Associate professor publishes Buddhist translation

News-Leader, Feb 1, 2007

Springfield, MI (USA) -- Dr. Stephen Berkwitz, associate professor of religious studies at Missouri State University, recently published "The History of the Buddha's Relic Shrine: A Translation of the Sinhala Thupavasma," a 300-page translation from a 13th century Sri Lankan text.

Berkwitz worked with a linguistics professor in Sri Lanka to translate the text. It took about 18 months because there is no Sinhala-English dictionary available for the ancient form.
The text Berkwitz translated is unique, he said, because it is both literary and historical. Written by Parakama Pandita, it incorporates poetic descriptions as well as elaborate similes and imagery, he said.

The primary focus of Berkwitz's book, published by Oxford University Press, centers on the description of how a Sri Lankan relic shrine — Thupa — was built in the second century B.C. to enshrine parts of the Buddha's bodily relics (believed to be a bushel of his cremated bones).

The book also contains a descriptive account of how Buddhism spread outside of India.

"This version is written explicitly for a wide audience," Berkwitz said. "It tells us something important about how Buddhism was understood and practiced at a popular level."

Berkwitz has been studying Buddhism for more than a decade. In 2005-06, he received a Fulbright U.S. Senior Scholar Award, which allowed him to travel to Sri Lanka for seven months to conduct research on early colonial-era Buddhist poetry — particularly literature written in the Sinhala language — and to lecture at the University of Colombo regarding the status of Buddhism in the United States.