“Baegunhwasang Chorokbuljo Jikjisimcheyojeol” contains the essentials of Zen Buddhism compiled by Priest Baegun in the 21st year of King Gongmin(1372) at the age of 75. It is apparent that the ideas inherited from his teacher Seogok Cheonggong, a Zen(Buddhist Mediation) master, continue and transmit to this work. It was printed into the metal type by his students Seokchan and Daldam under the auspices of Myodeok, who was a Buddhist nun, in the seventh lunar month of 1377 at Heungdeoksa Temple of Cheongju city.
Jikji comprises of historical biographies such as Gyeongdeok jeondeungnok and Seonmun yeomsong, which were to be studied by the student monks after completing the study of the teachings necessary to understand the essence of Zen, including Buddha’s sayings from his last moments, letters of praise, letters and poems on drawings, educational phrases and sentences, songs, writings, orthodox teachings, and dialogues. It introduced all kinds of literature for providing an understanding of Buddhism, and one hundred and forty-five Priests and Monks of India, China, and Korea are related in the contents of the book.
The key words of the title of the name of the book, “jikji simche” were derived from the famous phrase about attaining enlightenment through the practice of Zen, “Jikji insim gyeonseong seongbul” meaning the attainment of an enlightened state by direct appeal to the mind. It also means that when we come to see through Zen what the mind is, then we come to understand that mind to be that of Buddha. Because human nature is pure from the beginning, when the mind sees that it is pure and practices asceticism, one becomes a part of Buddha and one’s mind becomes that of Buddha. In other words, when one is enlightened through Zen, one’s mind becomes Buddha. The old priest put together a book of high standard by selecting only the essentials of Zen to teach and propagate to pupils.
Priest Baegun, who was an author, was born in the 24th year of King Chungryeol(1282) in Gobu, Jeollabuk-do province and passed away in the 23rd year of King Gongmin(1374) at the age of 77 at Chwiamsa Temple of Yeoju-gun. Priest Baegun entered the priesthood when he was young and devoted to religious ansterities. He inherited the ideas from Seogok Cheonggong, a Zen(Buddhist Mediation) master, and learned doctrines from Priest Jigonghwasang of India. After returning home from abroad, he stood abreast with National Preceptor Taego Bowoo and Priest Naonghwasang Hyegeun as Royal Mentor.
The circumstances under which the book left Korea were as follows. It had been in the collection of Collin de Plancy, a charg d’affaires with the French Embassy in Seoul in 1887 during the reign of King Gojong. The book then went into the hands of Henri Vever, a collector of classics, and when he died in 1950, it was donated to the National Library of France, where it has been ever since. Although Buljo jikji simche yojeol consists of two books, the first volume has not been found yet and only the second volume is currently kept at the National Library in France.
It originally consisted of 39 chapters, of which the first chapter is missing. Although we do not know the year Cheongju Heungdeoksa Temple was built or its size, there is an inscription on the last page that the second volume of Jikji was printed with movable metal type at Cheongju Heungdeoksa Temple during the reign of King U in 1377. The time was about 70 years earlier than the Gutenberg Bible printing in Germany. It was introduced in one of the articles of the UNESCO Courier in 1972 that the work is the oldest extant example of printing with movable metal type in the printing history of the world.
However, no one knew the exact location of Heungdeoksa Temple until a drum and Buddhist bowls made of bronze and inscribed with the word Heungdeoksa Temple were unearthed. The location of Heungdeoksa Temple, where the book was printed, was confirmed when the museum of Cheongju University excavated the site in 1985.
The book was printed using metal type, which makes printing technology more convenient, economic, easier correcting, and makes production of books quicker. Also, it served as momentum to invent an oiled ink which is appropriate to print metal type. This practical printing method invented by Korea influenced the history of Oriental printing, and it is thought that it was spread to Europe. It is the world’s oldest movable metal type printing evidence available and shows us an important technical change in the printing history of humanity. According to these values, the book was registered as Memory of the World in September 2001