Start searching »

A comprehensive encyclopedic dictionary on Buddhism and Buddhist studies

Reviewed item: 

The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, written and compiled by Buswell Jr. and Lopez Jr., is a comprehensive encyclopedic dictionary covering more than 5,000 entries from all of the canonical Buddhist languages and traditions such as Sanskrit, Pāli, Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese and Korean. The dictionary is thoroughly enjoyable to anyone who wants to know anything and everything about Buddhism, such as the who, what, where, how and when of Buddhism. The Dictionary includes all relevant terms that represent diverse facets of Buddhism, religious principles, and scholarships. As it covers six major languages, prominent Buddhist scholars in those languages are also adequately mentioned. Their works and contributions are briefly described in the respective entries. For example, in Sanskrit and Pali languages ‘Buddha' refers to the ‘awakened one' or ‘enlightened one'. Buddha is "traditionally etymologically as one who has awakened from the deep sleep of ignorance and opened his consciousness to encompass all objects of knowledge" (p. 148).
Gautama Buddha, also known as Sakyamuni or Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, was born as a son of King Suddhodana in 566 BCE, according to the long chronology, at Lumbini (which is presently in Nepal). He died at the age of 80, in 486 BCE at Kushinagar, which is presently located at Uttar Pradesh, India. It is believed that he attained Mahaparinirvana after his death. Gautama Buddha was the founder of Buddhism, a religion that is more than 2500 years old, and continues to hold faiths of millions of followers, particularly in East, Southeast and South Asia. Asoka the Great reigned a powerful Mauryan empire in India during 300-232 BCE, and was the first major royal patron responsible for spreading Buddhism across the Asian continent, starting with its first leg in Sri Lanka. Then many Indian rulers showed patronage in spreading of Buddhism and establishing institutions of higher learning for Buddhist studies, comparative religions, and other indigenous religious scriptures. Nalanda (located in Bihar, India) was established in the 5th century CE as the major centre of higher learning for Buddhist studies, comparative religions, and religious scriptures. The First Council of Buddhism convened at Rajagriha (in Bihar) in 486 BCE, the Second Council at Vaisali (also in Bihar) in 386 BCE, and the Third Council at Pataliputra (now Patna in Bihar) in 250 BCE. These councils helped institutionalize the spiritual journeys of Buddhism.
Many Buddhist pilgrimage places across the states of India are now inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, including heritage sites such as Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, Bihar; Ajanta Caves, Ellora Caves and Elephanta Caves in Maharashtra; and Sanchi Stupa in Madhya Pradesh. Many Asian countries also have nominated their historically significant Buddhist cultural centres for inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Dictionary informs us about many of them.

Jataka stories
People in South Asia and other parts of Asia have been fascinated with Jataka stories for generations. Jataka refers to "narrative accounts of previous births or lives, especially of a Buddha. …There are hundreds of such stories and together they form one of the most popular genres of Buddhist literature. In a typical tale, Gautama Buddha will recount a story from one of his past lives as a human or an animal, demonstrating a particular virtue or perfection, after which he will identify the other characters in the story as the past incarnations of members of his present audience." (p. 381). The Jataka stories are retold in all major Asian languages, making them the most popular literature in Buddhism to inculcate value education to school children and to convey spiritual values and principles to common men.

The Lotus Sutra
The Dictionary also points to different schools of thoughts in Buddhism and their unique religious philosophies and principles. Of the many sutras or sacred scriptures of Buddhism, the Lotus Sutra (S. Saddharma Pundarika Sutra) is widely observed as one of the most important and influential sutras, particularly respected by the Mahayana Buddhist school of thoughts. Lotus Sutra is made widely popular and practicable in everyday life, by many including the Nichiren Buddhism sect. In today's world, the followers from other religions are attracted to Buddhism primarily through the principle of Lotus Sutra. Choudhury (2015) in a recent book observes: "The chief message of Lotus Sutra is the Buddhahood, which is a condition of complete happiness, freedom from fear, and liberation from illusions, is innate in all life. The forging of this inner-life state, enables us to overcome our problems, and live an active, satisfying life, fully engaged with others and society. … The Lotus Sutra conveys the most comprehensive and ultimate of the Buddha's teachings, the crucial truth of Buddhism, that each and every person, without exception, has the potential to attain Buddhahood" (p. 7).
The Dictionary is a comprehensive one, and readers can explore all related terms they come across while going through a dictionary entry. Any related term is usually given a ‘See’ instruction, to ease finding a key term. The authors included Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Tibetan Cross References (p.1103-1265) at the end of the book to facilitate the readers familiar with terms in those languages. The authors also included a List of Lists (p. 1065-1102) to elaborate most important numerical lists used in Buddhist traditions. The Dictionary offers a sense of completeness and comprehensiveness in understanding taxonomies and terminologies used in Buddhism. The book is recommended for general readers as well as specialized scholars of Buddhist studies.

Reviewed by: Anup Kumar Das, School of Social Science, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India (

Choudhury, K. 2015. Finding Peace: An Oriental Quest, New Delhi: Bloomsbury

Kumar Das, A. 2016. A review of R.E. Buswell Jr. & D.S. Lopez Jr. 2014. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, posted online on 3 June 2016:

Facebook icon    twitter icon    RSS icon is an initiative of the International Insitute for Asian Studies