Estonian monk visits Taiwan to build online Buddhist encyclopedia


Taipei, July 1 (CNA) An Estonian monk has visited Taiwan to find materials for an online English-Chinese Buddhist encyclopedia, calling Taiwan "a pure land" with abundant Buddhist resources. Vello Vaartnou, who built the first Buddhist monastery in Estonia, told CNA recently after a trip to Taiwan that the country plays a "crucial" role in his encyclopedia project, given its rich Buddhist resources and educated translators of Buddhist texts. "Taiwan is one of the most Buddhist countries in the world," said Vaartnou, who visited local Buddhist organizations and universities during his stay. "Compared to mainland China, it seems to me that Taiwan is much richer in the amount of resources available," he said. The monk, who made the pages of the New York Times in 1988 after founding the Estonian National Independence Party during the Soviet rule, said he hopes to build an encyclopedia that provides materials on Buddhism in the two most spoken languages in the world to the public for free. "The result of the encyclopedia should be that a Buddhist can fully educate oneself and get all needed materials from one website, for free," said the 61-year-old. "This, of course, will take years and decades," he added. After being expelled from Estonia in 1988, shortly after he established the opposition party, the monk has traveled to Nepal, Sweden, Australia and other places to practice Buddhism. In 2005, Vaartnou returned to Estonia to finish a temple he started building there before his deportation. He has also organized several international Buddhist conferences in Estonia and Australia since 2006, including the first Buddhism and Australia conference in February this year, which attracted 30 speakers from 21 countries. The encyclopedia, which will include mostly academic articles, will cover all Buddhist traditions -- Mahayana, Theravada, Vajrayana, Zen and others -- with an emphasis on Buddhism in China, as well as its development around the world, said the monk. He said he has also visited China, Nepal, Thailand, Burma, Singapore, Hong Kong and other countries over the past year to collect materials for the project. For him, Buddhism is "a field of knowledge rather than a religion of belief," said the monk. "What does Buddhism give me? Knowledge. Knowledge of who we (humans) are, where we are, where we come from and where we are heading," said Vaartnou. The monk first came in touch with Buddhism at the age of 13, after discovering his first book on Buddhism at his grandmother's attic. "I was born in a country with absolutely no trace of Buddhism. When I read that book I realized that I was what you can call -- a Buddhist," he said. Buddhism should also use computers to revolutionize its historic and current forms, said Vaartnou, who has been designing temples with 3-D software and using computers to paint thangkas, or Buddhist silk paintings. "It is the computers that will build the bridge between the ancient form of Buddhism and the new generations, and if it is not done now, much will be lost," he said. (By Christie Chen)