In April 1984, scholars throughout Europe and Asia join his compatriots at home and abroad in remembering the 200th anniversary of Alexander Csoma de Koros's birth.
Two hundred years—a long time indeed in the world of learning. Long enough for entire branches of science to lose their relevance and for findings once thought revolutionary to become obsolete, or at best, commonplace. All the more remarkable, then, is the way Alexander Csoma de Koros's scholarly contribution has stood the test of time: today, as in his own days, he is acknowledged as an authority throughout the world. As his contemporary, S. C. Malan, put it: "Over and above all, he has, and shall have to the end, the honour and credit of being the founder of Tibetan studies in Europe. He did not scrutinize the intricacies of hypotheses; he had too much sense for that. But he laid the foundation and others only build upon it."
For admirers of Csoma de Koros, 1984 marks another important anniversary: the works which made his reputation as a scholar, his Essay toward a Dictionary, Tibetan and English, and his A Grammar of the Tibetan Language, both appeared in 1834, exactly 150 years ago. Long years of arduous labour had gone into their making. After twenty years of study at the College of Nagyenyed and then at Gottingen University, in command of thirteen languages, he had set out for the Orient in search of the ancient homeland of the Magyars. He walked many thousands of kilometres, quite alone and foresaken until his first contact with Tibetan culture arrested him at the foothills of the Himalayas. Ever fascinated by the unknown, he determined to learn the strange new language, the key to the mysterious world around him. Seven years he spent m the Lamaist monasteries of Tibet, far from the world, heedless of the discomforts of a bleak terrain and an inhospitable climate, with hardly a kind word and scarcely any money to sustain him, and generally regarded with suspicion by the few Europeans and most of the lamas that he met. With single-minded dedication, he collected and arranged forty thousand Tibetan words into a dictionary and compiled his Tibetan grammar, laying the foundations of a new discipline with these two works.
But it would be a very narrow view of his achievements to confine our attention to just these. From 1832 on, studies of his appeared regularly in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal and in the Asiatic Researches. Of outstanding significance was his lengthy study on the Buddhist Canon, an analysis of the sacred books of Lamaism. To this day, no researcher has undertaken to amplify on Csoma's synopses of the 320 volumes of the Kanjur and Tanjur. His studies on Tibetan culture were collected and published in a single volume in 1909. His most significant posthumous work, however, the Sanskrit—Tibetan—English dictionary of Buddhist terminology, has, so far, appeared only in installments: in 1910, 1916, and finally, the last part in 1944.
The Hungarian Academy of Sciences is meeting a long-standing debt in now publishing Csoma de Koros's collected works. In 1819, the year Csoma set out on his quest, there was no scholarly society in Hungary as yet. The Hungarian Society of Scholars, the precursor of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, was founded in 1825. Alexander Csoma de Koros was one of the very first to be elected a member; his prestige, the high scholarly and moral standards he stood for, contributed greatly to the Society's becoming the true measure of scholarship in Hungary.
What inspired him is still a source of inspiration to Hungarian Orientalists today. In Hungary, Oriental studies are ethnic studies: the study, for instance, of the history of Hungary's peoples before the Conquest, of her Eastern ethnic elements (Cumanians, Khabars, Pechenegs), and of the period of Ottoman occupation so decisive for the country's mediaeval history. True heirs of Alexander Csoma de Koros, Hungarian Orientalists such as Armin Vambery, Ignac Goldziher, Sir Aurel Stein, and Julius Nemeth have carried on in his spirit.
Csoma de Koros—his integrity, his persistent faith, and his enduring love of his native land—has been and continues to be an example to his countrymen. Today, as we celebrate this bicentenary, we can pay him no better tribute than to quote the lines the Hungarian Academy of Sciences had inscribed on his tombstone in Dar jeeling in 1909, on the 125th anniversary of his birth: "A great man of Eastern linguistics to all the world; an eternal example of patriotism and scholarly self-sacrifice to us, his compatriots."
President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences