The Buddhist Publication Society is a charity whose goal is to explain and spread the doctrine of the Buddha. It was founded in Sri Lanka in 1958 by two Sri Lankan Buddhist laymen, A.S. Karunaratna and Richard Abeyasekera, and a European-born Buddhist monk, Nyanaponika Thera. Originally conceived as a limited effort to publish small, affordable books on fundamental Buddhist topics, the Society expanded its scope in response to the reception of their early publishing efforts. Reflecting its Sri Lankan roots, the Buddhist Publication society's publications reflect the perspective of the Theravada branch of Buddhism, drawing heavily from the Pali Canon for source material.
The BPS regularly supplies Buddhist literature to over 3,000 subscriber members all over the world, in some eighty countries. Its titles have been translated into many other languages, including German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Czech, Hindi, and Chinese.
The Buddhist Publication Society publishes a variety of works, in both English and Sinhala, ranging from introductory works to translations of technical philosophical texts. The Society publishes works by a number of noted Theravada monks and lay writers, including books by Nyanaponika Thera, Nyanatiloka Mahathera, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Piyadassi Thera, Bhikkhu Ñanamoli, Narada Mahathera, Mahasi Sayadaw, Helmuth Hecker, S. Dhammika and Francis Story.
From the BPS's inception to 1984 Ven. Nyanaponika Thera was the BPS's English editor. From 1984 until 2002 Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi was the editor. Since 2005 Ven. Bhikkhu Nyanatusita is the editor.
The BPS's English-language publications fall into three classes: two series of booklets called The Wheel and Bodhi Leaves, and full-size books.
The Wheel consists of booklets issued in a format 4.8 x 7.2 inches, typically ranging from 40 to 80 pages. Since the inception of BPS in 1958 about 250 titles have been published, though not all have been maintained in print. The booklets cover a wide range of topics and can be categorized as: Introductory Booklets; Specific Teachings (on the main topics of Buddhist doctrine, such as the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, dependent origination, the three marks of existence, kamma and rebirth, and so forth); Meditation and Mind Training; Dhamma Reflections (more personal explorations of the relevance of Buddhist principles for spiritual understanding and practice); Philosophy and Psychology; Faith and Devotion; Monastic Life; Comparative Studies; Buddhist History and Culture; Buddhism and the World Today; Translations from the Pali Canon; Non-Canonical Buddhist Literature. All Wheel Publications have been digitalised and are being reissued in bound volumes as well as put on the BPS website.
Bodhi Leaves is a series of smaller booklets, hand-sized, between 16 and 40 pages in length. Its range of categories is similar to that of the Wheel, but the tone is different, less expository and more conversational. Bodhi Leaves are intended to offer personal insights into the Buddha's teachings, close-up focus on specific ethical and social problems, and practical guidelines to living by the light of the Dhamma. This series was discontinued some years ago, but the issues are being made available in digital format on the BPS website.
The BPS's line of full-size books ranges from basic introductions to advanced texts on the finer points of Buddhist doctrine and practice. Books on basic Buddhism include several comprehensive surveys that have long been regarded as essential reference works. Ven. Narada Thera's The Buddha and His Teachings gives an informative account of the Master's life and teaching, highlighting the doctrines of kamma and rebirth, meditation, the nature of Nibbána, and the way to enlightenment. For a complete biography, Bhikkhu Ñanamoli's The Life of the Buddha is unique: a vivid and moving portrait of the Enlightened One composed almost entirely from texts of the Pali Canon. This is our most popular title, and though in print for over twenty-five years it is still constantly in demand. For an illuminating account of the Buddha's path two authoritative works can be recommended. One is Piyadassi Thera's popular The Buddha’s Ancient Path, the other is Bhikkhu Bodhi's The Noble Eightfold Path. Both works offer detailed explanations of each of the eight factors of the path, thus showing how Buddhism is to be practiced as a way of life.
For elementary, original source material on the Dhamma, two compilations by the great German scholar-monk Nyanatiloka Thera (Ven. Nyanaponika's teacher) are still unsurpassed. The more elementary is The Word of the Buddha, first compiled in 1906 and subject to some sixteen reprints. This book arranges the Buddha's sayings around the framework of the Four Noble Truths. The more advanced title is The Buddha’s Path to Deliverance, which documents the Buddha's own instructions on all the different methods of meditation, both for concentration and insight, and arranges them according to the pattern of the seven stages of purification.
The BPS also publishes accurate translations of several small classics from the Pali Canon, including Achariya Buddharakkhita's The Dhammapada and (in one volume) The Udána and the Itivuttaka, translated by John Ireland. For more advanced students, the present writer has issued translations of four major Pali suttas along with their commentaries and excerpts from the subcommentaries. The first of these is the best one to start with: The Discourse on the All-Embracing Net of Views, a translation of the Brahmajala Sutta and its commentaries. The others are: The Discourse on the Root of Existence (the Mulapariyaya Sutta); The Great Discourse on Causation (the Mahanidana Sutta); and The Discourse on the Fruits of Recluseship (the Samaññaphala Sutta).
BPS books on meditation give qualified guidance in both the practical methods of meditation and the underlying theory. A thorough and informative survey is Amadeo Sole-Leris's Tranquillity and Insight, which systematically explores both Samatha and Vipassanā meditation according to the classical sources and their modern adaptations. A modern classic is Nyanaponika Thera's The Heart of Buddhist Meditation. Basic instructions in insight meditation are found in Mahasi Sayadaw's Practical Insight Meditation, while Jack Kornfield's Modern Buddhist Masters collects tracts from a range of contemporary Theravada meditation masters from Burma and Thailand. A work with a unique flavour is The Seven Stages of Purification by the late Matara Sri Ñāṇanārāma Mahathera, one of Sri Lanka's most respected meditation masters of recent times.
The BPS also publishes several books on the Abhidhamma, a systematic arrangement of the Buddha's philosophical and psychological teachings, defining the theory that lies behind his more pragmatically oriented discourses: A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma, a translation of the Abhidhammattha-sangaha complete with a detailed explanatory guide by the Burmese Sayadaw U Rewatadhamma and Bhikkhu Bodhi. Nyanaponika Thera's Abhidhamma Studies demonstrates the practical relevance of the Abhidhamma to the spiritual life. To find one's way through the seven books of the canonical Abhidhamma, Nyanatiloka Thera's Guide through the Abhidhamma Pitaka is of great use. For exploring the full range of classical Theravada thought Achariya Buddhaghosa's masterpiece, The Visuddhimagga is essential. This is a virtual encyclopaedia of Buddhist doctrine and meditation, which gives detailed coverage to all the meditation subjects and, in its middle chapters, a survey of the Abhidhamma. This is published by BPS in the outstanding translation by Bhikkhu Ñanamoli under the title The Path of Purification. The BPS also publishes the translation of an earlier, shorter work, the Vimuttimagga or Path of Freedom, which served as the example for the Visuddhimagga, and which is only completely extant in a Chinese translation. A draft translation from the Chinese was done by N.R.M. Ehara, Soma Thera and Kheminda Thera. A new translation of this important work is currently being done by Bhikkhu Nyanatusita.
Over the years BPS has published several works by the greatest Burmese scholar-monk of recent times, Ledi Sayadaw. The Wheel series includes Ledi Sayadaw's Manual of Insight (Vipassana Dipani), The Requisites of Enlightenment (Bodhipakkhiya Dipani), The Noble Eightfold Path and Its Factors (Magganga Dipani), The Buddhist Philosophy of Relations (Patthanuddesa Dipani) and the Manual of Mindfulness of Breathing (Anapana Dipani). The Manual of the Supreme Man (Uttamapurisa Dipani) and, most recently, the Manual of Light and the Path of Higher Knowledge (Alin Kyan and Vijjamagga Dipani) were published in book form.
The most recent book publications of the BPS are: The Life of Nyanatiloka Thera by Hellmuth Hecker and Bhikkhu Nyanatusita, Similes of the Buddha by Hellmuth Hecker, Buddhist Nuns by Mohan Wijayaratna and Jataka Tales of the Buddha by Ken and Visakha Kawasaki.
In the late 1990s, the BPS entered into co-publication agreements with major Buddhist publishers in the West. The purpose of this step is to make its own works more readily available to readers in the Americas and Europe. The BPS also co-publishes works on Theravada Buddhism first issued by Western publishers, to make them more easily available for Asian readers. To date the BPS's partner in both areas of cooperation has been Wisdom Publications in Boston.
Works first issued by Wisdom Publications, and then taken over for the Asian readership by BPS, include: The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, a translation of the Majjhima Nikaya originally made by Bhikkhu Ñanamoli, U Pandita's In This Very Life and Ayya Khema's Being Nobody, Going Nowhere. Along with Wisdom, the BPS also publishes a wonderful collection of biographies called The Great Disciples of the Buddha. This book brings to life for the modern reader such outstanding figures as Sariputta and Moggallana.
BPS has also partnered with Pariyatti, a U.S. publisher, importer, distributor, and bookseller affiliated with the Vipassana Research Academy, established in Igatpuri, India, by Sri S.N. Goenka. As well as distributing BPS books in the Americas, Pariyatti has created an imprint called BPS Pariyatti Editions (BPE) to publish American editions of The Path of Purification, A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma, The Noble Eightfold Path and other popular BPS titles.
Since 1960 the BPS has been issuing a Sinhala-language counterpart of The Wheel called Damsak (= Dhamma-cakka), and a series of full-size books in Sinhala called Kalana Mithuru (= Kalyanamitra) Books. From 1960 Damsak was edited by the famous Sri Lankan missionary monk, Ven. Piyadassi Thera. After his death in 1998, responsibility for the Sinhala publications was taken over by his assistant, A.G.S. Kariyawasam until his death in 2005. Currently, Mr. Senadheera is looking after the Sinhalese publications.
Dhamma Dana Project
In 1993, the Society launched the Nyanaponika Dhamma Dana project, named in honor of former Society president Nyanaponika Mahathera. Under the auspices of the project, 50-150 copies of each new book published by the society are sent free of charge to libraries, monasteries, and Buddhist centers around the world. Copies of the Wheel are also sent to a number of Buddhist temples and practice centers, to be distributed free of charge.
Presidents of the Buddhist Publication Society
- "The Story of the Buddhist Publication Society". Buddhist Publication Society. Retrieved 2014-08-10.
- "Nyanaponika Dhamma Dana Project". Buddhist Publication Society. Retrieved 2014-08-10.
- "A Brief Account of the BPS's Contributions to Buddhist Literature" (PDF). Buddhist Publication Society. Retrieved 2014-08-10.
- "Profile of Buddhist Publication Society" (PDF). Buddhadharma Magazine. Retrieved 2014-08-10.