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Introduction to the Digital Dictionary of Buddhism

A. Charles Muller

Revised May 25, 2012

Compilation started in September, 1986. First placed on the Internet on July 15, 1995. Updated monthly based on user contributions.

Historical Background

This dictionary is a compilation of Buddhist terms, texts, temple, schools, persons, etc. found in Buddhist canonical sources. Its compilation was initiated in 1986 during my first semester of graduate school, upon my realization of the dearth of comprehensive English language reference works for Buddhist technical terminology. Since my basic area of interest was the Chinese Buddhist canon, the orientation of the dictionary has been toward East Asian sources, and therefore the dictionary was known during its first 15 years of existence as the Dictionary of East Asian Buddhist Terms (DEABT). Realizing, however, that a large portion of the content was actually concerned with Indian and other cultural manifestations of Buddhism, and not wanting to discourage potential collaborators with other orientations, we renamed it, in 2001, to the present Digital Dictionary of Buddhism (DDB). Thus, the content of this database/dictionary/encyclopedia/translation glossary is intended to be pan-Buddhist in character.

I originally began the compilation of the DDB simply as a personal glossary to aid in translation work. But as time passed, seeing the need for the availability of a broad range of information on Buddhist concepts, persons, places, practices, schools, and so forth, I gradually began to add essay-length materials derived from my own research. While the initial target audience of this compilation was primarily specialists like myself who were working directly with Buddhist textual sources, and while the information contained his is, for the most part aimed at professional researchers, as the project grows in scope and in technical sophistication, the information contained here gradually becomes useful to beginners and casual browsers as well as professional scholars.

I began the project at a time (1986) before anyone had conceived of the World Wide Web as we know it today. In 1995, the Web emerged, and the potential value of placing these materials on the web seemed obvious. This would make them available more freely, more quickly, and more cheaply, to a wider range of people than we could have ever imagined with a print reference work. It would also allow for easy and continuous correction, enhancement, expansion, and refinement of the information contained within, allowing a kind of collaboration heretofore inconceivable. Within a year after my placing of this compilation on the web in a simple and rough HTML format, it was discovered by Christian Wittern (now Professor at the Humanities Institute at Kyoto University), a scholar of Chinese Chan Buddhism, who also happened to be (and still is) one of the most advanced users of digital technology in the humanities fields. Christian quickly converted the data to SGML format, and I was over time, able to learn from this and study enough about SGML to figure out the basics, and the underlying format continued to develop from there. After this time, a few of the earliest content contributors, including Gene Reeves, Jamie Hubbard, Charles Patton, and Iain Sinclair contacted me to offer their own digitized research data.

During the late 90's, many in the SGML world gradually turned to the emerging XML standard, and I followed. This publicized shift in the format of the DDB first attracted Louis-Dominique Dubeau (an XML programmer, who subsequently entered the world of Buddhist scholarship, completing a PhD at the University of Virginia), who wrote the first proper DTD for the DDB. At this time, however, while the local data was saved as XML, the online version was published in static HTML every few months or so, lacking a search engine or any other technological advantage other than simple hyperlinking. Then, in 2001, I (and indeed, the entire world of Buddhist Studies) was extremely fortunate to be approached by Michael Beddow, a true master of Humanities computing, who, with incredible skill, care, and generosity, took the XML data and created a fully operational and dynamic system using XPath/XLinking, along with a search engine, which was, as far as I know, the first at that time which would search mixed latin and double-byte East Asian text in XML/utf-8 encoding. Dr. Beddow has continued to support the DDB from that time to the present, adding various enhancements, as well as providing web site security.

Since the time of Michael's technical advancement of the DDB, we have gradually been contacted by more persons interested in sharing the fruits of their research, and so our growth has continued to accelerate. The intended future coverage of the DDB is seen to be without limit. We are interested in developing and expanding this compilation in any direction where we can receive collaboration—from any linguistic/cultural region of Buddhist studies that one would like to contribute information. We have no limit on the length of articles, and we will be happy to add images and any other sort of data that is appropriate. It is our hope, in terms of reflecting the history of the Buddhist tradition, to provide as balanced and accurate account as possible. Therefore, we encourage contributions from any researchers in the areas of Buddhist philosophy, soteriology, philology, history, art, sociology, and so on.

Access Policies

We have established a password/quota system in order to: (a) encourage regular users to feel a sense of responsibility to make their own contributions to this shared resource, and (b) block access by abusers of the dictionaries who send in search robots to download all of the data (which, in the process, obstruct access by honest users). This system operates at two levels:

  1. Limited Use (no user contribution): Any user may access the dictionary by entering "guest" as the username with no password. This will allow a total of 10 searches in each of the DDB and CJKV-E dictionaries in a 24-hour period.
  2. Unlimited Use:
    1. User Data or Technical Contributions - While the most basic aim in putting these dictionaries on the web is to make this material readily available to everyone, the larger purpose of this project is to bring about a collaborative effort that will lead to the eventual development of a comprehensive body of data. In order to accomplish this, we need contributions toward content development from users. Thus, you may obtain an unlimited-use password by becoming a contributor to the DDB. You can secure 2 years of unlimited access by contributing entry materials the equivalent of one A4 or Letter-size page (about 350 words). For details, see here.
    2. Paid Subscriptions: Individual - Individual users who are unable to make a contribution, but need unlimited access may pay for a two-year subscription to the CJKV-E and DDB dictionaries, at the rate of U.S. $60 for individuals (by Paypal, bank transfer, or check/money order). Please write to acmuller[a] for details.
    3. Paid Subscriptions: Institutions - University libraries and other academic entities may subscribe their institution at the rate of US $300 per year (by Paypal, bank transfer, or check/money order). A template for the Institutional Agreement is here. (See list of subscribing institutions.)
    4. Please Note:For those who end up paying for access: although you may feel bothered at having to pay, please understand that these small monetary contributions allow us to pay our graduate assistants to keep inputting new terms, as well as paying for server costs, reference works, hardware and software, which allows us to maintain and continually develop the content of the DDB and CJKV-E dictionaries. This is the way that we can function as a sustainable project, so that we don't need to have a grant to continue to develop. Many people believe that information on the web should be “free,” but the creation and maintenance of high-quality materials can't alway be done on thin air. So we really do appreciate your willingness to cooperate in this way.

Technical Publications

If you are interested in seeing any further background material on the history and development of the DDB, I have written a couple of papers that I have used in conjunction with presentations that I have made of the dictionary, which are available on this site in HTML format. You can find these attached to my personal publications page under the listings for articles and conference presentations on dictionaries and other digital topics.

Charles Muller

University of Tokyo