The first ever English medium Encyclopedia of Buddhism
Dr. W.G. Weeraratne
Encyclopedia: 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 programmes to celebrate
the occasion in a fitting manner.
The Buddhists of Myanmar (Burma) under the leadership of premier
U-Nu, decided to hold the sixth Buddhist convention (Chattha
Sangayana) in Myanmar to revise and cleanse the Pali Tipitaka (The
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
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
Tipitaka 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 book 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 the 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 Thervada
Buddhism in the world, volunteered to undertake three major
activities as its contribution to the Buddha Jayanti Celebrations.
The first of them was to translate into Sinhala the Buddhist
Canon (Tripitaka) which was first brought to Sri Lanka by Arahant
Mahinda Thera in the 3rd Century B.C........ and subsequently
written down in ola leaf books at Aluvihara in Matale in the 1st
Century B.C.... The translation was to go under the appellation
'Buddha Jayanti Tipitaka Grantha Malava'. The translation was to be
handled by a panel of highly experienced and qualified Buddhist
The second of them was to compile a comprehensive general
Encyclopedia 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 the project.
The third of them was to compile a comprehensive Encyclopedia of
Buddhism in the English medium, to cover the complete range of
Buddhism, its expansion and its development from its inception up to
date. The veteran and highly qualified Buddhist Scholar and national
leader at the time.
Professor Emeritus Gunapala Piyasena Malalasekera was selected to
plan this Encyclopedia and execute the project. He was also 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 Encyclopedia 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 the numerous
Buddhist Schools and Sects, their origins and subsequent
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 parts. Even so, the list of
topics would not be exhausted".
The office of the Encyclopedia 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.
The Peradeniya University atmosphere was very congenial for the
compilation of the Encyclopedia of Buddhism.
The Peradeniya academic staff at that time consisted of many
professors and lecturers who were experts in Pali, Sanskrit, Indian
Philosophy, Buddhist philosophy, Western philosophy, Archaeology,
Indian and Ceylon history and many allied fields of study.
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 Encyclopedia of Buddhism.
The Encyclopedia of Buddhism has been planed to be completed in
eight volumes and an Index volume. Each Encyclopedia volume is to
contain approximately 800 printed pages. For the convenience of
printing the Encyclopedia of Buddhism is released in Fascicles, each
Fascicle to consist of around 200 pages. Four such fascicles from
one Encyclopedia Volume.
I have been associated with the Encyclopedia of Buddhism project,
as an assistant Editor, since 1960. To add a personal note, I
happened to belong to Professor Malalasekera's last batch of
students at the Peradeniya University, who specialized in Pali and
In 1987 I was appointed Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopedia of
Buddhism, with an extremely depleted internal editorial staff. In
spite of the many obstacles I had to dabble with, from 1987 up to
date, I was able to complete and release 14 fascicles of the
Encyclopedia of Buddhism.
The total number of fascicles released so far stands at 28, which
comprise 7 Buddhist Encyclopedia Volumes. To complete the project we
have to compile and print the remaining four fascicles of Volume
VIII and the index Volume.
The first fascicle of Volume VIII is now in the process of being
printed and we expect to release it by the end of June 2007.
About 90% of articles for the last 3 fascicles are also complete
now. We are working with a well-planned schedule to complete the
project by the end of the year 2008.