An interview with
Position & Affiliation: Scholar of the Vedic period, Buddhism and the Indian arts
Date: January 13, 2021 in New Delhi, India
Interviewed by: Shashi Bala
Cite this archive
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Oral History of Tibetan Studies project.
- 0:00 Intro
- 0:22 Family background and interest in Tibetan Studies
- 2:25 About his father Raghu Vira’s interests and education
- 4:20 Founding of the International Academy of Indian Culture in 1934
- 5:23 Theosophical Movement in India
- 7:20 Raghu Vira’s search for a Derge Kangyur copy
- 10:19 Raghu Vira’s meeting with Gendun Choepel
- 11:47 Learning Tibetan and joining the Forman Christian College
- 16:47 Study of Tibetan grammar
- 20:13 Reflections on the India-China relations in 1954 and working with Indian intelligence officers
- 21:23 Studying the gsung ‘bum genre and meeting with Gene Smith
- 22:42 Invitation to Tibet in 1958 and development of Tibetan printing types for his Tibetan-Sanskrit Dictionary
- 24:00 Memories of the first IATS conference in Oxford (1979)
- 28:56 Recommendation of His Holiness Dalai Lama XIV to the Nobel committee
- 29:21 How do you remember your upbringing in British India?
- 34:24 What fascinated you about studying languages?
- 45:45 Did you also have Tibetan lamas as teachers who helped you study Buddhism?
- 56:09 Recollections of his doctoral years
- 1:04:57 Differences between India and the West
- 1:12:33 Remembering the struggle for India’s independence
- 1:23:51 His interest in Japanese Buddhism and his visit to Japan
- 1:30:17 The arrival of Gene Smith to India
- 1:35:20 How do you remember receiving the Padma Bhushan Award?
- 1:35:55 How do you remember your research visit to Russia?
- 1:47:39 Helping the Tibetan Diaspora Communities in India
- 1:49:51 Notes on Hugh Richardson, David Snellgrove, Ferdinand Lessing, and Jan Willem de Jong
- 1:55:19 Buddhist and Tibetan Studies in India and outlook
- 2:01:18 Latest publication “The Charisma of Tibet”
- 2:02:01 The need to re-examine various aspects of Tibetan history and Tibetan Buddhism
Prof. Lokesh Chandra was born in 1927 at Ambala in the Haryana state of India in an illustrious family of educationists. His father Prof. Dr. RaghuVira was a scholar and thinker of world renown who made signal contributions to the understanding of Asian culture and to Indiaís linguistic development. Under his guidance, Prof. Lokesh Chandra studied Sanskrit the classical language of India and its derivatives Pali and Prakrits, besides Classical Greek, Latin, Chinese, Japanese, Avesta of the Parsis, Old Persian and other languages of cultural importance. In 1943 he helped his father in the translation of a ìChinese Dictionary of Indian Geographical Namesî which was compiled in 517 AD from Chinese literature and accounts of travellers.
Prof. Lokesh Chandra studied several Indian languages like Bengali, Uriya, Gujarati, Kannada, Tamil and Malayalam. During his university days he collaborated with his father in the scientific terminology for Indian languages in chemistry, physics, mathematics, botany, zoology and their ramifications.
His brilliant academic career culminated in a Masterís degree (M.A.) in 1947 from the Punjab University at Lahore. His two years 1948 and 1949 were taken up by Vedic researches. He critically edited the Gavåmayana portion of the Vedic work Jaimin∂ya Bråhmaƒa with the help of newly discovered manuscripts. This Bråhmaƒa had already attracted great attention towards the end of the 19th century. European scholars had published extensive extracts but they found it impossible to edit the text as a whole. Prof. Lokesh Chandra spared no labour and time to restore this text to its original purity. In recognition of these contributions he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Literature and Philosophy by the State University of Utrecht (Netherlands) in 1950. At Utrecht, Lokesh Chandra studied Old Javanese with the leading authority, Prof. Jan Gonda.
Four years later in 1954, he completed a critical edition of the entire text of the Jaimin∂ya Bråhmaƒa. In the mean time he also edited the first English translation of the ›å∆khåyana-‹rauta-sµutra which was left half done by the eminent Dutch Vedist W. Caland.
From 1955 to 1960 Prof. Lokesh Chandra prepared a ìTibetan-Sanskrit Dictionaryî in 12+7 supplementary volumes. Twelve main volumes were reprinted by Rinsen Shoten, Kyoto (Japan). For it he has drawn upon the vast canonical literature of Tibet. Every entry is followed by exact references to texts. Terms of specialized subjects like astronomy, medicine, iconography, metrics, prosody, philosophy have also been included. It is the first comprehensive lexicographical effort to understand Tibetan literature and culture whose sway extended into the remotest inhabitations of Higher Asia. It is unique in including more than a thousand illustrations from original xylographed iconographic manuals. It has been acclaimed throughout the academic world as ìa splendid work and indispensable for all scholars.î The late Prof. F.D. Lessing of the University of California wrote: ì I am amazed at the wealth of material you were able to get together and I am sure it will mean a gigantic step forward in the field of Sanskrit-Tibetan studies.î
Prof. Lokesh Chandra has edited several volumes of Tibetan historical texts. They include a history of Samye the first monastery of Tibet, built as a great cosmogram symbolising her entry into a new cosmic order. He has brought out a study on 19 Mongolian polymaths, besides ìThe Golden Annals of Mongoliaî by Tsawa Tamdin.
His three-volume “Materials for a History of Tibetan Literatureî brings into view the vast dimensions of the intellectual life of the Land of Snows and the Mongolian steppes through the march of centuries.
Prof. Lokesh Chandra collaborated with his father Prof. RaghuVira and completed the ìNew Tibeto-Mongol Pantheonî in 20 volumes. It provides a wealth of information on the unexplored aspects of the iconographic art of trans-Himalayan Asia as far as the Siberian and Volga regions.
Prof. Lokesh Chandra completed a facsimile edition of the Complete Works of Bu-ston in 28 volumes in the huge format of 11×18 inches. Bu-ston is one of the greatest representatives of Lamaist thought: there is scarcely a branch of the ancient disciplines that he did not cultivate.
Starting with an understanding of the most ancient of Indiaís spiritual expression enshrined in the Vedic tradition, Prof. Lokesh Chandra has moved on to the interlocution between India, Tibet, Mongolia, China, Korea, Japan, South East Asia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. His edition of the 108 large volumes of the Mongolian Kanjur or Buddhist Canon was recognised as an outstanding achievement by the Hungarian Academy of
Sciences, which elected him an Honorary Member of the Academy. It is after a hundred years that an Indian has been honoured to be its Academician.
At present Prof. Lokesh Chandra is the Honorary Director of the International Academy of Indian Culture which is a premier research institution for Asian cultures. Speaking at the occasion of laying the foundation-stone of the Academy, H.E. Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India, said: ìI believe there are some other institutions also carrying on researches in Indology and other branches of ancient thought, but I do not think any one of them has been able to cover such a range of subjects and such a wide field as to include South-East Asia, the Middle East and Central Asia as the International Academy of Indian Culture. Seeing the importance of this work, it seems essential that the Academy should be encouraged in its work as far as possible. I hope this important work will continue and the gaps which exist today in our knowledge of ancient history and literature will be bridged by the publications of the International Academy of Indian Culture.î
Prof. Lokesh Chandraís interests also extend into the domain of natural sciences. He has edited the international research journal ìAdvancing Frontiers of Plant Sciencesî (vols.1–30) which includes original work on plant morphology and physiology, systematic botany, phytopathology, economic botany, plant cytology and genetics, agronomy, horticulture, paleobotany and other domains of plant sciences.
Prof. Lokesh Chandra has travelled widely all over Europe, Asia, and Russia. He has participated in several international conferences. He is actively continuing the ìwork that Prof. RaghuVira has inaugurated and brilliantly pursued for many years (and which) is consequently as important as it is vast in its conception. All those who share his interest in the civilization of India and her neighbours will fervently hope that the International Academy of Indian Culture, now under the able direction of his son, will be able to proceed along on the paths mapped out by its great founder, and to bring to completion the valuable work to which he devoted so many years of fruitful labour.î (Prof. D.S. Ruegg, University of Leiden).
Men over various regions of the world and over millenia of time have shared the dynamic interflow of culture. This cultural interflow vibrates to the hidden impulses that govern the breath of Life. The historic migrations and movements of ideas have had universal implications, embracing every form of human activity. They have led to epic of ideas, the universality of the message of Wisdom and Compassion, and the serenity of the golden mean. The pain of strife and strain has become the poem of coming together. Continental influences in the domains of art and thought have given rise to the deep solitudes of literature, and the silent rapture of live sculptures in their kissed limbs. The study of the convergence and creativity of various cultures in different parts of the world has been the life-long dedication of Prof. Lokesh Chandra. His concern has been the cultural universalism of Hellas, Rome and Buddhism: all profound movements kissing the hearts of men, and leading to ever-renewing peace.
The epic of manís march over the centuriesóin remote grasslands, lands of ice, expanses of sand and vales of magic charmóis chronicled in 576 large and learned volumes of the published work of Prof. Lokesh Chandra. His researches make us alive to the immensity of ideas in the vastness of time, and at the same time they betoken a vibrant hope of a dynamic future in an ever-evolving time-space continuum.
The annals, texts, pantheonic scrolls, cosmographic maƒŒalas, annotated and evaluated by Prof. Lokesh Chandra, are laden with rich treasures of art, philosophy, science, literature and all else that sheds effulgence on ages when Indiaís sages and savants toasted with the hordes that raced from the shores of the Amur and the Baikal to the shores of the Volga and the Caspian; the ages when the Hun, the Uigur, the Tokhar, the Scythian, the Sogdian, the Kuchean, the Agnian, the Mongol and the Manchu had paid homage to ageless wisdom, the ages when åcåryas had dawned serenity into lands that lie in the lap of the Himalayas and beyond, or when their boats braved the perils of the sea to the southeastern climes.
The oeuvre of Prof. Lokesh Chandra enchants while it illumines the dark, dateless and undefined unknown. You can get lost in travels with him into the spacious majesty of Angkor Vat, where monument follows on monument, ruins edge upon ruins, the walls of vegetation screen and hide and curtain, masonry masses mingle into the fantastic flowering of the jungle. The shrines seem to have been transported by divine magic. By moonlight these buildings take on an appearance of solid majesty which is awe-inspiring. In the twilight gloom of these jungles a någa slithers over the sensuous limbs of an apsarå petrified in a seductive pose of her dance in honour of a Devaråja of lost Angkor.
The writings of Prof. Lokesh Chandra span several languages of Asia wherein he discusses with critical acumen finer points of Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, Japanese, Mongolian, Tibetan, Indonesian, Persian, Arabic in intercultural contexts.
The work of Prof. Lokesh Chandra has revolutionised the understanding of the evolution of several countries of Asia as he has opened up unknown texts, facts and evaluations, tempting the scientific world to the light that keeps vigil on the far horizon, deep in history. The timeless toil of Prof. Lokesh Chandra transcends exigencies and circumstances into the web of abiding international understanding. He has attended several international conferences and travelled extensively in remote corners of the world in search of frozen levels of culture pulsating in the warm reality of life.
Sharing of minds is a must for a balancing of nature and the Human Imperative; lest modern man burn his hands in the fire he has kindled by allowing himself to forget who he is. Lalleshvari, the poetess of Kashmir, has spoken of the synchronicity of the rim and the axis: ìFrom the outward enter into the most inward part of thy being.î The synchronicity of the sublime and the secular is manís hope. Prof. Lokesh Chandra hopes that the rich wisdom of all men will evoke the light and lyricism that lives on in our life.
The work of Prof. Lokesh Chandra is a passion and concretisation of a common human destiny in a shared plenitude. The East and West are not shredded fragments of continents. The destinies of the East and West are no longer closed systems. In every one of us there is an East and a West. Each person has an East, a horizon he never reaches, a beyond where the sun rises, a dimension of hope. Every human being has a dimension of the West, of maturity, where values materialise. The East and West can be harmonised in the microcosm of ourselves alone. We are the chasm and we likewise are the bridge.
Prof. Lokesh Chandraís work is an affirmation of the vitality of dialogue. The word dialogue is Greek dialogos or piercing the logos to reach the dia-logical or trans-logical realm, allowing for the emergence of a catalyst that would break through its regional and civilizational entrapments, freeing it to function in a global matrix.
BIO-DATA OF PROF. LOKESH CHANDRA
Lokesh Chandra, M.A., D.Litt.
Born: 11 April 1927 at Ambala (India)
Son of: eminent Indologist late Prof. RaghuVira
Studied at Forman Christian College, Universities of Lahore and Utrecht (Netherlands)
Publications: 576 books; and 286 articles
Travelled extensively in Asia, Europe, USA and Russia for inter-cultural relations
Languages: Hindi, Sanskrit, Pali, Avesta, Old Persian, Japanese, Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian, Indonesian, Greek, Latin, German, French, Russian, etc. (20 languages)
IMPORTANT POSITIONS HELD IN INDIA
Member of the Parliament of India 1974–80
Member of the Parliament of India 1980–86
Member of several committees of Parliament on Education, Official Language, Heavy Industry, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Defence, Science and Technology, etc. etc.
Jawaharlal Nehru Fellow (1974–75)
Life Trustee of the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, once presided over by the Prime Minister of India
Vice-President, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (Ministry of External Affairs)
Advisory Committee, Encyclopaedia of Dravidian Languages
Inter-Religious Council for Peace and Understanding, presided over by the Lord Bishop of Delhi
World Conference on Religion & Peace, Catholic Bishops Conference, New Delhi
Member of the Indian National Commission for Cooperation with Unesco
Member of Court of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (1980–84)
Member of the Visva Bharati University, Santiniketan
Govt. nominee, Indian Historical Records Commission
Honorary Doctorate (Vidyå-Våridhi) awarded by the Nalanda University
Chairman, Indian Council of Historical Research (1982–85)
Director, International Academy of Indian Culture, New Delhi (1963-)