Wednesday, March 30, 2011

And I thought Widener Library was cool

I like libraries.  I made my decision to attend Harvard after a tour of Widener Library’s underground stacks and I regretted going to Stanford Law School when I saw that Yale’s library still had its original card catalogs.  Yes, I absolutely understand what this says about me.

Anyway…obviously I was up for a trip to Haein-sa Temple when I read that it has one of the largest Buddhist libraries of woodblock scriptures.  It took 16 years for monks to inscribe the Tripitaka Koreana, one of the most sacred Buddhist texts, onto more than 81,000 beautifully carved wooden blocks.  The workmanship is flawless – almost giving them the appearance of being machine made – and they line the walls of a 15th century hall, equally impressive for its sophisticated storage techniques.  Back in the 70s, the South Korean president had a modern, purpose-built facility constructed to house the scriptures but the project was abandoned when test woodblocks started growing mildew.  Turns out all those technological advances we’ve made can’t surpass in sophistication a simple building with different-sized windows meant to minimize variations in humidity and charcoal placed beneath the clay floor.  A bit humbling when you think about it.

The scriptures were the main event, but it didn’t hurt that the librarian was almost as cute (in an old, wrinkled way) as a librarian I knew at Widener and that the temple itself is stunning.  More roof artistry, a fresh-water brook running into a drinking fountain and lotus lanterns you attach prayers to.  If only they would have issued me a library card…

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