The Jews started their first one in 1900 and this was joined by the Encyclopaedia Talmudit in 1942. The majesterial 26 volume Encyclopaedia Judaica came out in 1972. The Catholic Encyclopaedia saw the light of day in 1907. The Encyclopaedia of Islam was first published in 1913 and in 2005 the six volume Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an was published. Brill’s Encyclopaedia Islamica, a translation of the magnificent Dā'erat-ol-Ma'āref-e Bozorg-e Eslāmi, is on-going and is projected to take up 16 volumes when finished. And of course the recent Encyclopaedia of Islamic Law in three volumes, and the huge Encyclopaedia of Hadith must not be forgotten. There is even an Encyclopaedia of Hadith Forgeries! The 11 volume Encyclopaedia of Hinduism has just been published. As with most things, the Christians are ahead of the game. For reasons of space I can mention only a few of their encyclopaedias. The Encyclopaedia Biblica was published in 1899, although I think there were several similar works before this. The Encyclopaedia of Bible Difficulties, Baker Encyclopaedia of Christian Apologetics, The Encyclopaedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, A Concise Encyclopaedia of Christianity in India, The World Christian Encyclopaedia, The Encyclopaedia of Christian Civilization, The Encyclopaedia of Christian Theology (3 vols.), The Oxford Encyclopaedia of the Reformation (4 vols.), The Oxford Encyclopaedia of South Asian Christianity (2 vols.), The Oxford Encyclopaedia of the Bible and the Arts, and The Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopaedia (12 vols.). Everything you could possibly want to know about every aspect of the faith. Even a small sect like the Mormons (4 million members?) has its four volume Encyclopaedia of Mormonism (1992).
Now we turn to Buddhism. In the early 1950s as the Buddhist world geared up for the Buddha Jayanti the government of Ceylon undertook to publish an Encyclopaedia of Buddhism, an idea that was first broached, I think, by G. P. Malalasekera. Unusually for traditional Buddhists, a great deal of careful thought went into the project. Specialists in Buddhism from around the world were invited to participate and included big names such as I. B Horner, Giuseppe Tucci, B. C. Law. P. V. Bapat, N. Dutt, Helmut von Glasenapp, and even the likes of Lama Govinda and Christmas Humpherys. The Ceylon government purchased at considerable expense a fine quality acid-free paper for the volumes and made generous contributions to the project. After careful consideration it was decided that the whole project would need 15000 pages and take 10 years to complete. In 1965 the first volume was complete and proved to be a tour de force. But a perceptive observer might have noticed a problem; that of the project being over-ambitious. It covered the doctrines of all schools, history, art, literature, indeed just about everything related to Buddhism. It was clear that even every book in the Tibetan Tipitaka was going to have a separate entry. How on earth was all this going to be fitted into 15,000 pages? Then there was the problem of being associated with the Ceylon/Sri Lankan government. Political appointments to the editorial staff, cutback of funding, and a general slowness started to take its toll. By volume IV (1979-1987) the project was in serious trouble. This is reflected by the quality of the articles, although some are still excellent, the cutback in the number of articles, the cheap paper, the different font from the earlier volumes and the different size of each volume. Put all the volumes on a shelf and they are all of a different size. And now the output has slowed to a crawl. Recently I asked a former staff member when the final volume was expected to come out; he smiled and said: “When the next world-system starts to re-evolve.”
Of course with the slow decline of the Sri Lankan Encyclopaedia other attempts have sprung to life. Apart from small efforts on individual Buddhist schools (e.g. An Encyclopaedia of Korean Buddhism and The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Zen Buddhism) we have the new Brill’s Encyclopaedia of Buddhism which is planned to be in seven volumes and looks promising, the Edward Irons Encyclopaedia of Buddhism, the Thomas Gale Encyclopaedia of Buddhism edited by Robert E. Buswell and Encyclopaedia of Buddhism edited by Damien Keown and Charles Prebish (only 857 pages of entries). These last three efforts cover the subjects in no more detail than does The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. As if to reinforce the perception of Buddhism being disengaged none of them have an entry on marriage or quite a few other subjects relevant to 99% percent of Buddhists or those wanting to know more about Buddhism.
I will say more in this subject in my next post.