During a meeting of the Council of Mahidol University in 1987 it was brought up that the university should consider initiating a special project to celebrate the occasion of His Majesty the King’s Rachamangalabhiseka Ceremony. Professor Dr. Praves Wasee, one of the University’s Council members, suggested entering the Tipitaka onto computer. Other members of the Council agreed, so the University Council appointed Dr. Natth Bhamarapravati, who at that time was the President, to look into the feasibility of the project.
A committee was appointed to conduct a feasibility study of the project by planning and implementing a trial project of computer-based study of the Tipitaka, with Professor Dr. Natth Bhamarapravati as Chairman. Venerable Phra Dhammapitaka (Prayudh Payutto), who at that time was known as Phra Debvedi, agreed to be the project’s advisor, and the Computing Center of Mahidol University were to provide the task force, headed by Dr. Supachai Tangwongsan, Director of Mahidol University Computing Center, and Mr. Damras Wongsawang and Miss Nandika Benjathepanan as committee members. Thus in November 1987 the project for the development of the digital edition of Tipitaka was born. The project began immediately with a trial volume. Volume 22 of the Syamarattha version of the Tipitaka, which is the Anguttara Nikaya, Sattaka-Navakanipata, was chosen. That volume, containing 487 pages, was entered onto a PC and a program, named BUDSIR (pronounced Bood-sir: BUDdhist Scriptures Information Retrieval) was written for data search. Later volume 24 was added. This trial effort took seven weeks to complete and was successful, so the University approved a full-scale project in which the whole 45 volumes of the Tipitaka, containing 22,279 pages, would be entered onto the computer and the program BUDSIR further developed. This full-scale project took seven months to complete. Thus it was on May 20, 1988, Visakha Puja Day, that BUDSIR, or more correctly, BUDSIR I, was unveiled to the eyes of the world for the first time. Soon afterwards a copy was presented to His Majesty the King on the occasion of the Rachamangalabhiseka Ceremony.
BUDSIR I could successfully search and retrieve every word, every syllable, every statement, every passage speedily and accurately and, most importantly, comprehensively. BUDSIR I created amazement among Buddhists everywhere because few believed that the entire 84,000 sections of teaching that make up the Tipitaka could be put onto a personal computer. BUDSIR proved itself to be effective in many ways, especially in its searching capabilities: whereas it may have taken weeks or even months to search for every occurrence of a particular phrase or word, it now took a matter of seconds or minutes. It may also prove to be an invaluable aid in checking the Tipitaka, dictionary and encyclopedia compilation, research and thesis writing, Sanghayana (comparative checking and correction of the scriptures’ contents), study, fact-finding, research, and writing on Buddhism on an international scale.
Moreover, not all Buddhists are Thais; there are also many Buddhists of other nationalities. As news of BUDSIR I spread, these international Buddhists contacted the Computing Center for copies, but were disappointed to learn that in BUDSIR I the Pali texts were written in Thai script, which they could not read. Thus the Computing Center expanded the project to further extend BUDSIR I’s capabilities so that it could display Pali passages in Roman script by developing a program for transliterating the entire Tipitaka from Thai script to Roman script and creating a search program, BUDSIR II, for the Tipitaka in Roman script which was unveiled in September 1989. The comprehensiveness and success of the program’s search capabilities were immediately acknowledged.
Development did not stop there. BUDSIR was further developed to make it even more functional. BUDSIR III was developed for more elaborate kinds of searches, such as searching by phrase or sentence, in order to further answer the requirements of users who needed to research and analyze the contents of the Tipitaka. BUDSIR introduced the mathematical principle known as Boolean operators into the program for Query Language Processing to make search capabilities more efficient. This more complex program, BUDSIR III, was completed in April 1990.
At the end of March, 1991 Prof. Dr. Natth Bhamarapravati, President of Mahidol University, was informed by the Royal Secretariat that His Majesty the King wished to see a project for development of the digital edition of both the Tipitaka and the Atthakatha together.
Mahidol University was asked to submit a proposal for His Majesty’s consideration. The University accordingly outlined a proposal which was sent to the Royal Secretariat in April 1991. In May 1991 the Royal Secretariat relayed His Majesty the King’s approval of the project together with a donation from His Majesty’s personal funds to aid the project’s implementation.
The University began the work immediately by feeding all the data from the Atthakatha onto PC computers. The original task force who made the digital version of the Tipitaka had an audience with His Holiness the Sangharaja on June 2, 1991 and invited him to honor the project by becoming its Honorary Adviser, and the University appointed two committees to implement the project. Apart from the 55 volumes of the Atthakatha, all other scriptures that were used for Pali studies by the Thai Sangha were also included, as well as other important scriptures totaling another 15 volumes. The details of these scriptures can be seen in the Appendix. Altogether this represented a further 27,810 pages. Added to the 22,279 pages of data from the Tipitaka already existing, this made a total of 50,189 pages. The Tipitaka and Atthakatha were united into one database in order to facilitate data search and make it more comprehensive. In addition, the program BUDSIR IV was developed to work more effectively with this database, having the ability to display material from both the Tipitaka and Atthakatha simultaneously and to search through the whole database as a single unit.
The University and its task force began work on BUDSIR IV with the intention of completing it in time for His Majesty the King’s birthday celebrations on December 5, 1991. The initial estimated time was twelve months, but the project took a mere nine months, coming to completion on November 20, 1991. The next week, on November 27, the committees had an audience with His Majesty to formally offer the Digital Edition of the Tipitaka and Atthakatha and the program BUDSIR IV. BUDSIR IV has been released to the public since December 1991, and interest has been satisfactory. The Computing Center continued to work on the project by transliterating all the data of the Atthakatha and Tika into Roman script and further developing BUDSIR IV for use with this Romanized version of the digital edition of Pali Tipitaka and Atthakatha.
Because of the huge amount of data included in the Tipitaka and Atthakatha on the PC, which altogether represents about 210 million characters, it is not convenient to put it all onto a hard disk. Even though nowadays it is possible to do so, experience with BUDSIR on hard disks has shown that hard disks as storage devices are not totally reliable—they tend to crash and are subject to accidental erasure, damage by magnetic interference from other electrical appliances and “infection” by computer viruses, the last of which represents a major problem to computer users. Moreover, hard disks are usually fixed into computers and are not readily portable.
Compact Disk Read Only Memory, or CD-ROM, is a new storage medium that has been adopted to computer use. It stands up even to scratches and heat to some extent, and is easily cleaned and looked after. It is read by a laser beam, so that no actual hardware makes contact with the medium’s surface. Thus as a storage medium it has a long life. It is not expensive, has a high storage capacity (about 600-650 million characters per disk), is compact (12 centimeters in diameter and less than 2 millimeters thick), and light weight. It can be stored for long periods of time without loss of data and is also safe from computer viruses because a CD-ROM disk cannot be erased, changed or written to a second time.
With the high functionality of this storage medium in mind, and with a view to keeping its project abreast of the times, the Computing Center has now begun to store the Tipitaka and Atthakatha on CD-ROM and has also further developed BUDSIR IV in a number of ways. BUDSIR IV on CD-ROM was completed on July 22, 1994, on Asalha Puja Day, and the program has been available on CD-ROM ever since.
BUDSIR IV for Windows has been developed so that the program can work in a Windows environment, since MS-Windows has become the most widely accepted operating system for computer users. The program has a Graphic User Interface (GUI) in which icons and windows are used to represent various operations for ease of memory and use.
BUDSIR IV for Windows can display information from the Tipitaka and Atthakatha in up to eight movable and resizable windows at a time, and the text size and color can be changed as the user wishes. The program has also been given sound capabilities so that Pali passages can be read out by the computer. Thus the program is far more convenient to use than its DOS based equivalent.
The following table gives a brief summary of the development of the BUDSIR project
May 20, 1988
Pali Tipitaka in Thai script; search by word/phrase; data base created by Binary Search Tree
Pali Tipitaka in Roman script; otherwise same as BUDSIR I
Apr. 15, 1990
Pali Tipitaka in Thai/Roman script; search by both word and phrase using Boolean operators
Nov. 20, 1991
Pali Tipitaka and Atthakatha in Thai/ Roman Script; search by both word and phrase with two windows capability; B-Tree database creation
BUDSIR IV on CD-ROM
July 22, 1994
Storage medium changed from hard disk to CD-ROM; some program improvements; other features same as BUDSIR IV
BUDSIR IV for Windows
July 29, 1996
Software platform changed from DOS to Windows; improved capability to open eight windows at once; sound capabilities
Table 1 Development of BUDSIR
The development of BUDSIR has not ended, but will continue in order to keep the program ever more up-to-date, accurate and efficient.
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