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date: 04 August 2020

Summary and Keywords

Different media have been used to spread the teachings of Buddhism, and they have exerted a significant influence upon the development of Buddhist ideas and institutions over time. An oral tradition was first used in ancient India to record and spread the Buddhist Dharma, and later the Pali canon was written down in the 1st century bce. Writing was also conspicuously used to transmit Mahāyāna texts starting in the first centuries of the first millennium. Printing was developed in medieval China probably in connection with the Buddhist desire to create merit through copying the texts. Efforts to print Buddhist texts in Western languages and scripts began in earnest in the late 19th century, and Western printing methods were later adopted by Asian Buddhists to publish the texts in modern times. It is important to appreciate the intricate relationship between the medium that is used to transmit a text and the form of the text itself, as well as the commensurate effects of the texts and their ideas on the medium and its uses in society. The oral medium has many constraints that forced the early texts to assume certain forms that were amenable to oral transmission, and institutions arose to assist in the preservation of these texts as well. Even once writing came to be used, the common people generally did not read but rather heard the text recited by learned monks. Private reading is for the most part a modern invention and it, too, had a distinct influence on the development of Buddhism, leading to modern reformist movements that demanded less superstition, more meditation, and a closer adherence to the teachings found in the canonical texts. The Internet is also shaping the popular reception of Buddhism, as Buddhist teachings and texts proliferate on thousands of websites in a dizzying array of languages.

Keywords: orality, literacy, digital media, internet, xylography, Buddhist canon, mnemonic, media theory, textual transmission

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