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Project nº69, adopted in 2005

Encyclopedic Dictionary of Buddhism according to Chinese and Japanese sources.

This somewhat mysterious title is the Sino-Japanese pronunciation of four Chinese characters which signify ‘Forest of meanings of the treasury of the (Buddhist) Law.’ It describes the primary intent of the project in symbolic terms common in the Buddhism of the Far East: to give the scholarly public access to a systematic exposition of Buddhist doctrines (this is the ‘gi’ of the title, meaning ‘signification’ or ‘dogma’) in the form of an alphabetic encyclopedia organised according to Japanese pronunciation. The texts thus presented are just as they have been preserved in the scripturary treasury of the Chinese Buddhist canon. Translated from Indian languages and formulated as early as the High Middle Ages, they were brought together in the great Japanese edition known as the Buddhist Canon, modified in the Taishô era (Taishô shinshû daizôkyô), and published between 1924 and 1934. Such an undertaking was originally conceived by the last century’s two grand specialists of Buddhism. One the one hand was Frenchman Sylvain Lévi (1863–1935), perhaps the greatest scholar of his time concerning the Far East. On the other was Takakusu Junjirô (1866–1945), one of the major pioneers of modern Buddhist studies in Japan. The first section was published in Tôkyô in 1929, containing 96 pages in two columns, and illustrated with works of Buddhist art in Japan. The eminent sinologist Paul Demiéville was named editor under the sponsorship of the Imperial Academy of Japan and the Maison Franco-Japonaise of Tôkyô. The second part was released in 1930, but after the third (1937) the project was halted for thirty years. It was started again in the 1960s and published this time by the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres of the Institut de France. In spite of the progress of Buddhist studies in the intervening years, especially in the US, the Hôbôgirin has retained its usefulness. It is one of the French-language reference works that is most regularly consulted abroad within a given specialisation. Moreover, it retains particular prestige among Japanese specialists, despite the undeniable attraction that recent English-language Buddhist scholarship has for them. We have witnessed the appearance of encyclopedic projects in English but none of them overlaps with the insights of the Hôbôgirin which remains the only one to devote itself to Chinese and Japanese sources. In this sense it remains a unique reference work. It must be emphasized that this perspective ‘beyond India’ which dates from the encyclopedia’s very beginnings is in perfect harmony with the newest lines of Buddhist study. Research had long been haunted by attempts to reconstruct the life and personality of its founder. Another characteristic was its establishment of a chronology of the development of doctrine and of the religious community of India. It is therefore vital to keep with this Sino-Japanese approach. At the same time we must much add Korean sources much more explicitly, which often remain undifferentiated from the first two, while also concerning ourselves with Vietnamese sources, written in classical Chinese as well. The latter sources have been largely untapped until now. The Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, as represented by the late Permanent Secretary Jean Leclant, was quite attached to the idea of continuing and completing this work which is doubtless one of the jewels of French-language erudition. Jean-Noël Robert was requested to take up its direction. Some years were spent in sorting through the subsisting manuscripts for publishable articles. During this process it became apparent that the articles which might have been published needed to be entirely rewritten. While this was not impossible, it meant a kind of scholarship too entrenched in old criteria to be able to meet current demands. Chinese and Japanese sources are in fact no longer the primary materials in Buddhist studies: firstly, since the 1960s, Western libraries have been constantly inundated with writings from Tibetan doctors. They offer translations of Sanskrit texts, but also represent an original tradition, itself deserving attention. Secondly, there is the literature of the Great Vehicle of the Sanskrit language. Many of the most important of these works were long believed lost. Yet this body of literature keeps growing thanks to new discoveries, whether they be from systematically exploring Indian and Nepalese manuscript collections or from the sudden appearance of collections hidden in Tibet. All of this means that we have needed to reconsider the absolute importance of Chinese and Japanese sources in offering privileged access to ancient Indian Buddhism. At the same time, technological progress in the computer field has made it possible to electronically mine the Chinese and Japanese Buddhist canon with a precision and a finesse that had been unimaginable not long ago. This offers new perspectives for research in the history of Buddhist doctrine and thought in East Asia.