The Pali Text Society was founded in 1881 by T.W. Rhys Davids «to foster and promote the study of Pali texts».
Pali is the language in which the texts of the Theravada school of Buddhism is preserved. The Pali texts are unique in Buddhism because they are the oldest collection of Buddhist scriptures preserved in the language in which they were written down.
The society first compiled, edited, and published roman script versions of the entire corpus on Pali literature, including the Pali Canon, as well as commentarial, exergetical texts, and histories. It also publishes ancillary works including dictionaries, concordance, books for students of Pali and a journal.
T. W. Rhys Davids was one of three British civil servants who were posted to Sri Lanka, in the 19th_century, the others being George Turnour, and Robert Caesar Childers (1838-1876). At this time Buddhism in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) was struggling under the weight of foreign rule and intense missionary activity by Christians. It was an administrative requirement that all civil servants should be familiar with the language, literature, and culture of the land in which they were posted, so the three men studied with several scholar monks where, along with an introduction to Sinhala culture and language, they became interested in Buddhism.
The Pali Text Society was founded on the model of the Early English Text Society with Rhys Davids counting on support from a lot of European scholars and Sri Lankan scholar monks. The work of bringing out the roman text editions of the Pali Canon was not financially rewarding, but was achieved with the backing of the Buddhist clergy in Sri Lanka who underwrote the printing costs.
Childers published the first Pali-English dictionary in 1874. This was superseded in 1925 by the new Dictionary which had largely been compiled by T. W. Rhys Davids over 40 years, but was finished by his student William Stede. Currently another dictionary is being compiled by Margaret Cone, with the first of three volumes (A — Kh) published in 2001.
By 1922, when T. W. Rhys Davids died, the Pali Text Society had issued 64 separate texts in 94 volumes extending over 26,000 pages, as well a range of articles by English and European scholars.
Significant members of the Pali Text society
- Thomas William Rhys Davids (1843-1922). Founder and President 1881-1922.
- Caroline Augusta Foley Rhys Davids (1857-1942). President 1922-1942.
- Isaline Blew Horner OBE (1896-1981). Honorary Secretary 1942-1959; President and Honorary Treasurer, 1959-1981.
In 2006, the list of pali scriptures translated by the society is, in their english titles,:
- Apocryphal Birth Stories (2 volumes)
- The Birth Stories of the Ten Bodhisattas
- The Book of Analysis
- The Book of the Discipline (6 volumes)
- The Book of the Gradual Sayings (5 volumes)
- The Book of the Kindred Sayings (5 volumes)
- The Buddha’s Last Days: Buddhaghosa’s Commentary on the Mahaaparinibbaana
- Buddhist Legends, a commentery on the Dhammapada (3 volumes)
- Buddhist Psychological Ethics
- The Casket of Medicine
- The Clarifier of the Sweet Meaning
- The Commentary on the Verses of the Theriis
- Compendium of Philosophy
- Conditional Relations (2 volumes)
- Connected Discourses of the Buddha (2 volumes)
- Cuulavamsa Translation
- Darlegung der Bedeutung (only available in German)
- The Debates Commentary
- A Designation of Human Types
- Dialogues of the Buddha (3 volumes)
- Discourse on Elements
- Dispeller of Delusion (2 volumes)
- Elders’ Verses (2 volumes)
- Epochs of the Conqueror
- The Expositor
- Further Dialogues of the Buddha
- The Great Chronicle of Ceylon
- The Group of Discourses
- The Guide
- The Inception of Discipline
- In Praise of Mount Samanta
- The Itivuttaka
- The Jaataka or Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births (6 volumes)
- Mahaavastu (3 volumes, from Sanskrit)
- Manual of a Mystic
- The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha
- Middle Length Sayings (3 volumes)
- Milinda’s Questions (2 volumes)
- Minor Anthologies (4 volumes, containes many sshort Pali texts like Dhammapada)
- The Minor Readings and The Illustrator of Ultimate Meaning
- The Path of Discrimination
- The Path of Purity
- Peta Stories
- Pitaka Disclosure
- Points of Controversy
- Psalms of the Early Buddhists
- Stances des Theri
- The Summary of the Topics of Abhidhamma and Exposition of the Topics of Abhidhamma,
- The Suutra of Golden Light (from Sanskrit)
- The Teaching of Vimalakiirti (from Tibetan)
- The Udaana
- Udaana Commentary (2 volumes)
- Vimaana Stories
- Vinaya-pi.taka Commentary, Samantapaasaadikaa Baahiranidaana
- Word of the Doctrine (Dhammapada)
These are the titles in English, although the society also produce them in Pali. Some English versions are also available in paperback, and so have a differant title. The society publishes a few scriptures from Sanskrit and Tibetan, although these are only available in English.