Kim Gyeong-ho, Sutra-Copying expert
∙Born in Gim-je, Jeollabukdo
∙ Graduate of Chonbuk National University, majoring in Korean language & literature
∙ Receive graduate degree in Sutra-copying from Dongguk University
∙ Chairman of the research association of Sutra-Copying (sakyoung)
Sutra-copying is the spiritual act of copying and drawing the contents of the Sutra. Gold, silver and Chinese ink are used for making it. Sutra-copying is not just to copy the contents. It is a way of practicing asceticism by copying lines of the Sutra. The Goryeo dynasty was the most flourished era of Sutra-copying because its established religion was Buddhism. The Goryeo Dynasty’s Sutra-copying technique surpassed that of the Won Dynasty of China at that time. Going through the Joseon Dynasty which suppressed Buddhism, the practice declined. However, Kim Gyeong-ho has caused the legacy to continue through massive researching.
Kim Gyeong-ho, who is the most prestigious expert of Sutra-copying in Korea, has been striving to inherit the tradition of Goryeo’s Sutra-copying and to recreate it as a modern art for 30 years. He is both proficient at Sutra-copying and Sutra-drawing (Byeon sang do: painting that represents contents of the Sutra). In the present writer’s eyes, the Sutra-drawings of Kim were amazing. There was the universe of Buddhism in a 1mm space which couldn’t be seen without a magnifying glass. Here is an interview with Oegil, Kim Gyeong-ho.
∙∙Is there any reason to use gold and silver in Sutra-copying besides the aesthetic value?
Using gold and silver for Sutra-copying is a long tradition from the Goryeo Dynasty. The reason for using gold and silver is that they are the most precious materials and they are easy to be preserved. Sutra-copying which is made of gold and silver can keep its luster for a long time.
∙∙Sutra-copying is a Buddhist method of practicing asceticism. Are you a Buddhist?
Of course, I have a strong Buddhist tone, but I am not a Buddhist. It is easy to lose many things if I am biased toward a specific religion. The most important thing is to understand Korea’s traditional religion, such as Dangun (legendary founding father of Gojoseon). I think that believing our ancestors’ truth is needed more.
∙∙Why do you insist on doing manual work, even though we are in a modern society?
Recently, Internet Sutra-copying was developed, but I prefer manual labor. As Sutra-copying includes not only copying but also engraving the words of the Sutra, I think we should do it manually. All valuable things are gained by handicraft. Hand-crafted culture is more precious, just as the most expensive product in a department store is hand-made.
∙∙Do you have a special ceremony before starting the Sutra-copying?
There is nothing special. I just regard the preparation process itself as a ceremony because it takes long hours. Sometimes, I spend as many as several days to prepare materials. For me, the preparation process is the time of halting the mind and body and purifying the world of spirit.
∙∙When do you do Sutra-copying?
I only do it at night. I am so busy during the daytime, since I have to be on TV, teach students in the university and have an interview. And I also take responsibility in the ‘World Calligraphy Biennale’ as a consultant. In times like these, I can’t concentrate on the Sutra-copying, so I prefer nighttime to start Sutra-copying.
∙∙ What do you think about Korean Sutra-copying?
There are many problems in the Sutra-copying which is made by other people because of the absence of the theory and administration by government. There is too much trickery in their work. When Michelangelo’s disciple asked him why he devoted himself to the painting which was on the ceiling, he answered like this: “Because it’s for me to know my mistake.” I know myself that I am not strict in my work. I hope all in the Sutra-copying field can do their best, following an ideal.