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The 'Encyclopaedia of Buddhism' project

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The Lanka News Service 18th May 2002 Sri Lanka - The compilation of an Encyclopaedia on Buddhism in the English Language was one of the several undertakings of the Bauddha Mandalaya (Buddhist Council of Sri Lanka) which was set up by the Government of Sri Lanka in 1955, in connection with the celebration of Buddha Jayanthi, the 2500th anniversary of the Buddhist Era as traditionally accepted in countries of South Asia where the Theravada form of Buddhism prevails.

The Mandalaya appointed a Sub-Committee for the task of compiling the Encyclopaedia. The committee appointed Professor G. P. Malalasekera as its Chairman, and Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopaedia. When in 1956 the government of Sri Lanka created a Ministry of Cultural Affairs, the administration of the Encyclopaedia was transferred to that Ministry while Professor Malalasekera continued to be the Chairman of the Editorial Board and the Editor-in-Chief. When the Ministry of Buddha Sasana was Created in 1990 the administration of the Encyclopaedia was affiliated to the Department of Buddhist Affairs under the Ministry.

Buddhism covers a vast expanse, both in time and space. The Encyclopaedia aims at giving a comprehensive account of the origins of this World-Religion and of the developments that have taken place during a period of more than 25 centuries. A satisfactory treatment of the subject should, thus, include information on the doctrines of Buddhism and their growth, the story of their spread and expansion, accounts of the numerous Buddhist Schools and Sects and of their origins and subsequent ramifications, descriptions of Buddhist rites and ceremonies as found in many countries, the history of the fine arts - paintings and sculpture, music, dance and drama - under the influence of Buddhism in various countries, details of Buddhist shrines and places of pilgrimages and of the vast literatures connected with Buddhism which developed in many languages, both ancient and modern, in original works as well as in translations, and biographies of persons who, in the course of Buddhist history, played important roles in their own countries and made contributions to the development of Buddhist culture.

It is the aim of the compilers that the Encyclopaedia should contain information both on the Mahayana and the Theravada and that such information be so presented as to make it useful not only to the scholar and the expert but to the general reader as well.

It is also the endeavour of the compilers to bring together in a single publication information on various aspects of Buddhism which can at present be obtained only by consulting numerous scattered sources, some, at least, of which are not available except in rare or inaccessible collections.

The original plan was to publish a series of volumes, each under a different title, e.g., the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha, Literature and the Fine Arts. But this was given up after consultation with experts. It was found that such a scheme would not be quite practicable in the present state of our knowledge and would involve a great deal of editorial treatment resulting in excessive delay in publication. Therefore, it was decided to adopt the alphabetical method of treatment of topics as found, for instance, in Hastings, Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, which has, in many ways, served as our model.

This method, too, has its difficulties and drawbacks as will be seen in dealing with a subject like art of architecture, where the information will have to be presented separately under different countries. The more satisfactory method would, of course, be to treat it as a single topic and devote a special volume for this purpose. We shall, however, endeavour to overcome such shortcomings by an elaborate scheme of cross-references and by the provision of a very comprehensive index.

The question of the space to be allotted to various subjects in general and to each item in particular has been difficult to decide.

The principle ultimately adopted has been to leave the matter very largely to the discretion of the contributors themselves, emphasis being laid on the requirements that no vital information should be omitted and that all information should be given as concisely as possible.

The avoidance of repetition and overlapping has been made the responsibility of the editors but it has to be recognized that a certain amount of repetition and overlapping is unavoidable.

Every effort is being made to select an acknowledge authority to write on a particular topic, especially in the case of the more important topics, and a Buddhist, if available, in preference to a non-Buddhist, more particularly where matters of doctrine are involved or details of different Schools and different Sects. In the case of the more specialized subjects, contributors will sign their own articles so that theirs will be the responsibility for the views expressed. Where it is necessary to inform the reader that a different point of view or a different interpretation exists, suitable steps are being taken to indicate that fact. In some instances, more than one article will be published on the same topic from separate contributors, while in others more than one contributor will co-operate in the production of a single article. Every attempt is thus being made to make the information given as complete and as comprehensive as possible.

As will be seen from what has already been said the Encyclopaedia is a work of international collaboration, and it has been our good fortune to be able to secure for this colossal undertaking the active goodwill of scholars of repute from many lands. We have also been able to enlist as Honorary Editors some of the most eminent scholars in the field of Buddhist and allied studies.

The Encyclopaedia has been planned to be completed in eleven volumes inclusive of the index volume, and each volume to contain around 800 pages. For convenience of printing the Encyclopaedia is released in Fascicles, each containing around 200 pages and four such Fascicles form one volume. The first Fascicle was released in 1961 and up to date 23 Fascicles have been released. The twenty fourth Fascicle is in the process of being printed now. The twenty-three Fascicles already compiled contain articles on Headwords from letter A to letter M.

The compilation work of the Fascicles from letter M progresses smoothly and it is hoped that the Buddhist Encyclopaedia project can be completed within the next five or six years. Readers who are keen to purchase the already published Fascicles of the Encyclopaedia are kindly advised to contact the Department of Buddhist Affairs, 135, Dharmapala Mawatha, Colombo 07, Sri Lanka (Telephone: 326126).

The Editorial and compilation office of the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism is located in the 1st floor of the Lady Lochore Building, 100/13, Chittampalam Gardiner Mawatha, Colombo - 02, Sri Lanka. The present Editor-in-Chief is Dr. W. G. Weeraratne. Telephone: 384871.
Ministry of Buddhasasana


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