[INDOLOGY] Claus Oetke

Eli Franco franco at uni-leipzig.de
Wed Mar 25 15:47:18 EDT 2020

Dear List members,

I am sad to inform you of the untimely death of Claus Oetke in an
accident that happened in Costa Rica, where he and his wife Cynthia  
lived for the
last few years. This happened already last December, but I saw no
notice of it, neither here nor in the German Indology list.

A short obituary can be found at

Claus was a prolific writer. Some of his publications are available online at

His masterpiece was no doubt the monumental “‚Ich’ und das Ich:  
Analytische Untersuchungen zur buddhistisch-brahmanischen  
Ātmankontroverse” (1988). In this book, he applied Strawson’s theory  
of person to the analysis of the concepts of ātman and anātman in the  
Pali Canon and extensively analyzed the proofs of ātman in the  
brahmanical philosophical traditions. J.W. de Jong, not renowned for  
his over-generous compliments, stated in his review that Oetke’s work  
was the most important book ever written on the subject. This  
evaluation probably still stands.
Claus published numerous monographs and articles, mostly on Indian  
philosophy and dialectics, both of the Buddhist and Brahmanical  
traditions. Of special interest are his "Zur Methode der Analyse  
philosophischer Sutratexte: Die Pramā󠆜ṇa Passagen der Nyayasῡtren"  
(1991) and several papers on Nāgārjuna, which unfortunately did not  
crystalize into a full-length monograph. Unlike many Madhyamaka  
specialists he maintained that Madhyamaka as presented in the writings  
of Nāgārjuna holds a clear metaphysical position (namely, that from  
the point of view of absolute reality, empirical reality or everyday  
practice does not exist).

Claus also had an unusual gift for languages. Next to the languages of  
Buddhism (Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan and Chinese; for a reason that I do  
not recall, he refused to learn Japanese), he mastered modern Indian  
languages such as Hindi, Urdu and Marathi, and a large number of  
European and other languages. We once counted them and arrived at  
twenty-seven or twenty-nine that he knew reasonably well — we set
the bar at being able to read newspapers: they included, for example,  
Basque, Turkish and  Swahili.

For all his eccentricities, he will be greatly missed.

Prof. Dr. Eli Franco
Institut für Indologie und Zentralasienwissenschaften
Schillerstr. 6
04109 Leipzig

Ph. +49 341 9737 121, 9737 120 (dept. office)
Fax +49 341 9737 148

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