When I began working on computers around the year 2000 I was asked if I could help with corrections that needed to be made to the digital edition of the Sri Lankan Tipiṭaka. As I could read Sinhala characters fluently, and was conversant with International standards for transliteration – and also because of the inherent beneficience of the project – I readily agreed.
I worked on that project for around two years, but it was really an uphill struggle as by 2002 I was the only person working on the corrections, and there were simply too many problems in the database for one person to fix (I estimated at that time that the transcription of Majjhimanikāya, for instance, had around 10,000 mistakes in it).
What really finished me off at that time, though, was an introduction I attended by the newly formed World Tripitaka Project. They gave a very professional presentation at a 5-star hotel, and it was obvious they had the funding and the personnel necessary to carry their project through, whereas we had neither.
I had by that time become interested in the texts in the early Buddhist tradition that had been preserved in languages other than Pāḷi, and which were being neglected – or so it seemed to me. I therefore turned my attention to comparative work on these texts with the Pāḷi tradition, and to enable that started my own website, my first, Ancient Buddhist Texts.
Around a year ago I was notified that the Buddhist Publication Society under the guidance of Ven. Nyanatusita was making pdf files of the Sri Lankan edition of the Tipiṭaka, and I contacted them and offered to set up a website, where the material would be available, not only as pdfs, but also as image files, which are smaller in size, and present a more accessible format for reading.
Nalin Ariyarathne seems to have done most of the initial work – and a lot of work it must have been too – preparing the scans of the 52 volumes that make up the series. They were then passed to me and during the first half of the Rains Retreat last year I worked on that material, and it again was quite a lot of work, as apart from the need to design and set up the website, all the images needed to be extracted from the pdfs, resized, renumbered and the pages checked to make sure all were there.
It also became clear that to make access to the material easier we would need to include the Tables of Contents and the various Indexes, which were missing from the original scans. There was considerable delay in getting those files, but I am happy to say that by now all the scanning has been done and the new website is ready for publication, why not head on over there and have a look:
The translations in high Sinhala, which most people, including monks, cannot read, have been excluded, so the site only presents the Pāḷi pages, together with other relevant material, but even so it now consists of over 17,000 image files in lightweight gif format, around 20kb-40kb a page, as well as remade pdfs which are now much lighter.
The plan now is to add in the commentarial (Aṭṭhakathā) material from the Simon Hewavitarane Bequest series, which was in fact the first edition of the commentaries to be completed; and also ancillary works like the histories, grammars and other Pāḷi compositions made during the Middle Ages, but the work on that has not yet begun.
This work will only benefit those who read Sinhala script, of course, but I hope that it will provide students and scholars worldwide with easy access to the material; and that it goes someway to repaying the debt I owe to the Sri Lankan Sangha for the training I received over the fifteen years I lived there.
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