A few ideas about tagging, metadata, concept maps, etc

I am not sure if these have been suggested before, but I have a few ideas of things that I think might make Sutta Central even more useful. Please keep in mind that the site is already very good, and I understand that adding needless complexity is often best avoided (and indeed I tend to avoid it myself), but here goes…

In my honest opinion, the fundamental problem with reading early Buddhist texts is that there are thousands of texts, they are often tiny, and their organization often leaves much to be desired. For example, the Sutta Pitaka is organized something like: (1) long texts, (2) medium-length texts, (3) short texts that were originally grouped by topic, (4) misc. texts added incrementally, and (5) misc. texts that don’t fit in with the others. These organizational principles, while historically important, are probably not ideal for modern readers who don’t know where to begin. If we instead tell them to read an anthology, that is just giving up and avoiding the task of making the canon itself accessible.

Instead, I think providing a new type of interface for finding and reading texts would be neat. Basically, each text would have its normal unique identifier (SN 56.11, etc.), but is then tagged with all the important information such as concepts, doctrines, names, places, etc. These tags would be specified with a unique tag identifier, but then have more presentable synonyms in various languages. For example:

panna = Prajñā, Prajna, Paññā, Panna

The user is just given a search box like Google. He or she begins typing a concept. As it begins to match either the unique tag ID or one of its synonyms, the concept is suggested. Then the results of the search come up with all the texts tagged with that concept. So for example, if you begin typing “Samadhi of Infinite Space,” it would see that this is the same or similar to one of the synonyms, and give you all the suttas mentioning that samadhi. When you click on one of the suttas, you can also see which tags have been applied to it, and then crawl around the canon that way.

Someone might say that a normal search engine basically accomplishes the same thing, and maybe that is partially true. However, I think that tagging the suttas and finding different ways to organize them brings the guesswork out of it all, and provides the possibility of creating more concrete and meaningful structure for the early Buddhist texts.

There are a lot of different variants and it could stretch pretty far, such as allowing users to create sets of tags, or work on sets of tags in groups, and users might rate these sets of tags, or export them in XML, combine them, etc. When discovering texts, readers could also choose from the popular and highly-rated sets of tags. It could potentially turn into a pretty big platform for studying the early Buddhist texts.

Alternatively, it could be done on a smaller scale by simply tagging the texts, and then providing indexes for concepts, people, places, etc. An even smaller alternative would be to choose a limited number of texts for each concept, and simply make indexes without tagging. This would allow readers, for example, to have quick access to ten useful early texts on the Four Noble Truths, or ten early useful texts on the subject of the Five Khandhas.

I’ve thought about making an open system for translation, tagging, concept maps, and commentaries, but for the Taisho canon. I doubt it will happen, though, simply because it really does take significant time and effort. In any case, I just thought I would mention some ideas.

Some discussion has been done:

I personally like the idea of ‘tags’ in addition to the search engine system. It provides more tools and possibilities. While the search engine will return all ‘hits’ on Dhamma, tags can let you know in which order the Suttas should be read. From what I see in previous discussions the problem with this is not the willingness to implement them, but the technical difficulties and the time it will take to accomplish this.

A middle way between where we are right now and the tagging system that also provides with many other advantages are lists, we have them here actually: https://discourse.suttacentral.net/c/reading-guides

They provide a new (and even old) reader a better way to read and learn topics in the cannon, but you may also add references to the ‘outer world’.

Take this case as an example:

In that discussion many suggestions where given and I have seen that question been asked a lot of times, including me.

The current lists created here are given by other teachers such as Bhikkhu Bodhi, I would personally like to see other lists with more participation from the members (we), plus, as you where suggesting, this lists could be exported in XML or other formats that could then be imported in the main SC site.

I am currently doing an online course in Pāramitās, maybe we could make a test and start a reading guide on this topic?

My impression was that the system implemented on this forum makes assembling such collections easy.

All you need to do is make a list, and the suttas will be accessible. Of course, more elaborate annotation is possible:

But if I want to make a list of suttas on Topic X, I can just type:
MN3, AN3.45, SN2.1, DN4, …
Those suttas can then be accessed, and there is a link back from SuttaCentral to the post.

The hard work is, of course, identifying the suttas.

Of course, it might be nice to have the collections on the SuttaCentral site itself, rather than Discourse, but I presume that converting posts such as the above would be relatively easy.

I did not know about those features, that is very good information. I am currently working on a translation that is taking must of my time, when I am finished, I will try to assemble (at least start) that list I mentioned before.

I don’t know if it’s relevant, but I’ve found Access to Insight’s General Index a handy base index/layer that I’ve been able to add to/modify as a .html file (seeing as how it was issued under a CC 4.0 license).

That is an excellent link, thanks.

I guess the ideal would be to have some sort of a wiki page.

Have you’ve made a lot of modifications?


Yes, for a communal effort some wiki-ish kind of thing would be necessary. For my own personal use I was attracted to it as much as anything so as to offer me some hope of re-finding suttas I’ve previously read (to be honest, as much as I do like order and logically collected material and there’s a risk that at some point I could turn into a neo-abidhammarist, I’ve really enjoyed my haphazard adventure through the suttas, I actually love the fact that the in a certain respect the material is so bewilderingly all over the place - just one sutta at a time).

Many modifications? Not at all: Extended General Index.html.zip (62.1 KB) (mine are in green).

Thanks for sharing :slightly_smiling:

I will try to get started in the pāramitās list soon, I will use this forums as a start, but if we find the need for a wiki, we can look for one until it becomes possible to have one here at SC.

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Buddhists and their lists! :laughing:

Much fun to you.


Buddhists have been big on lists since the very beginning, let’s not forget the numerous dhammas and the underlying compilation principle of the Anguttara Nikaya

No forgetting here, that was rather my point. :wink:

alright, it was quite subtle :+1: