Copied Sutras of Korea

The copied sutras that were produced in Korea were originally written in black ink on white paper. 

Later, as the concept of the "virtue of the copying" gained acceptance, sutras began to be lavishly decorated.

Silla Transcription of Avataṃsaka Sūtra (The Flower Garland Sutra),  Zhou Version, in Ink on White paper, Volumes 1-10 and 44-50 (新羅白紙墨書大方廣佛華嚴經 周本 卷一~十, 四十四~五十)

Unified Silla dynasty, 754, paper, 29 x 1390.6cm. Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, Korea, National Treasure no. 196. ©Cultural Heritage Administration

This is the oldest sutra copied in Korea. This is the only example of Silla-era writing that reveals the character of the belief in the Avataṃsaka teachings (華嚴思想) during the Silla period. The outer and inner cover paintings were painted in gold on purple paper, using paint mixed with gold dust (金泥).

During the Goryeo dynasty, a form of transcription using gold and silver ink on indigo-dyed paper was very popular. Specialized agencies such as the Gem-ja-won Golden Letter Academy and the Eun-ja-won Silver Letter Academy were established for such copying, allowing us to see the status of sutra copying during the Goryeo dynasty. Please look at the Goryeo copied sutras decorated luxuriously with beautiful gold and silver ink.

Avataṃsaka Sūtra  (The Flower Garland Sūtra) in gold on indigo-dyed paper, volume 47 (紺紙金泥大方廣佛華嚴經卷第四十七)

Goryeo dynasty, paper, 11.5 x 3 3.2cm. National Museum of Korea. ⓒNational Museum of Korea

This is a transcription of the 47th volume of the 80-volume Avataṃsaka Sūtra written in gold characters on indigo-dyed paper. The delicacy of the brushstrokes used in the in painting of the transformation scene at the beginning of the sutra is impressive. You can see details of the painting on the previous page.

Saddharma-pundarika Sūtra (The Lotus Sūtra) in silver on indigo-dyed paper, 


Goryeo dynasty, paper, height 31㎝, National Museum of Korea. ⓒNational Museum of Korea

This is a transcription of the Saddharma-pundarika Sūtra,  known in English as the Lotus Sutra. It is written in silver characters on indigo-dyed paper. In contrast, the transformation scene was painted in gold.

You can see beautiful and rare Goryeo copied sutras at Kyoto National Museum’s homepage. 

If you click the picture below, you will be directed to the e-Museum site which provides clear images of these National Treasures. 

Please try to click on them!

Mahāratnakūṭa Sūtra (Sutra of Great Accumulation of Treasures), volume 32 (大寶積經卷第三十二)

Goryeo dynasty, 1006, paper, 29.1 x 881.2cm. Kyoto National Museum, Japan, National Treasure no. 280. ⓒNational Institute of Cultural Heritage

This 32nd volume of the Daebojeokgyong Sutra, written in gold characters on indigo-dyed paper, was sponsored by Empress Dowager Cheonchu and Kim Chiyang, her spouse. This manuscript in the Kyoto National Museum’s collection is the only extant volume from their project in the world.

Gayasirsa Sūtra (文殊師利問菩提經)

Goryeo dynasty, 1276, paper, 25.8 x 357.3cm. Kyoto National Museum, Japan, Important Cultural Property no. 949. ⓒNational Institute of Cultural Heritage

This is one of the four Buddhist scriptures that were commissioned by King Chuoong ryeol (忠烈王, r. 1274–1308) and written with gold letters on indigo-dyed paper. It is particularly artistic and well-made because it was commissioned by the king.