SuttaCentral

Buddhism: A Guide to Research (Second Edition)


#1

Today the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies sent me an email titled “One of the best ways to find books about Buddhism”. Needless to say, this sparked my curiosity. From the email body:

If you’re interested in Buddhism, we have found a great resource that you should definitely check out! It’s a website called “Buddhism - A Guide to Research” which features books about various topics in Buddhism and Buddhist Studies. To give you a little bit more insight into this great tool, we have interviewed its creator, Michael Kicey.

Here’s the interview on YouTube:

https://youtu.be/6adNBDwzrlU

I checked it out and I was most amazed. I have never seen such a comprehensive and skilfully curated guide to the academic literature on Buddhism. In my mind, it even surpasses the (not freely accessible) Oxford Bibliographies Online: Buddhism.


#2

It is indeed quite amazing. Thank you!

I missed The Teachings of Rinzai (Schloegl), which I found absolutely hilarious. Quoting from memory with apologies for liberties taken by the decades since:

Student (approaching Rinzai): “What is the meani-…”
Rinzai: WHACK

Ah the lovely keisaku. WHACK!
I used to make them for the dojo. Poplar is a good wood.

:heart:


#3

Very funny - is this a method of aversion therapy for thought proliferation?? :sweat_smile:


#4

Nice, thanks for sharing. Also, nice image by Anandajoti!

I will just mention the obvious: There are separate categories for “Mahayana”, “Tibetan”, and “Zen” (Tibetan and Zen Buddhism are simply local versions of Mahayana). And no space for Early Buddhism, except under the rubric of Theravada. Thus the study guide is categorized according to the highly useful scheme of “what an American Buddhist is likely to have encountered”. :wink:


#5

And the Agamas were put under “Theravada Texts/Anthologies from the Pali Canon” :joy:


#6

“what an American Buddhist is likely to have encountered”

very true. Like so much emanating from Anglo-American academia completely ignoring the huge body of research done in the last 150 years in other Western languages …

The presentation is nicely done, but

Due to restrictions on display character sets, we regret that it has not been possible to reproduce diacritical marks in the transliteration of certain non-Western terms and names on this guide.

Seems to be rather a lack of right effort in the age of Webfonts, UTF-8 and easy to use input-managers.

In all certainly a useful collection for English speakers.


#7

The Buddhism research guide is a one-man project. Any feedback such as that regarding structure can be emailed to Dr. Michael Kicey. :slightly_smiling_face:


#8

Yes, I’m composing him an email now to let him know about this thread and to add some additional feedback of my own… let’s not all spam this poor librarian please :smile:


#9

Good idea Ven :slight_smile:


#10

University librarians often compile reading lists of materials available to students at their universities. It makes sense to have these guides follow the general structures of the courses they are supporting, so one would expect an American institution to mirror

If we want to criticise a general cultural approach that’s our right, but we might think about picking appropriate targets. Please be gentle with one individual who is only doing their job, and doing it rather well with a great deal of style.


#11

to question the historically incorrect assumptions of its students, perhaps? :pray:

Yikes. Apparently many publishers and journals still insist on non-standard encoding, even though Unicode has existed for over a quarter-century. The original SC in 2005 was Unicode.


#12

Yeah, I’m with Bhante @Sujato on this one. Even if the courses are structured in a misleading way (e.g. due to the ignorance and politics of the academic department), I would expect a librarian working on their own to have the freedom (and responsibility) to craft their research guide in a different way that, you know, guides rather than misleads.


#13

I just think that people can only do their best in the circumstances in which they find themselves working, and that we should be compassionately aware of this … I sometimes shudder when I review my own previous professional errors even tho they were made with good intentions at the time.


#14

I am affronted and even appalled by the overall tone of these remarks, with the exception of Gillian and Robbie. If any of you watched the interview, you would know both that I am a newcomer to the dharma and that this entire guide - to which no widely or freely available English-language parallel exists to my knowledge - is my work alone, into which I poured many hundreds of my own hours, with no institutional or financial support and often at the expense of my other work and my personal time. My expertise is very, very far from perfect; I am very clear on the front page about the limits on the scope of the guide, which covers only English-language scholarship within the last century or so; my presentation has flaws, many of them no doubt reflecting my cultural and personal biases; it was both practically and technologically impossible for me, as one person, with no knowledge of any of the original languages involved, working with a typeface I did not choose and could not (actually) change, to reproduce every diacritical mark I should have; I have doubtless made many simple oversights and more egregious errors in a work with 3,000-4,000 pieces of content, despite checking and rechecking it many times. But I made this because I saw nothing like it that could reach everyone, and I believed, with fervor, that something like it should exist. I would have welcomed constructive feedback delivered with sensitivity to both my discrete aims and my (perhaps serious, perhaps incorrigible) limitations - I believe that is what the experts, including Sakyamuni, call skillful means. But to have put this guide forward as a gift of the dharma, with no self-interest or profit motive involved except the joy that comes from seeing it used by those who want it and need it - and there are many hundreds of those people, judging from my usage statistics - and then to see it dismissed and vilified with emojis, editorializing, and glib forum patter about the shortcomings of the Anglo-American academic class is more than I can bear. And then to launch a self-appointed “peer review” of its faults at me by email, and flippantly invite me to read this vicious, small-hearted thread for my own edification - well, it verges on sadism. Even if you weren’t Buddhists, even if you didn’t nominally claim to be honoring this site’s standards for right speech, I would simply say to you: remember with everything you write or say online that those you write about are also reading your words, and they are looking you in the face as you write them. I say this out of compassion for you all.


#15

Welcome to the forum @mkicey! So happy to have you here!

I understand that you’re feeling attacked and dismissed and even vilified right now. I understand that my words and tone have contributed to that and for that I apologise.

I wrote to you not because I hate your work but because I love it and want it to be as good as it can be and I am willing to materially assist you in that goal. Is that not also your goal? What do you want?


#16

Dear mkicey, There are many people reading and watching who share this appreciation of your great contribution and Dhamma gift :dharmawheel:

Many Thanks for your efforts, and I hope the realisation of the benefits of your work, goes a long way towards ameliorating the discomfort of criticism.

The participants in this forum are also either monastics or lay people working voluntarily, and those with a specific interest in the Early Buddhist texts, with the goal to Make the Dhamma accessible. Thank you for your reminder about the importance of right speech, and to fully consider the impact of words easily written.

I hope that with a common goal, we can put this uncomfortable communication behind us, and work with greater harmony and understanding together.


#17

Thank you for your amazing work Michael. I also do not know of an existing parallel. I’m still in shock how you managed to provide a free alternative to Oxford Bibliographies Online: Buddhism with its four area editors, former standing editorial board, eighteen(!)-headed founding editorial board, editor in chief, its many contributers, and its institutional and financial support from Oxford University Press. As someone who feels passionate about Buddhist Studies and who’s eager to learn more, I struggle to find the words to express my gratefulness to you. As far as I am concerned the strengths of the research guide far outweigh any flaws it may have. In particular, thank you for the amazing page on Early & Indian Buddhism. I was delighted when I saw that early Buddhism was given its own place rather than being routinely ignored.

It saddens me to see that the emphasis in this thread seems to have been on supposed shortcomings of your work; my intention was simply to share it with more people. I apologize for posting your email address; I expected that any emails sent to you would be delivered with gentleness and sensitivity. As you rightfully point out, your work is highly valuable for many people, among them the authors of Buddhist Studies monographs who may reach a wider audience. Thank you again for your act of generosity (dāna), and, as Viveka said, I hope we can put the negative beginning behind us. :pray::pray::pray:


#18

:anjal: Thank you for your gift, and compassion in urging Right Speech and a healthy perspective; this seems an action of the best sort of friendship, and it is having effect. :anjal: :lotus:

“West, west” bemoaning
It’s just identity views
More club-like than Raft.


#19

I accept your apologies and will strive to forgive and forget the less pleasing and helpful aspects of this exchange thus far.

I want to present a series of replies to the criticisms that I have received thus far, in which I offer to explain the rationales behind my decisions, justify them where I still believe in them, signal how your criticisms have made me rethink my beliefs where I think the challenges are reasonable, disinterested, and made for the greater good, and also note where I plan on making substantive changes based on what I’ve seen from you so far or whatever you may volunteer in the process of reading my replies. These replies will be lengthy, because my deliberations on these issues have been lengthy, and because I don’t think it’s ever possible to think too hard or too long about these extremely complex questions, which bear such enormous loads of karma and potential both for good and for harm.

The first of my replies - there may be as many as six or seven of these, so this one is far from all I have to say - concerns the scope of the guide, which covers only English-language monographs published anywhere in the world in roughly the last century. Why did I make this choice about scope?

It was perhaps foolhardy enough to take upon myself the task of building an authoritative guide to research on Buddhism limited to major monographs in English published in the last century. But it would have been colossally arrogant, not to mention impossible, for a single person to build such a guide for writing on Buddhism at all times, in all places, in all languages, in all published formats. I am penetratingly aware that the political, social, economic, and technological ideal of our age is inclusion. But from the perspective of a lone librarian building a resource for research, certain strategic, minimally harmful or distorting exclusions are necessary to create a coherent and useful project with a focused audience and a palpable inner structure. As I said in the interview, I rapidly realized after releasing the first edition of my guide that my audience was properly global, and that, within the limits of my time and energy, I had a responsibility to do the best I could to represent the most useful portion of primary and secondary texts in Buddhism to the portion of that audience I feel needs or deserves the most support, and specifically the kind of support I am capable of giving.

Like everything in samsara, I exist within conditions: I am an American academic librarian; I work at a large American research university; I have read about and practiced Buddhism for almost exactly a year (!); while I am multilingual, my languages do not cover the vast majority of languages spoken and written in places and during times where Buddhism has been a significant or dominant cultural force - except insofar as artifacts of this culture have been received and interpreted by Western scholars in two of the languages I do know outside English, e.g. German and/or French. And although I am now learning Pāli, I am not optimistic that in the years left to me, I can master all the living and classical languages of South and East Asia I would need to take on that infinite task.

Another condition that all Anglophone scholars or practitioners of the Dharma presently face, and which stares us in the face as we see the secular scientific (or merely scientistic) mindfulness movement gain by leaps and bounds in the West while the historically-, culturally-, and above all spiritually-centered Buddhist traditions mope along in the same regions somewhat more sluggishly, is a mushrooming meditation-based ‘wellness’ industry which most of the time advances in ignorance of the human achievements of non-Western thinkers and societies which, a century after the end of overt colonialism, the West is still only too willing to expropriate and commodify. I omitted from the video interview the rancor I feel when images of the Buddha, for instance, are appropriated as banal garden decoration or t-shirt designs, or peddled alongside New Age practices with which they have nothing at all in common, or used to sell books which are essentially three hundred pages of glib, charismatic packaging around the statement “sit still, count your breaths, do nothing else.” This is a real problem with real roots, and one effective way to combat it is by giving people better information, and not letting them get away with the usual capitalist bad faith so easily.

If these are my conditions, I simply reckoned what the best and most skillful possible response would be for someone with my resources and inclinations and faced with my current context. The solution I came up with was to build a guide focused on the most intellectually substantial and academically rigorous sources available in English, and to present these sources through a mode of design and organization that is not only aesthetically pleasing, intellectually substantial, and culturally respectful, but tries to achieve four goals:

(1) to express the free and open hand of the Dharma to those novices in the West who may feel quite at sea in initiating study or practice, not knowing what to read or where to turn;
(2) to create a clearinghouse of resources for scholars working in Anglophone traditions, who might browse the site at leisure or approach one specific section with a definite project in mind, but who would continue to return to the site for its regular updates or actively contribute to its maintenance by suggesting additions and changes to me, and thus become stewards of the site possibly even after I am no longer able to maintain it;
(3) to fight the good fight on the part of Buddhist cultures and societies by, at a bare minimum, offering an inclusive representation of their experiences and interpretations of the Buddhist legacy, at least insofar as this appears in English;
(4) to combat the latent anti-historicism, anti-intellectualism, intolerant secularism, irresponsible scientism, and even racist paternalism of parts of the mindfulness movement who would seem to be happiest if they could only prove that science somehow invented meditation before the Buddha (or his forebears) did, and that you don’t need to accept any doctrine, understand any philosophical psychology, practice any noble path, or submit to any long and venerable wisdom tradition that makes more pressing demands on your freedom than 15 minutes of quiet sitting every day between frantic glances at your iPhone.

It’s possible these are disparate, perhaps even incommensurate aims, and perhaps in my beginner’s eagerness I wanted to take them all on and failed equally miserably under each heading. But I still believe that something is better than nothing, and that something freely available is better than something astronomically expensive, proprietary, and inaccessible to users who do not belong to Western Anglophone academic or cultural elites. Despite the recent advances of the Dharma in the West, we are still in dire need of a great number of somethings, and need to escape a lot of harmful and paralyzing nothings.

(Apropos, I would like to specifically request that if any of you know of English-language publishers anywhere in Asia who turn out high-quality scholarly works on Buddhism of any period or nation, I would more than happily add those sources to my guide. I was able to add numerous works published exclusively by Motilal Banarsidass, whose editorial is, to put it charitably, uneven, but further diligent searches for these kinds of publishers only turned up dead ends for me. I am acutely aware that Western nations do not hold a monopoly on the English language, and I am eager to represent the full sweep of Anglophone scholarship even in non-English-majority regions.)

One final point I would like to add here, and it is a refrain I will have many occasions to return to in the course of responding to this group’s criticisms. A bibliographer does not seek to represent the reality or truth of the subject under her authors’ consideration - that is the proper province of the authors who produce the works the bibliographer collects, organizes, and presents. A bibliographer seeks instead to represent what has been written on that reality or truth - this is the bibliographer’s proper domain, and is indeed the reality or truth that it is her task to represent. If the totality of books on a given subject and within a given scope - say, books on Buddhism written in English between the beginning of the modern age and about 1920 - is completely false, wrongheaded, prejudiced, and indistinguishable in parts from purest ignorance (and for books in this scope it almost certainly was, without exception), nonetheless the bibliographer has done her duty beautifully if she collates all these terrible, worthless, benighted books and presents them in their proper context. So too, in my little guide, I sought not to represent any truth or reality about Buddhism itself as it is lived and practiced, a feat which is so well beyond my current level of expertise I would render myself laughable in the attempt, but instead to depict in faithful colors what others have written about it in just one of Buddhism’s many languages. It is no surprise at all if this literature reflects shared conceptions, especially shared misconceptions, about, for instance, the hard and fast distinctions between Theravāda and Mahāyāna traditions, and between Tibetan, Pure Land, and Ch’an/Zen forms, etc. I simply cannot be held responsible for the mistakes made by the scholarship I present, for the way that scholarship in English tends to fall apart pretty cleanly into one of those boxes and not in another, or for the fact that I have to give order to what would otherwise be a turbulent and useless chaos, and giving order means drawing distinctions, setting bounds, and articulating. It’s a thankless task, open on every side to criticism, and it’s also the only way anything good and useful comes into the world.

So much, for now, about scope. I look forward to your replies. I will add further replies as I find time and energy.

EDIT: In this and further replies, I will print in boldface the topic of the lengthy reply so that readers may easily determine whether the issue at hand interests them enough to read the text.


#20

Thanks so much for responding and engaging, I really appreciate it, and I am sure many others here do as well. I hear your concerns, and understand where you’re coming from. I’d like to take up a few of the threads from what you say, and hopefully move towards a better understanding of what I suspect may be a bit of a culture clash going on. But I’ll sit on it for a bit before making a more considered response.