[Buddha-l] Capitalisation of Buddhist Terms

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Wed Dec 8 19:29:54 MST 2010

I have to slightly disagree with my old friend richard hayes. 'ö-Dzin (why 
not capitalize the "ö"?) asked about conventions. There are a few 
conventions that some of us have adopted, for the sake of clarity.

For instance, while Indic scripts lack any form of capitalization, we can 
take advantage of capitals to distinguish distinctly different senses of 
certain terms. For instance, dharma is used in several quite distinct ways 
(aside from differing interpretations even amongst the different meanings), 
two basic usages being (1) the teachings of the Buddha, the fundamental 
tenets of Buddhism -- a sort of Buddhist counterpart to the Hindu Dharma as 
underlying structure and ruling patterns of the (moral) cosmos; and (2) 
basic factors of experience, such as the 75 dharmas or 100 hundred dharmas 
in the Sarvastivadin and Yogacara abhidharma lists. Some of us capitalize 
the first, the Dharma, and leave the second in lower case, dharma, to help 
clarify which is being used. Less annoying than, for instance, using 
dharma-superscript1 vs dharma-superscript2.

It seems to me that the impulse to avoid capitals at all costs is a silly 
reaction against German, which capitalizes nouns regardless of their 
importance or lack thereof. The British hate the Germans, ergo... Since we 
in the States are not Brits nor part of the Commonwealth, we can capitalize 
or lowercase as we see fit. Unless one is e.e. cummings, I would recommend a 
middle path. Capitalize whatever you wish, and let your editors and 
publishers try to talk you out of it. Much more fun.

There are no buddhist rules of Capitalization. American capitalization rules 
are basically: do what you wish, but Be Consistent.


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