With a history spanning more’ than two and a half millennia and over 300 million adherents
worldwide, Buddhism is one of humankind’s most interesting and populous religions. While a
historical dictionary of Buddhism must consider the various periods, events, individuals,
circumstances, texts, and concepts from which the history of Buddhism takes its shape, it must also
consider the sacred sites in Buddhist geography, the festivals, rites, and rituals that configure
Buddhist religious practice, the manifestation of Buddhist religiosity as witnessed in biography, art,
and mythology, and the soteriological methods employed by Buddhists throughout their history.
This book provides a comprehensive framework for under- standing Buddhism as a historically
compelling -religion. Because the study of Buddhism is a difficult task, including so many varied
cultures, this volume seeks to assist the reader. by providing a carefully designed pronunciation guide
to Buddhist canonical languages, an overview of the Buddhist scriptures preserved in Pali, Chinese,
and Tibetan, a chronology of Buddhist history and an extensive introduction to the history, doctrine,
and community life of the religion. With an extremely comprehensive, topically organized
bibliography, perhaps the `most extensive of any book on Buddhism that not solely a
Charles S. Prebish is Associate Professor of Religious Studies, The Pennsylvania State
This new series of Historical Dictionaries of Religions, Philosophies, and Movements will eventually
cover all of the world’s major religions. It is thus fitting that the first volume should be devoted to
Buddhism, one of the oldest and also one that deserves to be much better known in the West. It is
increasingly gaining converts, and many aspects of it have become familiar (if not necessarily well
understood) beyond its original homeland. That makes this book particularly important and also
particularly difficult to write, for the author must convey beliefs and concepts that arose in other
cultures and were first expressed in other languages.
That task has been accomplished admirably by Charles S. Prebish, himself a Westerner who is
thoroughly conversant with many aspects and currents of Buddhism. His personal field of research is
early India, especially the monastic and sectarian tradition, but he has also studied Buddhism in other
parts of Asia and in the United States. In fact, his book American Buddhism has already become a
standard resource on the subject. He has written many other books, articles, and reviews as well,
and is presently Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University.
In this historical dictionary, Dr. Prebish provides a comprehensive guide for interested readers and
initiates alike, Much of this material is included in several hundred entries on significant persons,
places, events, texts, doctrines, practices, institutions, and movements. This is inserted in the broader
context of an introduction and the historical perspective of a chronology, features that are common to
all these volumes. But, given the linguistic complexities, he has added a pronunciation guide and a
very useful overview of the Buddhist scriptures. Of special value is the bibliography, exceptionally
complete and strictly organized so that readers can readily find works on specific aspects of the
religion. With these tools, it should be much easier than before to initiate and expand one’s
knowledge of Buddhism.
When I was invited to prepare the Historical Dictionary of Buddhism volume for Scarecrow Press, I
was both- pleased and eager to begin what I anticipated to be an interesting, but not especially
lengthy project. After all, I was a veteran of one highly successful textbook/reference venture:
Buddhism: A Modern Perspective (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1975),
had what I presumed to be an expansive knowledge of and interest in the Buddhist tradition,
spanning ancient India to modern America, and had already produced much bibliographic and
terminological material. Depending on one's perspective, my anticipation was either naive, arrogant,
or both...but certainly not neither!
Much to my dismay, the time frame I had selected for the project was simply insufficient. One of my
colleagues at the Pennsylvania State University, Professor William Duiker, told me that preparing the
Historical Dictionary of Vietnam was intimidating, despite his many decades as a Vietnam specialist.
It was an appropriate word he chose in describing his travail. The dilemma one confronts squarely at
the outset is the overwhelming mass of material to be assembled and the enormously hard choices
that must be made in determining just precisely what to include. For a religious tradition like
Buddhism that moved out of its Indian homeland early in its history and became diffused throughout
Asia within a millennium, there is an absolutely staggering geographic space to confront. To further
complicate the task, within the past two centuries, Buddhism has made serious progress in moving
beyond Asia, establishing a significant presence in Europe, North and South America, and Australia.
There are few scholars in Buddhist studies whose particular specialty is globally extensive, either in
perspective or philological sophistication. As such, some significant aspects of a project like this
necessarily fall outside the range of any researcher’s preparation, with the recurrent sense of
insufficiency providing continual annoyance.
The task at hand is especially complicated and frustrating linguistically. Buddhism offers a variety of
so-called "canonical” languages: Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan, Chinese, and Japanese. Of course Sanskrit
and Pali are closely related, as are Chinese and Japanese. Nonetheless, these two sets of languages
come from language families that are as different as can be. If one factors in secondary literature in
Sinhalese, Thai, Laotian, Burmese, Vietnamese, and so forth, the difficulty escalates exponentially.
Obviously, choices for the “Dictionary" and the "Bibliography" had to be made in a fashion that is
useful and constructive for the reader. That naturally limits the amount of technical terminology that
can be utilized.
Needless to say, the series editor has offered comprehensive guidelines. Yet, even heeding his
concern to limit selections to such topics as events, persons, places of historic significance, religious
institutions, ritual practices, doctrines, heresies, missionary movements, and the like still leaves the
author terribly hard choices.
I have tried to minimize some of the difficulty for the reader by providing a pronunciation guide that is
rather explicit for Sanskrit, Pali, and Chinese terms, and which at least introduces the Japanese and
Tibetan alphabets. Additionally, an overview of the Buddhist scriptures in the Indian, Chinese, and
Tibetan traditions is presented at the outset. To help the reader keep perspective, both
geographically and historically, I have provided a chronology Because the Buddhist religion has such
a rich literature and has stimulated an enormous amount of scholarly research spanning several
hundred years, I have prepared an extensive bibliography organized so as to be instructive and
informative rather than simply imposing and probably confusing.
A rather substantial number of individuals have offered advice, assistance, and data input during the
preparation of this manuscript, and to be sure, they are too numerous to cite individually. I should
note, however, that the Pennsylvania State University has been remarkably helpful in obtaining the
specialized computer software, and tl1e hardware to support it, that enables me to incorporate
Sanskrit diacritics directly into my word-processing program. Without their willingness to support my
research effort through a significant funding contribution, this project would have taken very much
longer to complete. Finally, I should thank my family for surviving this past year with me. I hope they
will readjust to normalcy and find other endeavors with which to fill their time, now that they no
longer will be conscripted for alphabetizing, proofreading, and other tasks no sensible person would
coax his family into doing.
Art & Culture (391)
Emperor & Queen (435)
Mahatma Gandhi (234)
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