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The Buddhist Publication Society of Kandy
by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
The Buddhist Publication Society of Kandy (BPS) has reached its fiftieth birthday. At this birthday. At this age it is enjoying a life span far longer that its founders had ever foreseen for it when they established the BPS on New Year's Day 1958. The society was born 'in the Forest Hermitage 'in Udawattakele, a wooded hill just behind the Dalada Maligawa, the famous Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. The idea of creating such a society first took shape 'in late 1957 'in the mind of a prominent Kandyan lawyer, A. S. Karunaratna, a former mayor of the town. One day, while he was printing a small booklet on Buddhism to be distributed free in memory of a deceased relative, the thought occurred to him of issuing a series of such publications - small paper bound booklets on various aspects of the Dhamma that could be distributed throughout the world.
Karunaratna discussed this idea with a friend of his, a retired school master named Richard Abeyasekera, who took it up with enthusiasm. Together, they approached the German-born scholar- monk, Ven. Nyanaponika Thera, and asked him to serve as editor for this undertaking. The three constituted themselves into an informal society, with Ven. Nayanaponika as honorary secretary (later president), Karunaratna, as honorary treasurer, and Abeyasekera, as assistant secretary (later general secretary). For the first three years the BPS grew up in the Forest Hermitage, until 'in February 1961 an office was at last obtained within the town of Kandy itself, off the drive running alongside the lovely Kandy Lake. To meet the need for still more accommodation, 'in 1981 the BPS began to construct a large new building on the premises of the old. This building, designed in traditional Kandyan style architecture, was formally opened in April 1985 and has continued to serve as the BPS's headquarters down to the present day.
Originally the founders intended to issue only a limited series of booklets on basic Buddhism and then to end this venture into the publishing world. However, the formative period of the BPS coincided with the unexpected upsurge of a world-wide interest in the Dhamma, and as this interest escalated so did the demand for authentic Buddhist literature. Thus the BPS found its first publications greeted with an enthusiastic welcome, both 'in Asia and the West. Encouraged by this reception, its founders abandoned their original limited aim and instead embarked on an ongoing publishing programme which still continues to grow.
Today the BPS regularly supplies Buddhist literature to over 3,000 subscriber members all over the world, in some eighty countries. Even during the Cold War period its publications managed to penetrate behind the Iron Curtain to countries where Buddhist literature was scarce. Its titles have been translated into many other languages, including German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Czech, Hindi, and Chinese. For many Buddhists world-wide, the three initials signify authenticity and authority in Theravada Buddhist literature.
The BPS's English-language publications fall into three classes: two series of booklets called The Wheel and Bodhi Leaves, and full-size books. In addition, the BPS issues a Sinhala-language counterpart of The Wheel called Damsak (= Dhanuna-chakka), and a series of full-size books 'in Sinhala called Kalana Mithuru (= Kalyanamitra) Books. From 1960 until 1998 Damsak was edited by the famous Sri Lankan missionary monk, Ven. Piyadassi Nayaka Thera. After his death in 1998, responsibility for the Sinhala publications was taken over by his assistant, A. G. S. Kariyawasam until his untimely death in 2005. Currently, Mr. Senadheera is looking after the Sinhalese publications.
The Wheel consists of substantial booklets, typically ranging from 40 to 80 pages. Since the inception of BPS in 1958, 239 booklets have been published, though not all have been maintained in print. The booklets cover a wide range of topics, as can be seen from the BPS catalogue, which classifies the Wheels into the following categories: Introductory Booklets; Specific Teachings (on the main topics of Buddhist doctrine, such as the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, dependent origination, the three marks of existence, kamma and rebirth, and so forth); Meditation and Mind Training; Dhamma Reflections (more personal explorations of the relevance of Buddhist principles for spiritual understanding and practice); Philosophy and Psychology; Faith and Devotion; Monastic Life; Comparative Studies; Buddhist History and Culture; Buddhism and the World Today; Translations from the Pall Canon; Non-Canonical Buddhist Literature. AJI Wheel Publications are being digitalised, proofread and typeset, and they are being issued in bound volumes as well as put on the BPS website.
Bodhi Leaves is a series of smaller booklets, hand-sized, between 16 and 40 pages in length. Its range of categories is similar to that of the Wheel, but the tone is less expository and more conversational. Bodhi Leaves are intended to offer personal insights into the Buddha's teachings, close-up focus on specific ethical and social problems, and practical guidelines to living by the light of the Dhamma. This series was discontinued some years ago, but the issues are being made available in digital format on the BPS website.
The authors of both series of booklets come from virtually every continent-Asia, Europe, the Americas, Africa, and Australia. The Buddhists of Asian countries trained in a traditional monastic setting, academic scholars, and Western converts to Buddhism, who bring to the understanding of the ' Dhamma perspectives fashioned by a modern scientific education. Beneath their differences, what almost all our authors have in common is a combination of scholarly competence, rigour of thought, and personal commitment to the Dhamma as a practical way of life. Hence the Wheel and Bodhi Leaves, booklets present Buddhism as an illuminating system of thought and practice that can offer viable solutions to the great spiritual and ethical problems confronting thoughtful men and women in the contemporary world. The literature does not attempt to pit Buddhism against other religions and creeds in a sectarian spirit of competition and one-upmanship, but offers followers of other religions insights that can help them lead a deeper and more rewarding spiritual life.
The BPS's line of full-size books ranges from basic introductions to advanced texts on the finer points of Buddhist doctrine and practice. Books on basic Buddhism include several comprehensive surveys that have long been regarded as essential reference works. Ven. Narada Thera's ‘The Buddha and His Teachings’ gives an informative account of the Master's life and teaching, highlighting the doctrines of kamma and rebirth, meditation, the nature of Nibbana, and the way to enlightenment. For a complete biography of the Buddha, Bhikkhu Naoamoli's The Life of the Buddha is unique: a vivid and moving portrait of the Enlightened One composed almost entirely from texts of the Pali Canon. This is our most popular title, and though in print for over thirty-five years it is still constantly in demand. For an illuminating account of the Buddha's path two authoritative works can be recommended. One is Piyadassi Thera's popular The Buddha's Ancient Path, the other is Bhikkhu Bodhi's The Noble Eightfold Path. Both works offer detailed explanations of each of the eight factors of the path, thus showing how Buddhism is to be practised as a way of life.
For original source material on the Dhamma, two compilations by the great German scholar- monk Nyanatiloka Thera (Ven. Nyanaponika's teacher) are still unsurpassed in helping the bewildered neophyte find his or her way through the vast maze of canonical material. The more elementary is The Word of the Buddha, first compiled in 1906 and subject to some sixteen reprints. This book arranges the Buddha's sayings around the framework of the Four Noble Truths. The more advanced title is The Buddha's Path to Deliverance, which documents the Buddha's own instructions on all the different methods of meditation, both for concentration and insight, and arranges them according to the pattern of the seven stages of purification.
The BPS also publishes accurate translations of several small classics from the Pali Canon, including The Dhammapada, translated by Achariya Buddharakkhita, and (in one volume) The Udana and the Itivuttaka, translated by John Ireland. For more advanced students, the present writer has issued translations of four major Pali suttas along with their commentaries and excerpts from the subcommentaries. The first of these is the best one to start with: The Discourse on the All-Embracing Net of Views, a translation of the Brahmajala Sutta and its commentaries. The others are: The Discourse on the Root of Existence (the Mulapariyaya Sutta); The Great Discourse on Causation (the Mahanidana Sutta); and The Discourse on the Fruits of Recluseship (the Samannaphala Sutta).
BPS books on meditation give qualified Guidance in both the practical methods of meditation and the underlying theory. A thorough and informative survey is Amadeo Sole-Leris's Tranquillity and Insight, which systematically explores both samatha and vipassana meditation according to the classical sources and their modern adaptations. An outstanding work that has achieved the status of a modern classic is Nyanaponika Thera's The Heart of Buddhist Meditation. Basic 'instructions in, insight meditation are found in Mahasi Sayadaw's Practical Insight Meditation, while Jack Kornifield's Modern Buddhist Masters collects tracts from a range of contemporary Theravada meditation masters from Burma and Thailand. A work with a unique flavour is The Seven Stages of Purification by the late Matara Sri Naoarama Mahathera, one of Sri Lanka's most respected meditation masters of recent times. One of his pupils, working under his guidance, has composed a treatise called The Seven Contemplations of Insight, a brilliant and lively work which combines rich scholarship and practical experience in explaining the insights that arise in the course of vipassana meditation.
The Abhidhamma is a systematic arrangement of the Buddha's philosophical and psychological teachings, defining the theory that lies behind his more pragmatically oriented discourses. Serious students of the Abhidhamma will need A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamina, a translation of the Abhidhammattha-saogaha complete with a detailed explanatory guide by the Burmese Sayadaw U Rewatadhamma and Bhikkhu Bodhi Nyanaponika Thera's brilliant Abhidhamma Studies demonstrates the practical relevance of the Abhidhamma to the spiritual life. To find one's way through the seven books of the canonical Abhidhamma no student can do without Nyanatiloka Thera's Guide through the Abhidhamma Pitaka Readers eager to explore the full range of classical Theravada thought will need to study Achariya Buddhaghosa's masterpiece, The Visudhimagga. This is a virtual encyclopaedia of Buddhist doctrine and meditation, which gives detailed coverage to all the meditation subjects and, in its middle chapters, a survey of the Abhidhamma. This is published by BPS in the outstanding translation by Bhikkhu Naoamoli under the title The Path of Purification.
Over the years BPS has published works by the greatest Burmese scholar-monk of recent times, Ledi Sayadaw, the author of some seventy manuals touching on almost every aspect of Theravada Buddhist philosophy. The Wheel series includes Ledi Sayadaw's Manual of Insight (Vipassana Dipani), The Requisites of Enlightenment (Bodhipakkhiya Dipani), The Noble eightfold Path and Its Factors (Maggaoga Dipani), The Buddhist Philosophy of Relations (Papphanuddesa Dipani ) and The Manual of Mindfulness of Breathing (Anapana Dipani). The Manual of the Supreme Man (Uttamapurisa Dipani) and, recently, the Manual of Light and the Manual of the Path of Higher Knowledge (Alin' Kyan and Vijjamagga Dipani) were published 'in book form. In their totality, these manuals make a valuable contribution to Buddhist literature English.
In the late 1990s the BPS entered into co-publication agreements with major Buddhist publishers in the West. The purpose of this step is to make our own works more readily available to readers in the Americas and Europe. We also co-publish works on Theravada Buddhism first issued by Western publishers, to make them more easily available for Asian readers. To date our partner in both areas of cooperation has been Wisdom Publications in Boston. Together with Wisdom we issue Asian editions of two complete Nikayas from the Pali Canon: The Long, Discourses of the Buddha, a translation of the Digha Nikaya by Maurice Walshe, and The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, a translation of the Majjhima Nikaya originally made by Bhikkhu Naoamoli in the 1950s, which I had edited and annotated for publication in 1995.
Works first issued by Wisdom Publications, and then taken over for the Asian readership by BPS, include-. U Pandita's In This Very Life and Ayya Khema's Being Nobody, Going Nowhere. Along with Wisdom, we also publish a wonderful collection of biographies called The Great Disciples of the Buddha. This book, an anthology from our "Lives of the Disciples" series of Wheel booklets, brings to life for the modem reader such outstanding figures as Sariputta, Mogallana, Mahakassapa, Ananda, Kisagotami, Papacara, and Anathapiodika.
Also a full-time co-publisher for BPS in the Americas was appointed. This is Vipassana Research Publications of America (VRPA), which is affiliated with the Vipassana Research Academy established at Igatpuri by Sri S. N. Goenka. VRPA has created an imprint called BPS Pariyatti Editions, which has undertaken to publish American editions of our Path of Purification, Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma, and other popular BPS titles. Thereby our classical line of Theravada Buddhist works is much better represented in the Americas, where interest in Buddhism of all schools is surging.
This survey has presented only a mere sampling of BPS's contributions to contemporary Buddhist literature. Altogether, our publications constitute a voluminous reference library on Theravada Buddhism. Since the teachings emphasized by the Theravada form the foundation for the entire Buddhist tradition, it need hardly be said that BPS publications can also help those involved in the study and practice of other schools of Buddhism discover the roots of their own tradition. Thereby they will gain an appreciation of the core of Buddhist doctrine common to all schools, a factor far more important for Buddhist unity than their circumstantial differences.
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Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammāsambuddhassa.
Buddha sāsana.m cira.m ti.t.thatu.