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Buddhist doctrine in encyclopaedic form
The Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism wishes to inform the Buddhist academic readership that the much awaited ‘Encyclopaedia of Buddhism’ will be completed by the end of year 2009.
Dr. W. G. Weeraratne
Completion of 2500 years of the Buddhist era (Buddha Jayanti) fell in Vesak 1956. To commemorate this unique event, Buddhists all-over the world drew up programs to celebrate the occasion in a fitting manner. The pious Buddhists of Myanmar (Burma), under the leadership of premier U-Nu, decided to hold the sixth Buddhist Convention (Chatta Sangayana) in Myanmar, to rehearse and cleanse the Pali Tripitaka (The Buddhist Canon). Elaborate arrangements were made by the Government of Myanmar for this purpose.
A massive meeting hall was put up with State funds to accommodate the many thousands of Buddhist clergy and lay Buddhist scholars and leaders and other dignitaries, who were invited from other Theravada Buddhist countries to participate in this grand historic event.
A team of many erudite Buddhist Bhikkhus and lay Buddhist scholars, conversant with all aspects of Buddha Dhamma and its culture, represented Sri Lanka in this convention. The Sri Lankan delegation was led by Professor Emeritus G. P. Malalasekera, the world acclaimed Buddhist scholar and national leader. The convention continued for nearly two years and the whole Tripitaka was carefully rehearsed and cleansed.
India, where Buddhism was born and nurtured, joined in this unique celebration by volunteering to perform three grand tasks. The first of them was to re-edit and print many Buddhist Sanskrit works composed by reputed ancient Indian seers and scholars. The second of them was to publish a massive compendium titled ‘2500 years of Buddhism’, under the editorship of Professor P. V. Bapath, on many facets of Buddhism and its culture, containing scholarly articles, written by reputed Indian scholars. The third was to publish a large book of photographs with descriptive notes of temples, Buddha and Bodhisattva statues, Buddhist shrines, Buddhist art, Buddhist sculptures and paintings culled from many countries where Buddhism and its culture spread during a long period of time. The book was titled ‘The Way of the Buddha’. The Indian Prime Minister at the time, Shri Jawaharlal Nehru, who was a great admirer of the Buddha and his teachings, personally inspired and gave leadership to these activities.
Sri Lanka which has been acclaimed as the centre of Theravada Buddhism in the world, volunteered to undertake three major activities as its contribution to the Buddha Jayanthi celebrations.
The first of them was to translate into Sinhala from Pali the Buddhist canon (Tripitaka), which was first brought to Sri Lanka by Arahant Mahinda thera in the 3rd Century BC and subsequently written down in ola leaf books at Aluvihara in Matale in the 1st Century BC. The translation was to go under the appellation ‘Buddha Jayani Tripitaka Grantha Malava’. The translation was to be handled by a panel of highly experienced and qualified Sri Lankan Buddhist Bhikkhus.
The second of them was to compile a comprehensive general encyclopaedia in Sinhala. Professor Emeritus D. E. Hettiarachchi, the most experienced and highly qualified Professor of Sinhala at the time, was entrusted with the planning and execution of that project.
The third of them was to compile a comprehensive Encyclopaedia of Buddhism in the English medium, to cover the complete range of Buddhism, its expansion and its development from its inception, upto date. The veteran and highly qualified Buddhist scholar and national Buddhist leader at the time, Professor Emeritus Gunapala Piyasena Malalasekera was entrusted by the Government of Sri Lanka to plan this massive encyclopaedia and executive the project. He was also appointed as the pioneer Editor-in-Chief.
In the preface Professor Malalasekera wrote to the ‘Volume of Specimen Articles’ released in 1957, he says; “Buddhism covers a vast expanse, both of time and space.
The Encyclopaedia aims at giving a comprehensive account of the origins of this world-religion and developments that have taken place during a period of twenty five centuries. To deal with Buddhism is to deal with a whole civilization, in fact, a whole series of civilizations, which have influenced the lives of myriads of human beings in many lands. A satisfactory treatment of the subject should, thus, include information about the doctrines of Buddhism and their growth, the story of their spread and expansion, accounts of ramifications, descriptions of Buddhist rites and ceremonies as found in many lands, the history of the fine arts - painting and sculpture, architecture, music, dance and drama - under the influence of Buddhism, in various countries; details of Buddhist shrines and places of pilgrimage and of the vast literatures connected with Buddhism which developed in many languages, both ancient and modern and biographies of persons who, in the course of Buddhist history, played important roles. Even so, the list of topics would not be exhausted.”
The office of the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism was set up in Colombo during the latter part of the year 1955. Towards the end of that year the office was transferred to the University of Peradeniya campus. The Peradeniya University atmosphere was very congenial for the compilation of the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism. The Peradeniya academic staff at that time consisted of many professors and lecturers who were experts in Pali, Indian Philosophy, Buddhist Philosophy, Western Philosophy, Archaeology, Indian and Ceylon history and many allied fields of study.
Art and architecture
The Peradeniya library at that time was equipped with valuable books on Buddhism, Buddhist philosophy, Western and Indian philosophies, art and architecture and many more invaluable books on allied subjects and internationally recognized journals and periodicals in the allied subjects that are indispensable for the compilation of the needed articles for the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism.
The Encyclopaedia of Buddhism has been planned to be completed in eight volumes and an Index volume. Each Encyclopaedia volume is to contain approximately 900 printed pages. For the convenience of printing, the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism has been released in Fascicles, each Fascicle to contain approximately 230 pages. Four such fascicles form one Encyclopaedia Volume.
A volume of specimen articles of 84 pages containing a cross section of Buddhist Encyclopaedia articles, indicating the methodology that is to be followed in the compilation of the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism, was released in the year 1957.
Copies of this specimen volume were sent to recognized Buddhist scholars in Sri Lanka and foreign countries, to obtain their views of the proposed Encyclopaedia of Buddhism project. With their approval and blessings, the compilation was commenced and Fascicle I of Volume I was released in 1961. Thenceforth, Buddhist Encyclopaedia Fascicles were released through the press with a time gap of about one and a half years.
Professor Malalasekera treated the completion of the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism project as the climax of his literary endeavours and achievements and he was expecting to see it completed within his lifetime. But the massiveness of the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism project he shouldered, did not allow Professor Malalasekera to achieve the noble expectation he harboured. Professor Malalasekera passed away in 1973, aged 73 years. He could complete only twelve fascicles, that is the first three volumes of the envisaged Encyclopaedia of Buddhism. Another fascicle, Fascicle I of Volume IV was in the process of being printed at the time.
Dr. Saddhamangala Karunaratne of the Archaeological Department was appointed to succeed Professor Malalasekera as Editor-in-Chief, but he could remain in that position only for a very brief period. Professor Emeritus O. H. de A. Wijesekera was next appointed as Honorary Editor-in-Chief and Professor Jotiya Dheerasekera (Ven. Dhammavihari) as Editor-in-Chief. During the tenure in office of these two experienced and learned Professors, two more fascicles of the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism were compiled and released. Bandula Jayawardhana who joined the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism project at its very inception was appointed Editor-in-Chief next, but he retired from service soon after.
The present writer has been associated with the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism project, as an Assistant Editor, since 1960. He happened to belong to Professor Malalasekera’s last batch of students at the Peradeniya University, who specialized in Pali and Buddhist studies. In 1987, he was elevated to the position of Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism, with an extremely depleted internal editorial staff.
In spite of the many obstacles he had to dabble with, from 1987 to date, he was able to complete and release 15 fascicles of the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism.
The total number of fascicles released so far stands at 30, which comprise 7 Encyclopaedia volumes and half of the volume VIII.
To complete the project, the last Fascicle of Volume VIII and the Index Volume have to be printed and released.
The last fascicle of Volume VIII is now in its second proof stage and is expected to be released in September 2009.
The encouragement and backing the present writer received from many scholars and educationists in the field of Buddhist studies since his appointment as Editor-in-Chief made his task pleasant and easy.
Dr. Ananda W. P. Guruge has been associated with the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism project as the Honorary Editorial Adviser and external contributor of several learned articles, since 1987 to date. Professor Emeritus N. A. Jayawickrama, Professor Emeritus P. E. F. Fernando, Professor Emeritus Y. Karunadasa assisted the Editor-in-Chief to make the task of editing many articles, pleasant and less cumbersome. Many scholars of Buddhism and Buddhist studies in Sri Lanka and foreign countries assisted the Editor-in-Chief as external contributors, by writing many specialized articles on selected headwords.
The Editor-in-Chief takes this opportunity to thank profusely the Sri Lankan and foreign Buddhist scholars who spent their precious time and energy to compile the invaluable articles needed for the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism.
The writer is the Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism.
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