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Distributing & Publishing BPS Titles
December 17, 2022
In the December 9 newsletter we shared the story of how Pariyatti got into publishing, even though neither of the two organisations that merged to form Pariyatti, originally set out as publishers. Once the Pariyatti Bookstore Service and Vipassana Research Publications of America (VRPA) had merged, VRPA/Pariyatti had an inventory of books that Vipassana Research Institute (VRI) had not printed and did not sell; these were the books from the 'Recommended Reading List' (RRL) that meditators received at the end of courses.
In addition to the growing list of books VRI published in English, the RRL listed a good selection of books from the Buddhist Publication Society (BPS). Ledi Sayādaw's manuals, in the Wheel series, were foremost among them. Sayagyi U Ba Khin's Essentials of Buddha Dhamma and Dr. Paul R. Fleischman's essays Why I Sit & Therapeutic Action of Vipassana (Wheels 329/330) are further examples. There were also many other books from BPS that were highly regarded by meditators, such as Ven. Ñāṇamoli's The Life of the Buddha. Pariyatti Book Service had carried these titles for years.
It soon became clear that it was not only difficult to get books from VRI in India; BPS was almost as hard to communicate with and shipping by sea from Sri Lanka was equally problematic. Once Pariyatti's website had launched in 1996 it became a challenge to keep enough of certain titles in stock to meet the growing demand.
Email was still new—even in America—and neither VRI nor BPS used it yet. Using snail mail, Founder President of VRPA/Pariyatti Rick Crutcher wrote to Bhikkhu Bodhi, then President of BPS, saying that BPS wasn't able to supply the inventory VRPA/Pariyatti needed and asking why BPS didn't have an American distributor. Rick told us that he thought perhaps BPS would ask Wisdom Publications to do this distribution, as they were doing for the Pali Text Society (PTS) at the time. On the last day of February 1997, Rick received a letter from Ven. Bodhi. BPS had long wanted an American distributor but hadn't found anyone to do it; why didn't VRPA/Pariyatti take it on?
VRPA/Pariyatti's role, as Rick saw it then, was VRI's North American arm. The books BPS had printed over the years were all in the Theravāda tradition, but of such a varied and eclectic nature that it was unsure what Goenkaji would think of VRPA/Pariyatti distributing them along with the VRI books. A fax to Goenkaji explained Ven. Bodhi's proposal and asked for advice on how to proceed. A reply arrived only a few days later; Goenkaji had no problem with VRPA/Pariyatti representing BPS as distributor in North America.
In the letter Rick wrote to Ven. Bodhi to tell him that VRPA/Pariyatti would be happy to represent BPS as its American distributor, the following condition was mentioned as well: BPS needed to get email, to make communications more easy. Ven. Bodhi replied positively—via email—in May 1997. VRPA/Pariyatti received the first BPS sea-container shipment on February 2, 1998...
The story continues as it soon became apparent that BPS still was unable to supply some of their most popular titles in the quantities VRPA/Pariyatti required. In June 1998 Ven. Bodhi suggested as a solution that VRPA/Pariyatti would co-publish their titles in America. With that an exploration began of what this idea would mean. A back-and-forth discussion spread out over the rest of that year, finally concluding a co-publishing contract between BPS and VRPA in early 1999. This brought into existence our second publishing imprint, BPS Pariyatti Editions (BPE).