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Princeton Dictionary of BuddhismThe Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism
By Robert E. Buswell, Jr. and Donald S. Lopez, Jr.; Reviewed by Michael Ium

As the academic field of Buddhist Studies becomes more divergent, the criticism has been made that the field has become overly fragmented, that scholars in Buddhist Studies have become specialists to the point that they are unable to have meaningful conversations with their colleagues within the field, let alone outside of it. Representing the culmination of over 12 years of effort, and containing primary entries in six Buddhist languages, The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism by Robert E. Buswell, Jr. and Donald S. Lopez, Jr. is a masterful resource which will help bridge linguistic and cultural divides in the field by assisting scholars and students from a variety of traditions to cross-reference Buddhist terms and concepts across cultures, and gain understandings of Buddhist terms in insightful and efficient ways.

Described as an “encyclopedic dictionary,” rather than merely providing the definitions of terms, this dictionary describes the broader meaning and significance of each term. As an illustrative example of the breadth of each entry, let us take the entry for “dharma”: in Pali it is “dhamma,” in Tibetan “chos,” in Chinese “fa,” in Japanese “hō,” in Korean “pŏp.” Historically, the entry describes the usage of the term in the Vedic literature, by Hindus, and by Buddhists. Semantically, the term can mean “doctrine,” but it can also refer to “phenomenon,” “characteristic,” or be combined with other words, as in “dharmadhātu” or “dharmapāla.” Finally, as in the Abhidharma literature, there are lists of dharmas, such as the “one hundred dharmas of the Yogācāra school” conveniently located in an aptly titled appendix at the end of the book titled “List of Lists”!

As any serious student of Buddhism knows, Buddhists are fond of making lists. What is essential in understanding Buddhist thought is knowing both the individual meanings of each term, and then knowing how these terms and lists fit together. By providing definitions, contexts, and the broader significance of each term, Buswell and Lopez have created a resource that can answer simple questions about definitions and contexts quickly, and then point one in the right direction for how to answer questions of broader significance. As further resources, the book also includes maps of important Buddhist sites in Asia, chronicles of Asian historical periods, a timeline of Buddhism from the 6th century BCE until the 20th century CE, and an extensive appendix cross-referencing terms from Pali, Tibetan, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese into their Sanskrit forms.

The authors note at the end of their preface: “After some discussion, we decided to forgo listing the 84,000 afflictions and their 84,000 antidotes.” Other than this small omission, with more than 5,000 main entries, and over a million words, The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism is a wondrous resource that will become indispensable to both scholars and serious students of Buddhism. Drawing upon their decades of work in the field, Buswell, Lopez, and their colleagues and students at UCLA and the University of Michigan have created a resource that is a monumental contribution to the field of Buddhist Studies.

Published by Princeton University Press
Hardcover US$65.00