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  • The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism ed. by Robert E. Buswell Jr. and Donald S. Lopez Jr.
  • Steven Heine (bio)
The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Edited by Robert E. Buswell Jr. and Donald S. Lopez Jr. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2014. Pp. xxxii + 1265. Hardcover $65.00, isbn 978-0-691-15786-3.

The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, edited by Robert E. Buswell Jr. and Donald S. Lopez Jr., is an invaluable research tool, already highly valued by a wide range of scholars and educators of pan-Asian religious history. Reflecting the growing field of Buddhist studies along with the increasing popularity of forms of practice in Buddhism, this volume, since release, has quickly become the industry standard for [End Page 617] a comprehensive and authoritative dictionary. It is also featured in a Kindle edition that has been revised to respond to reader demands regarding the need for a suitable searchable apparatus. Editing was supervised by arguably the two leading scholars in their respective specialty areas, who are well known for their sizeable high-quality output of monographs, collections, and reference works—Robert Buswell in East Asian and Donald Lopez in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist studies. The editors have gathered an admirable team of academic consultants who labored for a decade to produce a single volume that contains over five thousand entries and totals more than a million words of dense but invariably useful information including some analysis and interpretation.

The Princeton Dictionary is, as the publisher rightfully claims, the first lexicon to include authors and titles as well as terms and names dealing with deities, monasteries, geographical sites, and related topics that cover all of the canonical Buddhist languages and traditions, including Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, with selected entries in Burmese, Khmer, Lao, Mongolian, Newar, Sinhalese, Thai, and Vietnamese. The main entries provide a succinct definition and a more detailed short essay on the term’s broader meaning and significance. The front matter includes a thorough timeline, juxtaposing key developments in India, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, East Asia, and Tibet–Central Asia with events in world history, in addition to six maps showing the origins and spread of Buddhism and two diagrams highlighting the cosmology of Mount Sumeru. The appendixes provide a masterful “List of Lists” for key concepts based on the number of items in each category, such as six supramundane powers, seven buddhas of the past, and ten perfections, as well as nearly 150 pages of cross-references that enable readers to find related terms and look up equivalencies in multiple Buddhist languages.

The single main contribution of this massive work is to bridge the major Buddhist traditions and complement the trend toward specialization in the field of Buddhology, whereby researchers tend to focus on particular regions, languages, and historical periods while possibly overlooking or even dismissing the relevance and applications of their findings across the Buddhist world. For example, the crucial basic term pratītyasamutpāda (“dependent origination” or “conditioned genesis”) is explained in considerable detail in relation to various Sanskrit/Pali concepts seen in light of their complex textual roots concerning causality and conditioning, such as versions of the twelvefold chain, but this entry also includes some mention of East Asian pronunciations and interpretations in the Chinese Huayan school. The entry for the notion of dana (“giving” or “charity”) discusses early Buddhist views plus how the practice is understood in Mahāyāna Buddhism. A strength of the book from another angle is that a good selection of modern figures is included, ranging from the Russian scholar Stcherbatsky and Indian reformer Ambedhkar to Japanese master Yasutani Hakuun and American poet Allen Ginsberg.

On the other hand, it is perhaps inevitable that many entries as defined by highly specialized contributors do not offer much crossover material. For instance, terms important for monastic behavior, such as pratimoksha (“code” or “rules” of conduct [End Page 618] for fully ordained monks and nuns recited as vows) and uposadha (fortnightly confessional ceremonies—generally left untranslated), deal only with South Asian origins and meanings while the opportunity is not taken to engage in implications for East Asian training, including debates regarding the relative importance of the...


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