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CHIANG MAI, Thailand — The 72nd birthday anniversary of the king of Thailand continues to inspire a rich variety of spiritual, artistic and cultural contributions to Thai society.

One such project is the plan to publish a romanized Pali Tipitaka, which reflects the essence of the Buddhist Holy Scriptures and is considered one of the oldest sacred texts in the world. The force behind this initiative, under the auspices of the supreme patriarch of Thailand, was a devout and learned Thai lady, the late Thanpuying Maniratana Bunnag, who was for many decades an assistant to the queen of Thailand. The torch has now been passed to her son Suradhaj Bunnag and to a society created in 1997 for this purpose, the Dhamma Society Fund.

When completed, the project will constitute the world’s first publication of the complete Buddhist Pali Tipitaka in the Roman alphabet. There will be 1,000 45-volume sets, (representing the 45 years of Lord Buddha’s teachings), to be presented as gifts to leading international institutions throughout the world.

The Tipitaka was first written in Sri Lanka, on palm leaves in the Singhalese script, in the year 433 of the Buddhist Era. In Thailand, the scriptures were first inscribed in the Great Buddhist Council at Chet Yod Monastery in Chiang Mai in 2020 of the Buddhist Era (A.D. 1477). The script used then was the “Lanna script,” Lanna meaning the Northern Kingdom. A transliteration in the Khmer language followed, and then another in Thai. In 1871, King Min Don of Burma had the text inscribed in Burmese on some 700 marble slabs at his capital of Mandalay. In 1893, by command of the Great King Rama V, 500 sets of the Pali Tipitaka in the Thai alphabet were given to educational institutions worldwide. After the Pali Text Society of London was established in 1881, international Buddhist scholars contributed immensely to translating and disseminating parts of the Tipitaka, but they could not publish the entire corpus. The present undertaking is therefore of unique importance.

The project organizers believe that their effort will further promote the proper reading and recitation of the scriptures, thereby increasing international awareness of and interest in Buddhist studies. At the same time, they are confident that they have made an appropriate decision in basing the transliteration on the well known Chattasangiti text of the Sixth Great Buddhist Council convened in Rangoon, Burma, in 1954-56.

The project will of course benefit from new technology, using a computer program to transliterate the Burmese script into the Roman alphabet. Scores of learned monks, academics and other specialists will supervise the whole work.

Talking with the main coordinator and his assistants, I have been impressed by the dedication of all those concerned with the project, by their serious approach to and deep knowledge of the topics, by their meticulous handling of numerous delicate issues and by their sense that they are undertaking something that will certainly be a landmark in the history of Buddhist studies.

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