Origins of this encyclopedia

From Encyclopedia of Buddhism
Jump to: navigation, search

This is additional material for Blogs:Robert Walker/Motivation for this encyclopedia - Ri-me approach

Much of the material in this encyclopedia originates in Wikipedia and it all dates back to a time in 2015 when some editors there decided to take the Wikipedia Buddhism project in a new direction.


This encyclopedia originated as part of Wikipedia. You can see an attribution at the bottom of every page that was imported. It arose as a result of a change of direction in the Buddhism topic area in Wikipedia in 2015.

Editors there decided on a new approach according to which Buddhist teachers, and especially, Bhikkhu scholars such as Walpola Rahula were not acceptable to use as sources or to be quoted from unless what they wrote was backed up by preferrably non Buddhist authors, and western academics such as Richard Gombrich. They proceeded to do major rewrites of articles on core concepts such as Four Noble Truths and Karma in Buddhism removing most of the material cited to Bhikkhu scholars. As an example they removed all except one of the cites and quotes to Walpola Rahula in the Nirvana (Buddhism) article and rewrote it citing Richard Gombrich's views on Nirvana extensively instead (he previously had only one mention in a footnote). It is easier to explain what happened using cites than to try to explain what the change in presentation was but as you can imagine this leads to a substantial change to the content.

They sometimes present other views, but only as filtered by the lens of the interpretations by certain favoured western academics. Like this, on paranirvana. In this quote bear in mind that Walpola Rahula's book What the Buddha Taught is regarded by many as one of the best sources for a clear presentation of central ideas of Therevada, based on an extensive knowledge of the Pali Canon:

"According to Walpola Rahula, the five aggregates vanish but there does not remain a mere "nothingness." Rahula's view, states Gombrich, is not accurate summary of the Buddhist thought, and mirrors the Upanishadic thought."

(Those two sentences have the only remaining mentions of Walpola Rahula in the main text of the Nirvana (Buddhism) page in Wikipedia after the rewrite)

We tried all available avenues to resolve the situation to no avail. Attempts to restore the older material were immediately reverted. The proposal to restore the old material as a separate page, perhaps labeled as "contemporary Buddhist interpretations" was also deemed unacceptable.

Their reasoning was that Bhikkhu scholars by their commitment to the monk's vows are too involved with their beliefs to write about them objectively. We do not think this is what the wikipedia guidelines mean, and there is no such requirements in the Christian project there, where sources to theologians that are Christian practitioners are regarded as the best sources on their own beliefs, and whether a theologian is a monk or nun is not a consideration at all.

They also put a lot of work into trying to find a unified way to present the core teachings of Buddhism, using what some of the academics consider to be the views of early Buddhists at the time of the Buddha as a unifying principle. There is a wide variety of views on this topic, see Pali Canon# Attribution according to scholars, but to achieve a more unified approach for the wikipedia articles they focus on a particular approach that they favour. Again this is not done in the theological articles. They may touch on such matters but the main emphasis is on clearly presenting the beliefs of modern Christians in all their diversity.

We tried to do something about this for several years, but there was no changing this new direction. They are certain that what they are doing is improving wikipedia and removing unreliable material from it.

This helped us to realize how much we value the rimé approach to these matters. We wish to present the views of everyone here. All the traditions of modern Buddhism, and the views of the western academics, and attempted reconstructions of early Buddhism. It is all interesting material but we think it benefits from a clear separation following the rimé approach. Embracing differences while at the same time encouraging dialog that establishes a common ground.

Eventually we decided to make something positive about all that and start a new encyclopedia, copying the older versions of the articles across, as we are permitted to do so long as they are attributed correctly. Our approach here takes much of value from the way wikipedia editing is done, and we also use ideas from rimé to ensure we stay on track with our aim to make an encyclopedia that encourages diversity, that differences are good.

It's a major rewrite for the Wikipedia Buddhism Project

The editors proposing this new approach were not just quibbling over minor matters. They did major rewrites of many of the articles on core Buddhist concepts in Wikipedia in accordance with their views, sourced mainly to Western academics. They continue to do this with many of the articles, gradually removing the "inadequately sourced" material sourced to Bhikkhu scholars.

I find the easiest way to explain this is to use a count of the sources cited from the two versions of the articles. For instance the previous version of Nirvana (Buddhism) which is the basis for the current article in this encyclopedia uses Walpola Rahula's What the Buddha Taught as a source extensively with six cites. It has one mention of Richard Gombrich in a footnote. The current version in Wikipedia (as of writing this) has only one cite to Walpola Rahula and 11 cites to Richard Gombrich.

You could take many examples like that. It is not just a matter of a citation count, it's a matter of the central ideas presented in them as well. However, counting cites of Western academics, and of Bhikkhu Buddhist scholars, is the easiest way to make it clear that there are significant differences in the old and new versions of these articles.

It's a way to do it without attempting to delve into details of the different ideas and beliefs presented in them. They rewrote these articles without prior discussion, and are firmly of the view that what they are doing is to undertake a major improvement of Wikipedia over what was there before.

Why write a new Buddhist encyclopedia instead of fix Wikipedia?

You might wonder why we made a new encyclopedia instead of just resolving the issues in Wikipedia. Well, we did try. This dates back to 2015 when most of the contributions by Dorje108 and some other editors for several years were removed from Wikipedia, for instance for Karma in Buddhism and Four Noble Truths. After a long discusssion during which the editors favouring this new approach were not able to achieve a consensus, but had the majority view, they decided to go ahead anyway and remove just about all the material sourced to Bhikkhu scholars, and adding new content sourced to mainly non Buddhist western academics throughout the articles. They also removed material by some Western academics such as Rupert Gethin that favour views similar to those of some of the Bhikkhu scholars.

We tried all the avenues available in Wikipedia to resolve the issue. An attempt to a rollback to the previous version of Four Noble Truths by Dorje108 was immediately reverted without discussion[1]. At this point, @Dorje108: already thought we didn't have much chance to do anything about it. I (Robertinventor, who normally edits Wikipedia on other topics such as maths, music and astronomy, but found the Buddhism articles there a useful resource) thought perhaps we did have a chance and wanted to explore all avenues for "fixing" the issue. We had extensive talk page discussions during which another editor tried to restore a large section of Karma in Buddhism, all the sections from Centrality to Buddhist thought through to Buddha's realization of. His edit[2] was again immediately reverted without discussion[3].

We then tried requests for comments (RFC's), dispute resolution (DRN's) and the Reliable Sources Noticeboard (RSN). I developed a new suggestion to have two versions of the Four Noble Truths, their version attempting to reconstruct it according to the views of modern Buddhists and the old version presenting the various views on them as understood by present day Buddhist scholars in various modern traditions of Buddhism.

Wikipedia has a new community decision process there to reduce the burden in the admins, where other editors can vote to ban you from wikipedia and the majority view prevails. Admins are only involved in closing the case. The skeptical editors involved in this new approach got me topic banned in this way twice, saying that I was being too verbose in our discussions on the topic as their main reason for banning me. Another reason was that I did too many edits of my comments after posting them (this is something to watch out for on wikipedia. If you edit a comment, anyone who is following that page will get notification of the edit, and they can get annoyed if they get many notifications a day all by you just doing minor edits - as I do not use wikipedia all that often, I tend to forget this in the middle of a debate).

Anyone can decide to open such a case at any time, without notice, often mid discussion, as they did both these times. The second time it was an indef topic ban, so it doesn't expire unless I try to appeal the decision. It is broady construed, which means I am now not permitted to discuss any Buddhist topic anywhere in wikipedia, including my own user page there, with one exception, If someone asks me what my religion is, I am permitted to say I'm Buddhist so long as I don't go into any details.

You can read more here: Robertinventor/About/Events leading to my indef topic ban from the Buddhism project in Wikipedia

We had already exhausted all possible avenues to resolve it in wikipedia, but that indef topic ban gives it a finality - there is no way to take this any further now. I could try to appeal the ban but there is clearly no future in trying to to do anything further about the Wikipedia Buddhism project rewrites.

Our decision to make all this into something positive

That's when we decided to take all this as something positive, as a motivation to create something new. We had learnt from this what it is that we value in Wikipedia, and decided the best way forward seemed to be to start a new encyclopedia to let us explore our vision for what a Buddhist encyclopedia could be like. There is much good content in Wikipedia contributed through to 2015. Nearly 6,000 articles, most of them consistent with the approach we wish to explore, and many of them detailed and carefully researched.

So Dorje198 had the idea of developing a new encyclopedia that would use some of this material as a starting point, as is permitted according to the Wikipedia content license so long as the authors are attributed with a link back to the original article in Wikipedia. We wish to encourage Buddhist scholars and dharma students to help develop these articles, and expand the encyclopedia in a way that seems to be no longer possible in Wikipedia itself.

See also