For The True Buddhist Nerd: A Review of The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism

For The True Buddhist Nerd

Recently, thanks to a helpful conversation with a certain Buddhist Professor (thank you Professor “B”), I got in touch with the Princeton University Press department, who sent me a free copy of The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. I was eager to get this book because I saw other reviews of it on blogs and on Twitter, and I was interested in the book because it provides a lot of missing information about Buddhism in languages and cultures you can’t find in other books.

For example, I have been struggling for a long time to find detailed information about Chinese Buddhist schools (Wikipedia entries are sometimes dubious) and for Vietnamese Buddhism in general. I was really happy to flip through this book and find a solid explanation of the Thiền (禪, Zen) tradition in Vietnamese Buddhism. For example, it turns out that there is no separate school of Chan/Zen Buddhism in Vietnam, unlike China, Korea and Japan, but the dictionary explains:

Much of the history is, however, a retrospective creation. The Thiền school is in reality a much more amorphous construct that it is in the rest of East Asia: in Vietnam, there is no obvious Chan monasticism, practices or rituals as there were in China, Korean, and Japan. Thiền is instead more of an aesthetic approach or a way of life than an identifiable school of thought or practice. (pg. 906)

Also, the book has valuable information on the San-lun (三論宗) school of Chinese Buddhism, and on Tian-tai (天台宗) which I was unable to find elsewhere. For the casual Buddhist, this sort of information isn’t really important, but for someone who writes a blog on Buddhist subjects, and spends a lot of time fixing Wikipedia articles, this information is critically important to clarifying vague and poorly understood aspects of Asian Buddhism.

The dictionary even has entries Burmese Buddhism. How many books can you find that even talk about Burmese Buddhism in particular?

The other thing I like about this book is that for the same entry, multiple languages are presented, such as below:

Jingxi Zhanran (J. Keikei Tannen; K. Hyŏnggye Tamyŏn 荊溪湛然) (711-782) Chinese monk who is the putative ninth patriarch of the Tiantai Zong….

While writing this blog, I’ve often struggled to provide the Korean term for something I know in Japanese Buddhism, so it’s great to be able to easily find it now. I’ve used this dictionary probably about 6 times since I received it last week, so I can definitely say it’s useful.

But the book is a big, heavy tome. It’s not something for people who are just curious about Buddhism. Instead, it’s an invaluable reference for Buddhist researchers and people who want to know more about Asian Buddhism in particular. Professors Buswell and Lopez put a lot of work this book and it definitely shows. Plus, the book is nicely printed with good binding, good quality paper and easy to read-formatting which is helpful for me and my worsening eyesight.

Thanks again to Professor “B” and to the folks at Princeton University Press!


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

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