A transgression? (on Tolstoy and ahimsa)

Sun Feb 1 13:18:26 UTC 1998

Speaking about the exchange of ideas between East and West, Russia
and Western Europe in the field of Indian studies . . .
(yavass at YAVASS.USR.PU.RU, Sat, 31 Jan 1998)

Though it precedes the period about which
J.R. Gardner asked on 25 Jan, it may be interesting to those following
this thread that "pre- and non-institutional Indology" seems to have
flourished in pre-Sovjet Russia. One instance of this which struck me
recently is that the notion of ahimsa/non-violence was adapted
to Russian literature much earlier than to other European literatures, where
it became well-known only in the 20'ies of this century, after Gandhi's
actions in British India. But Gandhi
"sought his own personal inspiration in Tolstoy
and through him rediscovered his path toward the law of love and passivity.
Writing Tolstoy from London in 1909, Gandhi signed himself 'Your humble
disciple', and received back the advice to read Letter to a Hindu . . . "
(cited from Raymond Schwab, The Oriental Renaissance, Eng. tr. New York 1984,
p. 451f). Tolstoy's undertanding of Indian thought in general and of ahimsa
inparticular, incidentally, is said to have been shaped very much by Buddhism.

My triple question to Russian-speaking Indologits on this list:
Which word was used by Tolstoy to express the notion of ahimsa?
Did it gain much currency beyond the circle of Tolstoy-admirers?
Did the term somehow remain in use in a similar meaning in the Sovjet period?

Jan E.M. Houben
Department of Languages and Cultures of South- and
Central Asia ("Kern Institute")
P.O. Box 9515
2300 RA   Leiden

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