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How Pariyatti Publishing Came to Be
December 9, 2022
From Pariyatti Book Service and VRPA
to Pariyatti and VRP (and More)
Pariyatti publishes titles under five different imprints. This is noteworthy, as neither of the two organisations that merged to form Pariyatti originally set out as publishers.
Pariyatti Book Service, set up in 1986, started making books and tapes available by mail order to Vipassana meditators in the USA at a time when Vipassana Research Institute (VRI) had not yet begun to publish, when The Art of Living was still being written, and when there was only one, very new, Vipassana Meditation Center (VMC) in North America (Dhamma Dharā).
Linda Warren, who began the service, aimed to offer what was listed at that time in the 'Recommended Reading List' (RRL), sourcing from any seller that offered good Dhamma books. The RRL, prepared by Bill Hart for the benefit of Western students of Goenkaji, included a mixed collection of resources from the Buddhist Publication Society (BPS), the Pali Text Society (PTS), Motilal Barnasidass, and other publishers.
Vipassana Research Publications of America (VRPA), the brainchild of Rick Crutcher was initiated in 1993, when VRI—which had started publishing by then—was on the verge of printing the first books of the Pāli Tipiṭaka in Devanāgari script. Rick, who was involved with publishing English language books at VRI and studied Pāli at VRI in India for several years, spoke with Goenkaji, discussing his idea of starting a US 'branch' of VRI, to make the Pāli Tipiṭaka books available to scholars in the West.
The Tipiṭaka would be brought out in distinct sets. The Dīgha Nikāya (the collection of long discourses) would come out first—together with its commentaries in one box; the Majjhima Nikāya (the collection of middle-length discourses) would be next, etc., and the idea was to ship the Tipiṭaka sets to the USA as they became available. During the initial organisational phase, it was agreed to also include English VRI books in each shipping and start distributing this collection.
It took from 1993 to late 1995 to actually get books shipped to Seattle from Igatpuri and to begin fulfilling wholesale orders. Some of the first books that were shipped—apart from the Tipiṭaka sets—were the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta books, the then just released second edition of the The Sayagyi U Ba Khin Journal and the grammar book Pāli Primer.
Linda from Pariyatti Book Service, who became VRPA's major customer, was delighted not to have to import the books from VRI anymore, since she could get them easily from VRPA. VRPA took over the hard work of communicating with and arranging transportation from India. Only a bit more than a year later VRPA was asked to take over the Pariyatti Book Service. This merger meant that wholesale orders between VRPA and Pariyatti Book Service would be unnecessary and the same books could be sold directly to individuals and institutions.
This was during the decade of the growth of the Internet, and computers were the field of expertise of Frank Snow, one of Rick's fellow Pāli students at VRI. Frank launched the website pariyatti.com in 1996. The Pariyatti name was kept as the name Pariyatti Book Service was already well known to meditators in the USA where VRPA was almost entirely unknown (and for website purposes unpronounceably long).
In the meantime Vipassana centers were springing up across the world as Vipassana was spreading widely; Pariyatti wanted to supply the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta books for the North American centers, which were often having difficulties getting hold of them. As ordering books from India was labourious and took so much time, Goenkaji agreed for Pariyatti to start printing the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta books, and later other VRI titles. That's how the first imprint came to be: Vipassana Research Publications (VRP).
Over time the scope of the imprint broadened; from printing just VRI titles, to publishing other Vipassana related titles such as Karma and Chaos and The Art of Dying. The Discourse Summaries is the absolute best-seller of the VRP catalog; we have that title also available in Chinese, Farsi, French, Spanish, Thai, and Vietnamese.
The Gem Set in Gold
Publishing VRP title The Gem Set in Gold is an example of a project that started off with a simple idea but became quite an intricate undertaking. Rebecca Lemov wrote an article in 2006 to celebrate its release, after it had been a decade in the making. The Gem Set in Gold displays English translations of the Pāli and Hindi chanting by S.N. Goenka from a ten-day Vipassana meditation course—from the opening night to the end of the course, including each day's morning chanting and all other chantings.
We touched base with Rick Crutcher and were astonished about the amount of effort we learned had gone into the whole translating process. Rebecca mentions in her article that for the Hindi dohas the initial translation by Bill Hart was used. For the Pāli this was different. The Pāli suttas that are heard during the morning chanting each day have various sources. Several of the daily “suttas” are not actually found in the canonical Pāli Tipiṭaka. They are traditional parittas, or protective chantings, that have been preserved for centuries and have become a standard part of daily practice in the Theravāda countries. This paritta tradition is a very old one; it dates back to the time of the Buddha himself. For some parittas, verses were taken from the canonical literature, but often an introductory verse was composed and added. Other parittas are compilations of inspirational verses that refer to events or suttas from the Pāli canon. There are examples of all of these types among the morning chanting collection in The Gem Set in Gold.
Pāli passages that only existed as a recording first had to be transcribed even before the translation work began. Evie Chaunchey, a Vipassana teacher from British Columbia, took the lead; the team of volunteers was an international mix, with people participating from Europe, India, and the USA. The Pāli course in India turned out to be a great source of volunteers, which lead to Klaus Nothnagel from Europe as well as several Indian editors and the personal secretary from Goenkaji taking part, besides many others. Translators sent their versions via email to Rick and everyone checked each others' work, step by step 'honing it down' to English translations, to 'text that we can recognize', as Rick put it.
As in 2006 print on demand (POD) was not yet available, an investment was always needed to fund a first print run. To limit those cost, a limited page count was generally aimed for, which in this case had some consequences for how the book was made up. Repeat chantings are not included, and one needs to be somewhat scholarly to fully understand the structure. Currently, Pariyatti is working on a second version that will show all chantings and translations in chronological order, as they appear in the course. Stay tuned for that!
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