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Stcherbatsky, Theodore


STCHERBATSKY, THEODORE (18661942), was a Russian Buddhologist and Indologist. Fedor Ippolitovich Shcherbatskii, who signed his non-Russian writings "Th. Stcherbatsky," was born in Kielce, Poland, and died in Borovoi, Kazakhstan. He studied philology and Indology in Saint Petersburg under I. P. Minaev, Sanskrit poetics in Vienna with Georg Bühler, Indian philosophy in Berlin with Hermann Jacobi, and Sanskrit and Tibetan logic with pandits in India and lamas in Mongolia. From 1900 to 1941, Stcherbatsky taught at Saint Petersburg (later Leningrad) State University. His students included O. O. Rozenberg, E. E. Obermiller, and A. I. Vostrikov. The Russian Academy of Sciences named Stcherbatsky corresponding member (1910), academician (1918), director of the Institute of Buddhist Culture (19281930), and head of the Indo-Tibetan section of the Institute of Oriental Studies (19301942). He helped S. F. Olʾdenberg produce the academy's "Bibliotheca Buddhica" series of texts, translations, and monographs (1897), which included several of Stcherbatsky's own works.

Although Stcherbatsky wrote widely on Indology and philology, his works on Buddhist philosophy were most influential. Stcherbatsky relied on Sanskrit and Tibetan, not Pali, sources and preferred śāstra s (scholastic treatises) to sūtra s (canonical texts), considering them to be, respectively, technical and popular works, differing in style, not doctrine. Skeptical of the search for "original Buddhism," he investigated pluralist, monist, and idealist phases of Buddhism. Early Buddhist "pluralism" replaces substances (soul, God, matter) with innumerable, interdependent, momentary dharma s, which attain cessation in nirvāa. Stcherbatsky saw in later abhidharma literature, especially Vasubandhu's Abhidharmakośa, the epitome of early Buddhist philosophy. (Stcherbatsky's works emphasized traditional Buddhist scholarship and Tibetan sources but neglected modern historical criticism.) He began publishing the Abhidharmakośa and its commentaries in the "Bibliotheca Buddhica," summarized it in The Central Conception of Buddhism and the Meaning of the Word "Dharma" (1923), and translated its final section as "The Soul Theory of the Buddhists" (Izvestiia Rossiiskoi Akademii nauk, ser. 6, vol. 13, 1920, nos. 15, pp. 823854, and 18, pp. 937958).

According to Stcherbatsky, Mādhyamika "monism" sees interdependent, momentary dharma s as unreal or empty. Emptiness (śūnyatā ) and interdependence (pratītya-samutpāda ) are identified as "relativity." Nirvāa is the realization of this one reality underlying an unreal plurality. Stcherbatsky's main work on Mādhyamika, The Conception of Buddhist Nirvāa (1927), was a rejoinder to Nirvāa (1925) by Louis de La Vallée Poussin (see Guy R. Welbon's The Buddhist Nirvāa and Its Western Interpreters, 1968). Stcherbatsky later reinterpreted Mādhyamika as "relativism," reserving "monism" for the Yogacara (see the preface to Madhyānta-Vibhan̄ga: Discourse on Discrimination between Middle and Extremes, 1936).

Yogācāra "idealism" rejects pluralism and relativism. Subject and object, separately unreal, are really inseparable. Everything exists relatively, yet relativity really exists as the true nature of consciousness. This "idealism" led to the epistemology of Dignāga and Dharmakīrti (Stcherbatsky's "Buddhist logic"), which admits only two modes of valid cognition: non-conceptual "perception," and conceptual "inference." Stcherbatsky is best known for his work on this school: his earlier Theory of Knowledge and Logic According to the Doctrine of the Later Buddhists, and his magnum opus, Buddhist Logic (2 vols., 19301932). Stcherbatsky, admiring both philosophers, called Dharmakirti "the Indian Kant." This comparison, and the Kantian language of Buddhist Logic, should be taken cautiously.

Stcherbatsky lacked sympathy for Buddhism as religion but admired Indian philosophy as rigorous philosophy. Refuting the common misconception of Indian thought as vague mysticism, his works challenge Western philosophers to acknowledge their Buddhist and Indian colleagues.


Stcherbatsky's Teoriia poznaniia i logika po ucheniiu pozdneishikh buddistov (Theory of Knowledge and Logic according to the Doctrine of the Later Buddhists), 2 vols. (Saint Petersburg, 19031909), has been translated into German as Erkenntnistheorie und Logik, nach der Lehre der späteren Buddhisten (Munich, 1924) and into French as La théorie de la connaissance et la logique chez les bouddhistes tardifs (Paris, 1926). Buddhist Logic, 2 vols. (Leningrad, 19301932), is available in two reprint editions; other English works cited in the text are available in Indian reprint editions. The complete "Bibliotheca Buddhica" has been reprinted in Germany (1970) and in Japan (1971). For shorter Russian works in English translation, see two books edited by Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya and translated by Harish Chandra Gupta: Papers of Th. Stcherbatsky, "Soviet Indology Series," no. 2 (Calcutta, 1969), and Further Papers of Stcherbatsky, "Soviet Indology Series," no. 6 (Calcutta, 1971). The former contains bibliographical and biographical information from Russian sources, partially contradicting the obituary in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1943): 118119.

New Sources

Shcherbatskoi, F. I., and V. N. Toporov, Izbrannye trudy po buddizmu. Moscow, 1988.

Shokhin, V. K., and Institut filosofii (Rossiiskaia akademiia nauk). F.I. Shcherbatskoi i ego komparativistskaia filosofiia. Moscow, 1998.

Woo, Jeson. "Oneness and Manyness: Vacaspatimisra and Ratnakirti on an Aspect of Causality." Journal of Indian Philosophy 28, no. 2 (2000): 225231.

Bruce Cameron Hall (1987)

Revised Bibliography

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