Blogs:Robert Walker/Guiding Principles for this encyclopedia learning from our experiences

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Motivation - Ri-me approach - Origins - Wikipedia Buddhism Project - Essay on Reliable Sources - Guiding Principles for EOB - Adventure

Author: Robert Walker

License: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

I thought it might help to draw up a few guiding principles from all this. They are just suggestions at this stage, not "EOB guidelines" as such.

Here are some suggested guiding principles for this encyclopedia based on our experiences in Wikipedia, and the Rimé approach - these are things to encourage here:

Sourced to scholars and authors within the tradition being described

In accord with the approach of the Rimé movement then we encourage use of Buddhist scholars and teachers as sources. For instance Walpola Rahula's What the Buddha Taught is a great source on central ideas in the Pali Canon and Theravada. The Dalai Lama's books are amongst the best sources on Tibetan Buddhism. Any readers new to Tibetan Buddhism may not know that the Dalai Lama is highly qualified as a Buddhist scholar. He passed his Geshe exam with flying colours at the highest Lahrampa level, as a young man of 23. This is a degree that normally requires 15 years of study.

These works are widely cited in Google scholar, and academics also recognize them as reliable and significant authors in this topic area. There are many other such expert Buddhist scholars in a tradition that can be traced back to the early Nalanda University dating from the fifth century CE onwards, and further back for several centuries more.

There is a place here for articles on western academic Buddhist researches too. If anyone wants to contribute articles on Richard Gombrich's academic attempts at reconstruction of early Buddhism they are much appreciated. In this case, similarly, the best sources would include his own books and other works within this tradition of scholarship itself.

Explore differences in views as well as the common ground

One characteristic of this new approach in the Buddhism topic area in Wikipedia is that the articles often attempt a coherent account based on weaving together interpretations from many different authors. Their aim seems to be to de-emphasize differences and attempt to present a unified belief system for core articles on the Buddhist teachings.

In accord with the approach of the Rimé movement then we encourage articles that explore the differences in views as well as the common ground between the different approaches. Our aim for this encyclopedia is that:

  • Those interested in what modern Buddhists practice and believe will find their views clearly set out here, in all the diversity of the many Buddhist traditions.
  • And those interested in novel reconstructions of the central teachings of the dharma in early Buddhism by Western scholars will find them set out also, not as a single unified presentation, but as many diverse suggestions, clearly expressed in a wide ranging debate about the nature of early Buddhism. For the background on this interesting debate, see Pali Canon#Attribution according to scholars.

Carefully selected quotes from the best Buddhist scholars and teachers

This is another element of this new approach to editing articles on Buddhism in Wikipedia. Up to 2015, the articles on core concepts in Buddhism had many quotes from renowned Buddhist scholars, both Western and traditional, both in the body of the text and in footnotes. This was replaced by of a policy of removing quotes and replacing them with paraphrases wherever possible.

For us, this experience has helped to highlight the importance of such quotes in articles on Buddhism. We think that often the best way to present the core ideas of Buddhism is to use the words of Buddhist scholars themselves (whether western academics or traditionally trained) who have had as their life's work to study the sutras, commentaries and scholarly literature and find the best ways of presenting them.

In our view, there is no need to rewrite what is already a clear presentation honed over years of study. This is unlikely to improve on it, but rather gives an avenue for confusions and errors to creep in.

This doesn't mean the entire article consists of quotes.

It's about carefully selected quotes, properly introduced and placed in context where they are meaningful, easy to read, and add to the article. These are not only permitted but strongly encouraged here. We also encourage use of YouTube videos of recognized teachers and scholars talking about the teachings and practices in their tradition (as with the videos of Ringu Tulku talking about Rimé in this page itself).

Modern Buddhists' views, beliefs and practices as our main focus

We assume that readers of this encyclopedia are most interested in the beliefs, views and practices of modern Buddhists. For this reason - the articles here will focus on core concepts of modern Buddhism in the various traditions. We can also have articles on the connections with other religions, historical background, early Buddhism and so on. But if you read an article on, say, the Four Noble Truths or Anatta then you can expect the main focus to be on the views of present day practicing Buddhists.

The articles here can help you understand the views of friends who are Buddhist. They can also be a useful source on the variety of views and practices in your own religion if you are a dharma student, both your own tradition, and also, those of other traditions of Buddhism. The main focus here is on core concepts of Buddhism - though the encyclopedia is not restricted to such topics only, and if there is interest, may well spread out to other areas related to Buddhism such as Buddhist music, art, poetry, songs, etc

Closed wiki - welcomes contributions from scholarly, knowledgeable and expert authors

We do not permit just anyone to edit this wiki. It's written instead by a small group of authors who know each other. As a result we don't need many rules, unlike Wikipedia. We may develop a few guidelines as the wiki progresses.

The basic guidelines for sources are as for Wikipedia, as they are interpreted in other religious topics such as the Christianity project there. See #Use of primary and secondary sources below.

However, as a closed wiki, which we plan to keep small, so that everyone knows everyone else, we can trust our members to know which sources are the best ones to use for their article topic.

They can also be sources themselves, if they are experts, and write what would normally be regarded as "original research", their own summaries of the current situation in their field of expertise. Any material of this sort will be clearly labeled as such, and attributed to the author of the original material.

Help from knowledgable editors in Buddhist traditions much appreciated

This encyclopedia is being developed by two dharma students in order to further our own understanding. We hope that others may benefit from this effort.

If the encyclopedia proves to be of value, then it will be wonderful eventually to have editors in all the different traditions of Buddhism here, with articles on branches of Buddhism checked by practitioners of that branch who are knowledgeable about their own traditions, wherever possible.

We also are interested to have articles on these academic attempts at reconstruction of early Buddhism by Gombrich etc. Few traditional Buddhist are aware of this work and whether you agree with it or not, following the the Rimé approach, it's interesting to learn how they see things. Richard Gombrich is undoubtedly learned, sincere, and someone who has a wide understanding of early Indian religions at the time of the Buddha.

In that case also we think the best people to oversee such articles would be authors that are familiar with their work and have a deep understanding of it. It is easy for an outsider to make serious errors in attempts to summarize their intricate arguments.

How to identify and use primary and secondary sources

This guideline in wikipedia to make use of secondary sources where preferable, is much misunderstood. Articles on musical composition don't have to use sources by non composers, articles on mathematics don't have to use sources by non mathematicians, and articles on model railroading don't have to use sources by people who have never built a model railroad.

Rather the idea is that the best articles are those by experts that provide an overview of their field. For instance, Walpola Rahula provided an overview article on the entire field of Therevadhan Buddhism in his "What the Buddha Taught". He is also not particularly promoting a particular research interest or controversial view on the topic.

This makes it a far better source on central topics in Therevadhan Buddhism than a specialist academic work that focuses on some minute detail and presents the authors personal cutting edge view on it, or his or her perspective in an ongoing academic debate between scholars of diverging views. Indeed, an academic work like that is often more of a primary source, focusing on the authors own views, which may also change from one paper to another by the same author.

So, in this way, secondary sources are preferred in this encyclopedia too, when there is a good source available. Also, the same source can be a secondary source on one topic and a primary source on another. There is nothing surprising about this. It just makes sense to do that, for an encyclopedia.

However, if editors have a reasonable understanding of their material they do not need to only use secondary sources. They will know if some article is presenting a novel, experimental, or eccentric view or is only one side in an on-going debate and can use it or not as needs be and present it accordingly if they do. This is the same for Wikipedia. Secondary sources are preferred, but primary sources can also be used, with care. Often only primary sources are available.

Sources by non Buddhists are not preferred. For an example, the best sources on Zen Buddhism are most likely to be by Zen Buddhists.

For more on this see

This encyclopedia is devoted to topics on Buddhism or connected with Buddhism

The scope of this encyclopedia is any topic that is broadly connected with Buddhism. This includes the languages used for the Buddhist texts, with focus of course on the way any terms are used by Buddhist authors. It also includes the archaeology of Buddhism, modern academic studies of Buddhism, Buddhist literature (e.g. Buddhist poems and Buddhist fiction), Buddhist art, Buddhist music, Buddhist drama, comparative studies of Buddhism with other religions, and so on.

Original research permitted if attributed - similar approach to Scholarpedia

Some articles here may present the original research by the authors. They will be clearly labeled as such, and attributed to the author. Typically they will have an avatar image and the author's name and chosen license for the text at top left.

Here is a test page to show what such an article may look like:


Encyclopedic articles that contain what Wikipedia would call "original research" can be authored in the main space. For instance an expert author could write an original article that provides an overview of their field. They don't have to look for other review articles already published to source it to before they write it.

This is often an issue in Wikipedia if you are an expert in some topic. You know what to write and sometimes you write it first, but then you have to try to find secondary sources to back up your material with cites. In some topic areas they are hard to find, simply because nobody has written a review for a year or two and the field is rapidly developing. When that happens, you can only cite to primary sources - but then you may face the issue that none of the primary sources clearly present some essential point that would put their work in context for a newbie to the field. Something the experts all know but don't bother to explain because everyone else in the field knows it also.

By permitting orignal research here, then we can deal with such awkward situations. The authors can just explain the situation in their own words, so long as their article is clearly labeled as authored by them.

Personal blogs encouraged

Wikipedia has a rule that you can't use the encyclopedia for a personal blog. Although you are permitted personal expression in your user space there, even that has to be focused towards ways to improve the encyclopedia. That has to be the main objective of all your pages there, and of the talk page conversations too.

Here we have a much more informal approach. Although the main space articles have to be encylopedic, authors are encouraged to set up their own individual blogs here. These can for instance present their own researches, or a Buddhist teacher can outline their teachings, or an archaeologist or historian present their research, or creators can upload original art work, musical compositions, poetry, Buddhist news from your region, or whatever you like that has a Buddhist or Rimé theme to it.

Personal blogs do not need to be written in an encyclopedic style but can be informal in tone. They also can be written in a personal voice, you can say "I think". Just write in whatever style you wish to use.

They can be found under


Here is an example article from my own blog

Blogs:Robert Walker/Life of the Buddha according to the sutras

Articles with any license - defaults to creative commons share alike

As with Wikipedia the default license here is creative commons share alike. You are permitted to copy the article, modify it, and use it in any way you like, including commercial use. The only requirement is that you must attribute the original authors. We expect most articles to use this license - but be sure to check on the page first to make sure it hasn't been released under a different license. If no other license is given at the head of the article, this is the one in use for that page.

Policy on controversies on divisions in the sangha and contemporary Buddhist politics, internal and external

We won't cover any vexed political issues here such as independence of Tibet, actions of Buddhists in Myangmar, and violence by Buddhists generally. There are mischievous people in every religion and political system, and mischievous non religious people also.

As the Dalia Lama said, talking about 9/11 in his Address to Muslim Co-ordination Committee in Ladakh on 16th July 2014, 13 minutes into this video: {{#ev:youtube|w-JeOXs95To}}

"Terrorist act carried by Muslim. But because of this incident shouldn't generalize, that the whole of Muslim is something negative. This is totaly wrong. Unfair. Some mischievous people among all followers of different traditions. Amongst Hindus some mischievous people there. Amongst Jews. Amongst the Christian. Among the Buddhist. Yes there are mischievous people there. Those few mischievous people, use that then generalize the tradition - that’s totally wrong.”

If someone wants to, they can start a new "Encyclopedia of Contemporary Buddhist politics" to cover the topic of "mischievous Buddhists".

We feel that it is best to just not cover contemporary Buddhist politics here, for the present at least. That's for the purpose of simplicity and to focus our attention on what we see as the central purpose of the encyclopedia.

It's the same also for divisions within the Sangha and other matters of internal Buddhist politics. They don't need to be "mishievous people" for this to happen either. Sometimes even with good faith and sincerity on all parts, bitter disputes can arise over interpretations of doctrines, behaviour of individuals, and policies. For simplicity we are just not going to cover those topics here at present. We wish to focus on what we see as our priorities, to get together a clear encyclopedic presentation of the diversity of Buddhist teachings in the spirit of Rimé.

This does not apply to early "Buddhist politics". For instance the sutras have passages about the first ever division of the sangha under Devadatta, the cousin and brother in law of Gautama Buddha. But those are not problematical in the same way, and can give us valuable insights into issues such as these, for the present and the future.

The touchstone here is whether it is something that has potential to stir up present day bitterness and anxiety. Such needs especial care and it just takes us too far away from the reason we set up this encyclopedia.

Since we did a builk import of articles from Wikipedia, it is possible that some articles on these vexed issues in contemporary Buddhist politics have slipped in. If so, do let us know and we will do something about it. Thanks.

Non controversial politics is okay but not the main focus.

Policy on bibliographies - avoid controversy, most interesting section the bibliography

This is not a general encyclopedia but specifically an encyclopedia about the Buddhist teachings. It is interesting to touch on the lives of some of the Buddhist teachers here, especially details such as

  • Who their own teachers are or were
  • Notable students
  • Place and date of birth
  • Style of teaching, including the tradition(s) of Buddhism they teach within, and where they taught / teach.
  • Bibliography - list of their writings. When it is a published author with books or other works you can access - buy or find in a library or read online. Perhaps this is the most interesting section for this encyclopedia.
  • Minimal basic chronology of their life
  • In the case of Tulkus, then their previous and next incarnations and their reincarnation lineage

Beyond that, details of their personal lives are not the main focus unless particularly relevant to their style of teaching or to Buddhism (for instance of course we would cover the sixth Dalai Lama's poetry and decision not to follow a monastic path). Nor are we going to cover any larger controversies they get involved in such as internal Buddhist politics or the politics of countries (e.g. their views on the situation of Tibet and China).

The reason for this approach is that it would take us too far away from our central purpose here, and require a lot of care and dilligence to do a balanced encyclopedia of Buddhist politics or of Buddhists who engage in politics or the personal lives of Buddhists. Unless done well it is likely to encourage confusion, bitterness and further controversy. We leave such a task to others.

We tried a bulk import of thousands of biographies. But a small percentage had issues. So, as a preliminary measure first we removed all biographies of living persons. We plan to gradually reintroduce these biographies but they all have to be vetted for controversies.

If the biography is controversial, we will trim it down to a minimal biography. If it is non controversial then a longer more extended biography is acceptable. But the problem for the more controversial figures is that if you leave out all the controversy, it can seem biased, to go into detail about other aspects of their lives but leave out matters that were controvesial.

This is only a policy for people who are still alive or died recently. We do of course cover historical controversies e.g. the ones in the sutras. The reason for leaving out present day controversies is because they often lead to bitterness and confusion and are not easy to present in a balanced way.

Please report any controversial biographies you find here

If you want to check the biographies of living people in the encyclopedia so far, to check that we haven't imported any controversies accidentally, there is a list here: Category:Living people.

Do notify us if you come across any such material in the encyclopedia, and we will remove it right away, thanks!

If a favourite teacher is not included

If your teacher isn't listed here, and is listed in the English version of Wikipedia, it is just because we haven't imported it yet.

If this happens - just let us know with a url to the biography you wish us to import and we will look into it. Also if you know of another biography that we can copy into this wiki, with a suitable license, do say, again send us the url and we will look into it.


See also

Motivation - Ri-me approach - Origins - Wikipedia Buddhism Project - Guiding Principles - from experiences