Definition of Terms: Redactor, Reciter, Editor

In discussions regarding the evolution of EBTs, there are references made to those who brought the sermons from the Buddha to what we have today. These terms don’t always seem to fit the situation and the effort.

For instance, “redactors” is often used, yet my understanding of what redact means is to edit, censor or obscure text for publication, quite the opposite of what I would think the intent was with regard to the Buddhist scriptures.

How does one choose accurately from redactors, reciters, compilers, editors, archivists and terms like these when talking about EBTs? Should terms be more carefully chosen?

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In reading @sujato’s “A History of Mindfulness" I ran across “redactors” many times. Most were pretty straightforwardly describing editing texts for various reasons. But this passage made me stop and try and decipher the difference between redactor and compiler.

"Another problem is the location of the chosen practices. In the contemplation of the body, the Vibhaṅga has the fourth of fourteen practices in the Sutta; in the contemplation of dhammas, it has the first and fourth out of five. It seems bizarre that a redactor would somehow remove all the practices leaving just the fourth. If the Vibhaṅga results from the culling of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta, we would expect to have the first practice left over, which would imply that the rest were to be filled out.

The conclusion is inescapable: the absence of material in the Vibhaṅga is not dues to loss from the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta, but because the Vibhaṅga compilers were working with a shorter source text."

Certainly Bh. Sujato can elaborate on this. But from a vocabulary point of view, I understand a compiler to be the one who puts together all the texts for editing, and the redactor the one who edits them. That is to say, chooses what stays and what goes, in what order texts are presented, in what layout, etc.

For instance, suppose I wanted to create a publication about TW Rhys-Davids. I could ask a group of people to put together everything he published, wrote, things written specifically about him, photos. Then I could have an editor choose which of these things would be best for publishing in my book, in what order, explanatory notes, etc.

We seem to have a new crop of redactors today, those choosing which parts of the Tipitaka are more genuine, which suttas are the most important, oldest, most genuine, “real”, etc.

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I think in the context of ancient texts, redactor generally means someone who intentionally changes the text in some significant way. In Buddhism, this usually involved replacing passages with something else or adding more material. Texts tended to grow in size because it was acceptable to compile material from different sources but not to delete it. The other way they grew in size was by adding more and more elaborations, comments, and synonyms intended to clarify the meaning of the text beyond the shadow of a doubt.

An editor sometimes changes a text’s meaning, but it’s unintentional. For example, an editor can accidentally rewrite a passage thinking it’s a corruption. I’ve seen this happen in a Chinese Dirgha Agama sutra. The editor was probably just confused, but they ended up changing the passage entirely. It was a list of items, but it wasn’t obvious what was being counted, and the editor rewrote it to add an item. It was only by comparing the passage to the parallel in an Abhidharma text that I could restore it with confidence.


If an editor alters or removes a passage from a text, “thinking it’s a corruption”, isn’t that a redaction? An intentional alteration of a text?

I would also think the role of a ‘redactor’ would be to choose where a piece of text was positioned in the larger body of texts.

Well, I suppose it is, but they are attempting to correct a passage and unaware of changing it. A redactor is doing it for other reasons. There are passages that were changed for sectarian, philosophical reasons. For example, the whole controversy about the jhana similes. Sarvastivadins and Theravadins have different versions of parallel sutras involving them to support their doctrinal positions. It’s intention, sectarian redaction in cases like that.


Ehhh I’m not so sure. I think both thought they were “correcting” or “preserving” the “original” texts, unaware that their own biases were corrupting their perspective just like when we moderns throw out the more supernatural suttas as “obviously late” because they don’t fit our worldview

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In most cases, I would agree. Usually there aren’t enough texts involved to really know whether it’s intentional or natural divergence due to errors and paraphrasing. The vast majority of redactions are fairly innocent: either expansion of texts or standardization of passages. I don’t want to make it sound like there was rampant sectarian redacting on doctrinal issues.


Ah! So why do you believe the changes were intentional in this case?

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I always thought redacting involved obscuring/censoring a document to remove unsuitable content. I do this at work with sensitive information. No material is added.


I do, only because there a bunch of sutras involved. It’s hard to say who was doing the redacting. I would hazard the guess the Sarvastivadins were removing the similes from their sutras and leaving them in a couple without the dhyana formulas. Then, in their Abhidharma, they say the similes describe another type of samadhi.

Dharmaguptakas make the similes an integral part of the four dhyanas in their Abhidharma - though they don’t take the meaning of kaya as important. Rather, they discuss the words “abhisandeti parisandeti paripūreti parippharati” at length.

So, yeah, just differing points of view, but the sutras seem to have been edited in line with one or the other.

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Yes, that’s what I’ve been musing about. Different terms mean different things. A reciter recites texts orally, a compiler compiles documents, an archivist catalogs and stores documents, an editor makes textual changes, a redactor censors or obscures parts of texts from view, as in redacting legal documents to not allow sensitive text to be read. I think scribes copied writings verbatim but might make unintentional mistakes or perhaps even intentional changes for various reasons as Charles Patton pointed out. I would think that would be unethical for a copier to make deliberate changes unless they thought they were correcting a previous mistake.

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“Redactor” has different meanings in different contexts. In my work environment, redaction means what it means in yours - removal of words or passages before release.

I’m very new to Buddhist textual studies, but in the world of Biblical scholarship redaction had a much broader meaning, including selection, arrangement, and changes to the source texts to turn them into the texts we have.