Editorials by Sangharakshita


The Functions of a Buddhist Journal

This editorial first appeared in The Maha Bodhi, December 1954

At the end of another year of publication, with which we complete the sixty-second volume of our Journal, it may be thought not out of place to recall the function of Buddhist periodical literature within the wider and more complex economy of the propagation of the Dharma. This function is broadly threefold: (a) To reflect the unchanging light of Truth in the mirror of contemporary attitudes and aspirations; (b) to furnish news of Buddhist activities; and (c) to foster a sense of community between both individual Buddhists and Buddhist groups in different parts of the globe to whom no direct means of contact are open. We shall take up for consideration each of these in turn.

(a) A magazine is not just a miniature book, and the function of the former is different from, though still akin to, that of the latter. From standard scholarly works on the Dharma, to say nothing of the Buddhist canonical literature, we expect a breadth and amplitude of treatment, an attention to detail, and a copiousness of documentation, for which there would be but little scope in any Buddhist magazine that was not intended solely for the delectation of specialists. Magazine articles have of necessity either to deal in outline, which in practice generally means superficiality, with a wide range of subject-matter, or in detail with a range much more restricted, - in which case there is the danger of the reader failing to see the wood for the trees. Articles on Buddhism have to follow a middle way between both extremes. They must be comprehensive without being vague, and deal with details without losing sight of fundamental issues. Apart from straight forward expositions of this or that particular doctrine, Buddhist periodicals may naturally be expected to contain presentations of different aspects of Buddhism in relation to specific modern problems, interests and needs. They should also make room for the most recent interpretations of traditional ideas which, though possessing a certain contemporary interest, are nevertheless not of sufficient importance to warrant their being dealt with in a whole book. Provisional or specimen translations of Buddhist texts should also fins a place. Apart from the question of the nature of such contributions themselves, however, there is the related question of the budding Buddhist writer. By encouraging those with literary gifts to devote their talents to the service of the Dharma Buddhist magazines make an indirect contribution to the enrichment of the more permanent forms of Buddhist literature.


Such a practice also promotes the study of the Dharma, for he who writes even a little must needs read much in order to be, or at least appear to be, wiser than his readers. The ideal Buddhist magazine should be a clearing house for the latest ideas about the Teaching of the Buddha, and in its columns they should be as it were sifted and winnowed before being allowed to find a place among the permanently acceptable interpretations of the Dharma.

(b) We are all cogs in the mighty revolving wheel of the Law; but we are intelligent cogs, and we are able to perform our own humble function all the more efficiently if we know what the other cogs are doing. One who regularly receives information about Buddhist activities in lands far removed from his own, is not only inspired by the magnificent spectacle of the mighty forward movement of the whole Buddhist world, but also enabled to appreciate his own small part in that movement, in consequence of which his determination is strengthened and the torch of his enthusiasm kept brightly burning. The circulation of such information renders possible concerted and co-ordinated action for the advancement, consolidation and defence of the Dharma between widely separated organizations and groups.

(c) Unity is more important that uniformity, and allegiance to an ideal of greater value than formal membership of a society. Between the readers of a magazine, especially a Buddhist magazine, there exists a bond which is nonetheless strong for depending upon something much deeper and more indefinable that the mere payment of an annual subscription, important and necessary from the material point of view though such a transaction may be. Buddhism is on the whole rather an unorganized religion. It has no official head, no universally accepted hierarchy, very few powerful instruments of propaganda, and hardly any trained workers. Many are the individual Buddhists, and Buddhist groups, especially in western lands, whose only direct contact with the rest of the Buddhist world is the eagerly awaited little magazine which comes to them through the post each month. As they remove the wrapper and turn over its pages their sense of being isolated in the midst of a hostile, or at least alien, religious environment, suddenly leaves them; they feel like a child who has just been gathered to his mother's breast; a sensation of warmth and kinship possesses them; they feel the they 'belong'.

Such are the functions which a Buddhist journal exists to perform. In its own special way it seeks to bring about the same glorious consummation towards which more ambitious agencies are making their own still more important contributions. By indicating the functions of a periodical devoted to the service of the Dharma we have at the same time reminded ourselves, at the end of this our sixty-second year of publication, of the noble purpose with which our own Journal was founded and to which it will be our endeavour to be faithful in the coming year.