U-M professor co-authors landmark dictionary about Buddhism


Professor Donald Lopez spent the past 12 years compiling the most authoritative and wide-ranging reference on Buddhism ever produced in English.

With more than 5,000 alphabetical entries totaling more than 1 million words, “The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism” explains the key terms, doctrines, practices, texts, authors, deities and schools of Buddhism across all six major canonical languages and traditions: Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. It also includes selected terms from Burmese, Khmer, Lao, Mongolian, Newar, Sinhalese, Thai and Vietnamese.

Donald Lopez

“The history of Buddhism is so long, its geographical expanse is so extensive and its literature is so vast that no single scholar can comprehend the entire tradition,” said Lopez, the Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies and chair of the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures in LSA. 

“At the same time, interest in Buddhist philosophy and Buddhist practice is increasing all over the world. Our goal was to put as much reliable information about Buddhism as we could between the covers of a single book. It turned out to be a big book.”

Lopez co-authored the dictionary with Robert Buswell, the Distinguished Professor of Buddhist Studies and director of the Center for Buddhist Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. Several U-M students also provided assistance on the book, which will be published Dec. 11.

The 1,300-page dictionary traces the history of Buddhism’s long and complex traditions from a global perspective, which is important for contemporary readers, scholars and practitioners to understand, Lopez said.

“Many modern portrayals of Buddhism tend to overemphasize some elements of the tradition at the expense of others,” Lopez said. “In fact, there are many Buddhisms, and we felt it important to cover both the universal as well as the local dimensions of Buddhism in the dictionary, giving readers a full sense of the depth, breadth and richness of the Buddhist tradition over its entire history and geography.”

The book takes an encyclopedic approach, with short essays that explore the extended meaning and significance of Buddhism in greater depth than a conventional dictionary. It also includes a chronicle of Asian historical periods (empires, dynasties and kingdoms) and a timeline of Buddhism from the sixth century B.C.E. to the 20th century.

Eight maps show both the Buddhist cosmological realms as well as many regions of Asia, marking the major cities, important monasteries, sacred places and pilgrimage routes spanning geographical sites in India, China, Japan, Korea and Tibet.

The List of Lists — an appendix of some of the most important numerical lists used in Buddhism, from the one vehicle to the 100 dharmas of the Yogācāra School — includes such items as the three jewels, four noble truths, six destinies of rebirth, 10 realms of reality and 32 marks of a great man. Extensive cross-references guide readers to related entries throughout the dictionary and across all of the canonical languages, traditions and schools.



  1. Suwapan Senivongs Na Ayuthaya
    on January 22, 2014 at 10:11 am

    How can I acquire a copy?

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