Fyodor Shcherbatskoy’s Birthday Special:
The reason you have ever heard of “nirvana.”
⁓The Voice before the Void
Fyodor Ippolitovich Shcherbatskoy (Фёдор Ипполи́тович Щербатско́й) (1866 October 1 – 1942 March 18), often referred to in the literature as Stcherbatsky, was a Russian Indologist who, in large part, was responsible for laying the foundations in the Western world for the scholarly study of Buddhism and Buddhist philosophy. He was born in the Russian Empire in what is today Poland, and died at the Borovoye Resort in northern Kazakhstan.
Shcherbatskoy studied in the famous Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum and later in the Historico-Philological Faculty of Saint Petersburg University, where his teachers were Ivan Minayeff and Serge Oldenburg. Subsequently sent abroad, Shcherbatskoy studied Indian poetry with Georg Bühler in Vienna and Buddhist philosophy with Hermann Jacobi in Bonn. In 1897, with Oldenburg, Shcherbatskoy inaugurated the Bibliotheca Buddhica, a library of rare Buddhist texts.
Returning from a trip to India and Mongolia, Shcherbatskoy published in 1903, in Russian, the first volume of Theory of Knowledge and Logic of the Doctrine of Later Buddhists. In 1928, he established the Institute of Buddhist Culture in Leningrad. Shcherbatskoy’s The Conception of Buddhist Nirvana, written in English and published in 1927, caused a sensation in the West. That was followed by Shcherbatskoy’s main work in English, Buddhist Logic, published in two volumes in 1930 and 1932, which has exerted an immense influence on Buddhology.
Although Shcherbatskoy remained less well-known in his own country, his extraordinary fluency in the Sanskrit and Tibetan languages won him the admiration of Jawaharlal Nehru and Rabindranath Tagore. According to Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya, “Shcherbatskoy did help us – the Indians – to discover our own past and to restore the right perspective of our own philosophical heritage.” The 2004 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica acclaimed Shcherbatskoy as “the foremost Western authority on Buddhist philosophy.”