South East Asia :: March - June 1995

Subject: Virtual Buddha
Date: Timestamp

12:28 Babawaki-cho 7-2, Shugakuin; Kyoto, Kansai-Japan :: 5 JUN 95

Saturday, April 29, 1995.
The Press Democrat (California, US daily paper)
Michelle Locke, AP


Project puts ancient canon on CD-ROM

BERKELEY-The path to enlightenment now crosses the information superhighway. University of California Professor Lewis Lancaster has supervised putting all 115 volumes of the Buddhist canon in the ancient language of Pali on a single CD-ROM disk, condensing tens of thousands of pages into a whisper-thin slice of technology. One day, he even hopes to take the Buddha on line.
The merger of Buddhist wisdom with computer wizardry has been amazing, said Lancaster. "Thousands of pages are being put in every year, so our whole discipline of study will be revolutionized by this," he said.
Putting Buddha on disk has many advantages. One is space. The Pali text, one of several versions of the canon, used to run to more than 50,000 pages. Now, it fits in the palm of a hand. Scholars stand to save money as well as storage. The disks are being sold for $299. The printed texts cost $12,000. But the most important advantage of the computerized canon is the way it reduces weeks of thumbing through texts to a few taps of the keyboard.
"I can search for any term or phrase and, depending on what kind of search I'm doing, it may take two seconds or at the longest maybe two minutes to find every example of what I'm looking for," said Lancaster, who teaches Buddhist studies at UC Berkeley. "Plus, I know I can get every example and no concordance can touch that."
The search capability is particularly useful in Pali, which contains compound words, said Richard Payne, dean of the Institute of Buddhist Studies. That slows down the human searcher, but a computer can whisk through the compounds and find a given word in seconds. "If you were trying to find every occurrence, it could have taken weeks," Payne said.
In addition to Pali, which is used by the Theravada Buddhism of South and Southeast Asia, the canon comes in several other languages including Chinese, Tebetan, Manchurian and Mongolian.
Lancaster began advocating the switch to disk in 1988. It was a back-breaking task. Eighty typists worked on the input while Thai monks handled the proofing-checking and rechecking in a laborious process that took five times as long as the typing. By the time the corrections were done and proofread again, "we figure that it really has to be done and looked at seven times," Lancaster said.
The new disk was published by the American Academy of Religion and Scholar's Press in Atlanta. Lancaster also helped found the Electronic Buddhist Texts Initiative, a consortium of groups involved in storing all versions of the Buddhist scriptures on computer.
Disks expected to be published in the next 10 years include the Thai, Burmese and English versions of the Pali canon and the Ming edition of the Buddhist canon. Commentaries, meanwhile, are being input to provide guidance to the scriptures and stored texts must be kept up to date with changing technology.
"It's a lifelong process here, at least for me," said the 62-year-old Lancaster. "I happen to be born in a time when this is happening, so I have to give myself over to it," he said. "This is the task of my generation, to put it into the computer and make it useable."

Patrick. -- Responses Sought --

What is the treasure of a nation? A person with a mind set on the Way. One with such a mind is a true treasure. The ancients have said that a nation's wealth does not consist of a heap of precious stones. One virtuous individual who illuminates a thousand of leagues is a national treasure. The old philosophers stated clearly,
One who speaks but does not act is the teacher of a nation.
One who acts but does not speak is the foundation of a nation.
One who both speaks and acts is the treasure of a nation.
  graphical element
Saicho, 9th Century Buddhist monk,
Founder of Japanese Tendai Buddhism