Okay, so we are talking about two quite different things here. So we need to clarify that!
My goal—and this is something that is only becoming clear as the discussion proceeds—was to create a dictionary for basic Pali terminology. The primary use of this would be for word lookup, and thus it would extend, and hopefully complete, the range of words that were correctly identified by our Pali lookup tool. Let’s call is a Glossary rather than a Dictionary, if you like.
What you’re interested in, and if I’m not mistaken, Elissa too, is more of a dictionary of Buddhist terms. Perhaps something like Payutto’s Dictionary of numerical Dhammas, perhaps, but not just numerical. There are a number of such:
And no doubt others. However, none of them, so far as I know, deal specifically with early Buddhism.
This is also a great project, and would fill another need that I have felt for SC. Let me first discuss a little how I envisage something like this being used—or at least, one application—and then consider the project itself.
One of the things we have done with the texts on SC is to remove the footnotes. I have discussed this at length elsewhere, so I won’t go into it here. But one gap this leaves us is that we end up with texts that liberally use technical terms and ideas that will be unfamiliar to readers. Someone reading a sutta and coming across the term “aggregate” is unlikely to know what this means, unless they have some background in Buddhism already.
Now, footnotes are one way to deal with this, but not a very good one, especially in a digital medium. Why? Because they explain the term once, and we need the information to be contextual. People aren’t going to read the suttas sequentially, and we shouldn’t structure our information as if they will.
So, what to do? Well, I think that in a web environment we can use several means to approach this. One of those is this very discourse site, where we can discuss things, post essays and so on. But this doesn’t give us the fine-grained ability to explain specific words in a text. For this, I envisage two things.
- A system of site-wide annotations, where people can write notes on specific passages, and
- A terminological dictionary, such as the one we are considering, which will define doctrinally significant terms in a meaningful and useful way, to be applied site-wide.
So what you’d do is, if you wanted help with terminology, turn on the terminological dictionary, then the explanations will appear as popups for the terms wherever they appear in the site. The annotations would be similar, except they apply to specific passages, not general terms.
Of course, the terminological dictionary could also be used just as well on its own, or in other ways, maybe even printed.
What is the relation between this doctrinal dictionary and the simple glossary that I was envisaging?
Well, there doesn’t have to be a relation. Perhaps they are two separate projects. Or perhaps, we start by making a simple glossary, then enriching it with further information. I think both approaches could work. The latter approach would be conceptually more satisfying; but then, Worse Is Better!