Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Editing "Shwe Lan"

Many readers may be aware that much of the content featured on this blog are excerpts from an upcoming book, Shwe Lan Ga Lay, or "The Golden Path." What is this book, one may ask.... the answer:

The Shwe Lan Ga Lay (The Golden Path) project – a Burma guidebook for Dhamma pilgrims – was launched in April 2013. The intention behind this book is to make the Golden Land more accessible to seekers & meditators who have the noble intention to develop in Dhamma. In the past year-and-a-half a team of volunteers has visited hundreds of monasteries and pagodas throughout Burma and interviewed dozens of monks and scholars. They have gleaned information that was previously not available in English, and some of which has never been written down in any language. More can be read here.

The project is run by volunteers from around the world who are offering their skills freely from within their own areas of professional expertise. Shwe Lan Ga Lay has a number of different components, from photography to art, translation to research, and layout to web design. In this blog post, we peel back the curtain on just one of these fields: text creation and editing.

For example, the following single page is the result of months and months of hard work. Even this single page was only able to be written after sufficient research was been completed and dozens of various monks, nuns, meditation teachers, and scholars were been interviewed. In rough draft form, it looks like this:

Because the content of this section is so important-- discussing the role of women in Buddhism-- we want to make certain that every word on the page is subject to exceptional scrutiny. To bring in another layer of critial feedback, a European monk in Burma has volunteered to read this draft. In addition to speaking Burmese and Sinhalese fluently, he has also graduated top in his class from some of the world's top Buddhist universities. However, these days he is spending almost every available moment memorizing the Vinaya Pitaka, and so has decided not to be online. For this reason, we are only able to avail ourselves of his help through the following way:

First, we must send the above document (along with other documents, ultimately totaling many hundreds of pages) to a Shwe Lan volunteer in Japan. He then formats the document so that it may be printed. On this excerpt, that means making sure that the comment box may appear "in line". After doing so, for the second step, he then emails the now-printer-friendly document to Yangon, where an attendant of the monk uses dana to print the entire document at a local cybercafe (third step). The fourth step involves the lay supporter taking a taxi to the monastery, thus depositing the printed document for his inspection. The European monk reads the entire document, making comments as you see below:

The numbers correspond to longer comments that he wishes to make, which he records in a separate journal (fifth step). As he has an extensive Buddhist library, he regularly spends weeks checking and referencing his sources where additions and changes are needed to the text. Many of his comments are from Sinhalese, Burmese, and Pali sources, and some are from oral interviews he conducts with senior Burmese monks. When making his extended comments, here is an excerpt referencing the above page:

For the sixth and final step in this process alone, he photographs all of his notes with his camera-phone, and these reach the writer where his changes can be considered.

From this point, the next journey the text will undertake is to reach a professional editor for comprehensive review. There are two such editors currently volunteering for Shwe Lan Ga Lay, one in Massachusetts and the other in Australia. They look at flow, organization, grammar, readability, style, and many other issues associated with the text. They then send their comments back to the main writer who further incorporates their changes. The above page on "Women in Burmese Buddhism" has not yet been passed to the editors, so their comments are not yet available. However, here is an example of how one editor has marked up a page discussing arrival in Myanmar, and particularly Internet:

Note that this is only the very first draft, and the writer and editor may correspond for many months and dozens of more drafts, further refining the document so that when it is ultimately given to the foreign meditator, they have a practical and useful guide for how to better develop in Dhamma while in the Golden Land.

In truth, there are many more people and steps involved in this process of text creation alone, but hopefully this provides a basic idea of how we are spending our days in making Shwe Lan Ga Lay. This also does not mention the many dozens of other volunteers making original artwork, laying out the design, organizing photographs, and many more tasks. (As an example, you may have noticed that in Point #3 the European monk suggested that we ask an artist to draw a nun's alms bowl, so that request will be forwarded to the relevant volunteers)

For those who would like to join our effort, please see here for more details. You may also write us at burmadhamma(at)gmail(dot)com.