The city of Kandy is the cultural stronghold of Sri Lanka. It preserves its identity and the cultural aspects of Theravada Buddhism that have influenced millions. Reviving Theravada Buddhism and strengthening its foundations had been an important mission of the nationalistic movement that emerged before and after independence from the British in 1948. In light of such significant events, a nationwide interest in understanding the fundamentals of Buddhism also gained ground.
Between 1950 and 1970 there was also a growing international interest in the philosophy of Buddhism and how it could be practically used to ease the stress of modern society. Consequently, the importance of publishing original Pali Buddhist texts in English was greatly acknowledged by many interested parties.
In 1957, two Sri Lankans, A.S. Karunaratna and Richard Abeyasekera, met with Ven. Nyanaponika of Germany to express interest in publishing such texts in English. This idea became a reality in 1958 when the three scholars formed the Buddhist Publication society and released a booklet called Bodhi Leaves for free distribution. This publication, although small in the number of printed copies, was accepted with much enthusiasm by both the local and international Buddhist community.
As the popularity of the booklets grew, the BPS initiated publishing full-length Buddhists texts. One such publication, called Abhidhamma Studies by Ven. Nyanaponika, raised a great response in the West. Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence commented on Nyanaponika and wrote: “...one of the most profound and lucid interpreters of Buddhist psychology of our time.” Ven. Nyanaponika then released the renowned meditation guidebook Heart of Buddhist Meditation which is still regarded as one of the best literary works on Theravada meditation. Bhikkhu Bodhi, Piyadassi Thera, Bhikkhu Ñanamoli, Narada Mahathera, Helmuth Hecker and S. Dhammika are some of the internationally acclaimed authors who have published their work with BPS so far.
“Spreading Theravada Buddhism has been the prime aspiration of the BPS since its inception in 1958,” recalls Harilal Wikramarathne, the current Secretary of Buddhist Publications Society. “During the 60s the West had almost no knowledge of Theravada Buddhism. I can say with confidence that it was the Buddhist Publication Society which made Theravada what it is now, outside of Sri Lanka. We made the teachings available for both Sri Lankans and foreigners by translating Pali texts into English and Sinhala from their original source.
Publications released by BPS have consisted of two continuing series of booklets called The Wheel and Bodhi Leaves since the inception of the organization. The BPS edition of the Tipitaka translated by Bhikku Bodhi and Maurice Walshe is considered to be the most comprehensive translation of its kind in existence. In addition, over 1200 books on topics such as meditation, Abhidhamma, history, sutta discussions and contemporary Buddhism continue to be reprinted. “Currently we are not looking into new releases. Instead, we are reprinting each important and popular book we have in our collection,” commented Professor P. D. Premasiri, the current President of BPS.
In addition to publishing, the Buddhist Publication Society hosts a free online library of e-books and also functions as a center where regular Dhamma discussions are conducted. The Dhamma Dana Initiative set up to honor the memory of Ven. Nyanaponika, acts as a charity program which donates free copies of BPS publications to universities and other institutes worldwide.
With its subscriber base spread over 80 countries, the BPS continues its dedicated path to distribute Theravada teachings to millions of Buddhists in all four corners of the world. The Buddhist Publication Society is a registered charity organization in Sri Lanka which solely depends on the donations of its well-wishers.
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