonam hermitage in the late twentieth century. Far from serving as solely a library and museum, Haeinsa has attracted saintly monks throughout its twelve century history. That attests to the dynamic spiritual environment that Haeinsa remains today.

Temple Compound

Entering Haeinsa along a long peaceful path prepares the pilgrim by clearing their mind and opening them to the spiritual experience within the temple compound. They prepare to leave the world of illusion and enter the reality of Nirvana. The pilgrim passes through three gates before entering the temple compound; Ilchumun, Ponghwangmun and Haet'almun. Passing through Haet'almun, the devotee enters a large courtyard directly in front of Kukgwangu.

Kukwangu (Nine Lights Pavilion)

Beyond Haet'almun is a courtyard, which faces Kukwangnu. On the left is a new building, built for teaching and sheltering some of the many people who come to ceremonies and festivals. On the right is the large Bell Pavilion. Climbing stairs the pilgrim passes right through Kukgwangnu, the only two-story building in the temple compound. The first floor is used for storage. On the second floor, one side houses an oversized drum, temple bell, and a carp-shaped wooden drum. The other side of the second floor serves as a museum housing over 200 artifacts including painted scrolls, manuscripts, and an incense burner shaped like an elephant with a pagoda on its back. A life size wood statue of the third abbot of the temple stands reputed to possess miraculous powers. People hoping for healing or woman praying to conceive frequently pray in front of the statue.

Daejeokkwangjeon (Hall of Great Silence and Light)

After passing through or around Kukgwangnu Hall, the pilgrim enters the upper court yard and faces the Main Hall, Daejeokkwangjeon (Hall of Great Silence and Light). Monks' study and living quarters sit on both sides of the courtyard. An ancient three-storied stone pagoda and stone lantern stand in the court yard, dating to the first construction of Haeinsa. The visitor passes the pagoda and lantern, climbing a steep, double flight of stairs into the Main Hall, the central place for worship in Haeinsa.

Rebuilt in 1817 after a fire destroyed most of the ancient Haeinsa compound, Daejeokkwangjeon has also enjoyed a major renovation in 1971. The Main Hall is unique in Korea. While most main temples honor Seokgamoni, Daejeokkwangjeon is dedicated to Vairocana Buddha, the Resplendent Buddha, who first preached the Avatamsaka Sutra. Carved in 1769, the wooden Vairocana Buddha statue inside has unique paintings of the Buddha's life behind.

Three additional temple buildings complete the Daejeokkwangjeon level. Ungjinjon (The Hall of Saints ), also known as Nahan-jon, houses a Sakyamuni Buddha statue with disciples. Samsonggak (House of Three Spirits or Holies), a small octagonal shrine in the back corner, houses paintings of Sansin (the mountain god), Toksong (the solitary sage), and the Dragon King. Lastly, Myongbujon (the Judgment Hall or Hall of the Underworld) which boasts ten figures of judges seated around the room. Chingang Posal, the bodhisattva who leads souls to the Western Paradise, stands in the center with his attendants.

Janggyeong Panjeon: National Treasure No.52 (Haeinsa Library)

Leaving the Main Hall, the monk climbs a steep flight of stairs to the highest place in Haeinsa and the site of the Janggyeong Panjeon or Haeinsa Library which houses the Tripitaka Koreana. Haeinsa would be considered one of the most important temple compounds in Korea even without the Janggyeong Panjeon and the Tripitaka Koreana. With them, Haeinsa is a National Treasure that has earned the designation of a World Heritage Site. UNESCO added the temple of Haeinsa, the depositories for the "Tripitaka Koreana" Woodblocks, to the World Heritage List in 1995. The UNESCO committee recommended Haeinsa for the designation World Heritage Site noting that the uniqueness of the buildings housing the Tripitaka Koreana.

Ingenuously designed to preserve the woodblocks from the effects of humidity and weather, the temple earned a special distinction. No other historical structure before the 20th century had been specifically built to preserve artifacts. The ingenuous technology places Haeinsa in a category by itself.

The South Korean government also designated the Janggyeong Panjeon a national treasure of Korea on December 20, 1962. Earning distinction as one of the largest storage facilities made of wood in the world, the halls remarkably escaped untouched during Japanese invasions of Korea (1592-1598) and the fire that burnt most of the temple complex down in 1818. The storage halls have survived seven serious temple fires.

Janggyeong Panjeon is the oldest structure in the Haeinsa temple compound, housing the Tripitaka Koreana carved on 81,258 wooden printing blocks. The date of the original construction of the library hall is unknown. King Sejo expanded and renovated the hall in 1457. The Library Hall consists of four halls constructed in a rectangle pattern. The architects designed the hall in a plain, unadorned design, focusing on the function of the building as a storage facility for wood blocks. Beopbojeon (Hall of Dharma), the northern hall and Sudarajang (Hall of Sutras), the southern hall are the two main halls for shelving the wood blocks. Each hall is 60.44 meters in length, 8.73 meters in width, and 7.8 meters in height. They each have fifteen rooms with the two adjoining rooms. Additionally, two smaller halls on the east and west sides serve as two small libraries.

The designers and builders devised ingenious preservation techniques to preserve the wooden printing blocks. The architects also utilized nature to help preserve the Tripitaka. The storage complex sits at the highest elevation in the temple compound, 655 meters above sea level. Janggyeong Panjeon faces the southwest to avoid the damp southeasternly winds of the valley below and uses the mountain peaks to block the cold north wind. Different sized windows in the north and south of both main halls ventilate the library halls and they employ the principles of hydrodynamics. The windows installed in every hall help maximize ventilation and moderate temperature. The builders poured clay floors mixed with charcoal, calcium oxide, salt, lime, and sand to reduce humidity by absorbing moisture during the rainy season and retaining moisture in the air during the dry winter months. The roof, also made with clay, combines with the bracketing and wood rafters to prevent sudden changes in temperature. Additionally, the complex stands unexposed to shade. Apparently, animals, insects, and birds avoid the complex but for reasons still debated. Those sophisticated techniques have combined to preserve the woodblocks in near perfect condition.

In 1970, architects planned and built a storage building utilizing modern preservation techniques, but when mildew formed on the test woodblocks, they canceled the planned move. The woodblocks remain stored at Haeinsa.


Hermitages nestle near Haeinsa and in the surrounding mountains. Monks worship, study, and mediate in the hermitages, each community self-contained and independent. Each hermitage, in addition to living quarters, has a main hall with a Buddha statue and a small shrine. Only Chongnyang-sa hermitage is a long hike, although a few can be reached only by steep climbs. The pilgrim enjoys a panoramic view of Haeinsa from Chijok Hermitage. Wondangam hermitage, with its exquisite stone relics dating from the Unified Silla period, adds romantic color to the temple famed for its serious academic tradition and the stern regulations of its bhikkhus community. The reknown monk Seongcheol lived and died in the Paengnyonam hermitage in the late twentieth century.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Chapin, Helen B. "A Little-Known Temple in South Korea and Its Treasures: A Preliminary Reconnaissance." Artibus Asiae 11 (3) (1948): 189-195. ISSN: 00043648. OCLC: 61966661.
  • Chu, Myŏng-dŏk. 1994. Haein-sa: reflection on a Calm Sea Temple. Hapchʻŏn-gun: Haein-sa Press. OCLC: 80600628
  • Hanʼguk Pangsong Kongsa. 2004. Living in Korea sansa esŏŭi haru = (a day in the mountain temple). [Sŏul]: KBS Midiŏ. OCLC: 57585977.
  • Lee, Gil-sang. 2005. Exploring Korean history through world heritage. Seongnam-si: Academy of Korean Studies. OCLC: 76937120.
  • Lee, Kyong-hee. 1997. World heritage in Korean. [Seoul]: Organizing Committee of the Year of Cultural Heritage 1997. OCLC: 38989709
  • Marjamaa, Leigh M. Mar 2000. "Spiritual Sleeps." National Geographic Traveler 17 (2): 22, 3/4 p, 4c. ISSN 0747-0932.
  • Nilsen, Robert. 1988. South Korea Handbook. Chico, California: Moon Publications. ISBN 0918373204
  • Sŏ, Chŏng-im. 1975. Hanʼguk kodae karam chogyŏng e kwanhan yŏnʼgu: tʻŭkhi Haeinsa e taehayŏ. OCLC: 31489168.
  • Yi, Chae-chʻang, Kyŏng-ho Chang, and Chʻung-sik Chang. 1993. Haeinsa = Haeinsa Temple. Pitkkal innŭn chʻaektŭl, 103-130. Sŏul-si: Taewŏnsa. ISBN 9788936901455.

External links

All links retrieved January 21, 2024.


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