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China to Issue Authoritative New Edition of Buddhist Scriptures

With its economy revving up, China is able to commit more resources to reviving its literature and spiritual classics. Currently, scholars are working on the first punctuated version of Tripitaka--A New Edition of Tripitaka.

Tripitaka, a complete collection of all Buddhist scriptures, is an essential classic in Chinese culture. It not only is of vital importance to the survival and development of Buddhism, but also has exerted a profound influence on philosophy, history, ethnic studies, linguistics, writing system, literature, art, astronomy, calendric system, medicine, architecture, international relations and many other areas. It is no exaggeration to call it a cultural treasure of the world.

China has published over 30 editions of Tripitaka over the past 2,000 years. The Song Dynasty pioneered the compilation of complex classics by putting together an official version of Tripitaka—Kaibao Tripitaka. Later, under the influence of the Chinese edition, Tibetan, Mongolian and Manchu editions of Tripitaka rolled off the printing press. Chinese Tripitaka was printed in Japan and the Korean Peninsula as well. Regretfully, none of these versions were punctuated or covered all valuable Chinese Buddhist scriptures. At present, scholars mostly use Japan's version as a basic reference material. However, there is no doubt that this version, which was compiled in the 1920s and 1930s, cannot meet the needs of today's researchers. In addition, it does not include the large number of precious Buddhist scriptures such as Dunhuang scriptures and Fangshan stone scriptures discovered more recently. Given these factors, China is desperately in need of a modernized, high-quality Tripitaka that crystallizes contemporary academic achievements.

In the 1960s, the Chinese Government identified Tripitaka as a cultural heritage that needed to be rescued. It charged the Department of Philosophy and Social Sciences of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences with compiling and publishing China Tripitaka. The Ancient Classics Compilation Group of the State Council led by Li Yimang resumed the project in the early 1980s and listed it in the national ancient classics compilation program. Professor Ren Jiyu, Director of the Institute of World Religions of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, was commissioned to be responsible for the project.

It was planned that the Chinese version of China Tripitaka would come out in three parts. Part I—“main scriptures”—features Buddhist scriptures documented in the Tripitaka of various dynasties, totaling 1,939 titles and some 10,000 volumes. It is largely based on early editions of Tripitaka such as Zhaocheng Jinzang (Zhaocheng Buddhism Encyclopedia) while complemented by other editions including Tripitaka Koreana. Another eight representative editions were also consulted. Discrepancies between different editions were properly handled, while some collation problems were corrected. When it was finished in 1994, Zhonghua Book Co. published all the 106 books comprising China Tripitaka. However, this edition is not very popular among scholars. The most common complaint is that it is too difficult to read, as the text is not divided into paragraphs or punctuated.

In the 1990s, it was decided that a high-quality Tripitaka should be compiled in the new century to modernize what is basically the Buddhist encyclopedia. A special group was set up. It set about contacting Buddhist scholars and venerable monks and making preparations for the compilation of A New Edition of Tripitaka. To date, a number of related works have been published. The style of the new edition has also been determined.

According to the plan, the new edition will consist of 5,600 titles of Buddhist scriptures, totaling 25,000 volumes. All existing Buddhist classics and works dated before 1950 will be sorted out systematically. The number of scriptures to be covered is expected to double that of the Japan's Taisho Tripitaka, the most complete Tripitaka so far. Apart from all the Chinese Buddhist scriptures in more than 20 existing Tripitaka editions, it will feature scriptures not included in these editions, notable works written in modern times, scriptures translated from Tibetan, Pali and Sanskrit in modern times and newly discovered scriptures, in particular, the Dunhuang scriptures. The scriptures found in Dunhuang Grottoes include not only complete collections of various Buddhist sutras and documents of different branches of Buddhism but also reference materials in related foreign languages. Some Chinese scriptures have on the flip side their original texts in Sanskrit, Sogdian and Pali. Researchers can easily look into the origins of the scriptures. Some of the sutras discovered in Dunhuang are ancient scriptures that have long been unavailable and completely unknown to Buddhist scholars.

Efforts will be made to ensure that A New Edition of Tripitaka is based on the best versions possible and the most original versions. To make it convenient for modern readers, the new edition will come out in a unified style using traditional Chinese characters. The text will be divided into paragraphs and punctuated. Nonstandard characters will be corrected, too. This modernized Tripitaka is expected to be the most complete, most authoritative and most reader friendly version in China.

The new edition is to be edited by the Editorial Committee of A New Edition of Tripitaka and published by the People's Publishing House. Led by Dan Zeng, Deputy Secretary of the Yunnan Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China, the editorial committee gathers over 100 scholars and eminent monks from across the world such as Feng Qiyong, Fang Litian, Huang Xinchuan, Fu Xuancong, Du Jiwen, Li Fuhua, Yicheng and Xuecheng. The committee will see to it that the achievements of contemporary scholars will be incorporated into the new edition. It is estimated that A New Edition of Tripitaka will consist of 300 books, exceeding 300 million Chinese characters. It is one of the largest publication projects China is currently undertaking and is scheduled to be completed in five years.


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