Encyclopedia of Buddhism

encyclopedia-of Buddhism Edward A. Irons
J. Gordon Melton, Series Editor

Encyclopedia of Buddhism: Encyclopedia of World Religions series has
been designed to provide comprehensive coverage
of six major global religious traditions—Buddhism,
Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Roman Catholicism,
and Protestant Christianity. The volumes have been
constructed in an A-to-Z format to provide a handy
guide to the major terms, concepts, people, events,
and organizations that have, in each case, transformed the religion from its usually modest beginnings to the global force that it has become.
Each of these religions began as the faith of
a relatively small group of closely related ethnic peoples. Each has, in the modern world,
become a global community, and, with one notable exception, each has transcended its beginning
to become an international multiethnic community. Judaism, of course, largely defines itself
by its common heritage and ancestry and has an
alternative but equally fascinating story. Surviving
long after most similar cultures from the ancient
past have turned to dust, Judaism has, within the
last century, regathered its scattered people into a
homeland while simultaneously watching a new
diaspora carry Jews into most of the contemporary world’s countries.
Each of the major traditions has also, in the
modern world, become amazingly diverse. Buddhism, for example, spread from its original home
in India across southern Asia and then through
Tibet and China to Korea and Japan. Each time
it crossed a language barrier, something was lost,
but something seemed equally to be gained, and
an array of forms of Buddhism emerged. In Japan
alone, Buddhism exists in hundreds of different
sect groupings. Protestantism, the newest of the
six traditions, began with at least four different and
competing forms of the religious life and has since
splintered into thousands of denominations.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the six
religious traditions selected for coverage in this
series were largely confined to a relatively small
part of the world. Since that time, the world has
changed dramatically, with each of the traditions
moving from its geographical center to become a
global tradition. While the traditional religions of
many countries retain the allegiance of a majority
of the population, they do so in the presence of
the other traditions as growing minorities. Other
countries—China being a prominent example—
have no religious majority, only a number of
minorities that must periodically interface with
one another.
The religiously pluralistic world created by
the global diffusion of the world’s religions
has made knowledge of religions, especially
religions practiced by one’s neighbors, a vital
K xii Encyclopedia of Buddhism
resource in the continuing task of building a
good society, a world in which all may live freely
and pursue visions of the highest values the cosmos provides.
In creating these encyclopedias, the attempt
has been made to be comprehensive if not exhaustive. As space allows, in approximately 800 entries,
each author has attempted to define and explain
the basic terms used in talking about religion,
make note of definitive events, introduce the
most prominent figures, and highlight the major
organizations. The coverage is designed to result
in both a handy reference tool for the religious
scholar/specialist and an understandable work
that can be used fruitfully by anyone—a student,
an informed layperson or a reader simply want to look up a particular person or idea.
Each volume includes several features. They
begin with an essay that introduces the particular
tradition and provides a quick overview of its historical development, the major events, and trends
that have pushed it toward its present state, and
the mega problems that have shaped it in the contemporary world.
A chronology lists the major events that have
punctuated the religion’s history from its origin to
the present. The chronologies differ somewhat in
the emphasis, given that they treat two very ancient
faiths that both originated in prehistoric times, several more recent faiths that emerged during the last
few millennia, and the most recent, Protestantism,
that has yet to celebrate its 500-year anniversary.
The main body of each encyclopedia is constituted of approximately 800 entries, arranged
alphabetically. These entries include some 200
biographical entries covering religious figures of
note in the tradition, with a distinct bias to the
19th and 20th centuries and some emphasis on
leaders from different parts of the world. Special
attention has been given to highlighting female
contributions to the tradition, a factor often
overlooked, as religion in all traditions has until
recently been largely a male-dominated affair.
Geographical entries cover the development of
the movement in those countries and parts of the
world where tradition has come to dominate
or form an important minority voice, where it
has developed a particularly distinct style (often
signaled by doctrinal differences), or where it has
a unique cultural or social presence. While religious statistics are amazingly difficult to assemble
and evaluate, some attempt has been made to
estimate the effect of the tradition on the selected
Encyclopedia of Buddhism: In some cases, particular events have had a
determining effect on the development of the
different religious traditions. Entries on events
such as the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (for
Protestantism) or the conversion of King Asoka
(for Buddhism) place the spotlight on the factors precipitating the event and the consequences
flowing from it.
The various traditions have taken form as
communities of believers have organized structures to promote their particular way of belief and
practice within the tradition. Each tradition has
a different way of organizing and recognizing the
distinct groups within it. Buddhism, for example,
has organized around national subtraditions. The
encyclopedias give coverage to the major groupings within each tradition.
Each tradition has developed a way of encountering and introducing individuals to spiritual
reality as well as a vocabulary for it. It has also
developed a set of concepts and a language to
discuss the spiritual world and humanity’s place
within it. In each volume, the largest number
of entries explore the concepts, the beliefs that
flow from them, and the practices that they
have engendered. The authors have attempted to
explain these key religious concepts in a nontechnical language and to communicate their meaning
and logic to a person otherwise unfamiliar with the religion as a whole.
Finally, each volume is thoroughly cross-indexed using small caps to guide the reader to
related entries. A bibliography and comprehensive
index round out each volume.
—J. Gordon Melton

By Dr. SK

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