An inter­view with

Michael Torsten Much

Pos­i­tion & Affil­i­ation: Assist­ant Pro­fess­or at the Depart­ment for Indi­an, Buddhist and Tibetan Stud­ies, Uni­ver­sity of Vienna
Date: April 12, 2019 in Vienna, Austria
Inter­viewed by: Anna Sehnalova
Tran­script by: Rachael Griffiths

Cite this archive

Oral His­tory of Tibetan Stud­ies. (2021, Decem­ber 2). An inter­view with Michael Tor­sten Much. Retrieved 15 June 2024, from
“An inter­view with Michael Tor­sten Much.” Oral His­tory of Tibetan Stud­ies, 2 Dec. 2021,
Oral His­tory of Tibetan Stud­ies. 2021. An inter­view with Michael Tor­sten Much. [online], Avail­able at: [Accessed 15 June 2024]
Oral His­tory of Tibetan Stud­ies. “An inter­view with Michael Tor­sten Much.” 2021, Decem­ber 2.

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.

List of Acronyms: MTM= Michael Tor­sten Much, IN= Inter­view­er

Background and education

IN:      We are really pleased and hon­oured that we can inter­view you.

MTM: Thank you for ask­ing me to par­ti­cip­ate. So, where to begin? My fam­ily background?

I was born and grew up in Vienna. I went to school in Vienna and stud­ied in Vienna. My fam­ily back­ground has two sides; on my mother’s side the fam­ily is from Moravia, from a small place in Moravia. In fact, it’s in the val­ley of the Morava, a place that’s called Bystřice pod Hostýnem. My grand­par­ents were migrants who came to Vienna to look for jobs.

On my father­’s side, the fam­ily lived in and near Vienna for a long time, for hun­dreds of years, in fact. I can trace back this fam­ily to the 30 years’ war. On this side, I’m only the fifth gen­er­a­tion in Vienna. Not­able (for a num­ber of reas­ons) ancest­ors include the his­tor­i­an and archae­olo­gist, Mat­thäus Much, and the Uni­ver­sity pro­fess­or of Ger­man Stud­ies, Rudolf Much.

So, I went to primary school in Vienna, and I went to gym­nas­i­um in Vienna. Then I came to the uni­ver­sity in 1973. This was the year Erich Frauwall­ner died, so, regret­tably, I just missed him. I star­ted to study Philo­sophy and Musi­co­logy; these were my first stud­ies. Then I changed from West­ern Philo­sophy to Indi­an Philo­sophy, so to say. I also did Slav­ist­ics but ended up in His­tory of Art and did my final exams in His­tory of Art with Her­mann Fillitz.

Dur­ing my stud­ies of Philo­sophy, I dis­covered the depart­ment of Indo­logy and the newly estab­lished depart­ment of Tibetan and Buddhist Stud­ies. I remem­ber very well the first time I came to the depart­ment of Indo­logy and saw Helmut Tauscher. It is one of these moments that has remained in my memory very vividly. Helmut Tauscher, he had one of these Greek shoulder bags, which were very much in fash­ion at that time, a book was peek­ing out of his bag. It was Howl by Allen Gins­berg. And I thought, if people like Gins­berg here it is a good place. So, Helmut is partly respons­ible for me being hooked.

And then I met Ernst Steinkell­ner and some­how got inter­ested in Buddhist Stud­ies. My interests had sev­er­al aspects; one was Buddhism, the his­tory of Buddhism, and so on and so forth. The oth­er thing was Sanskrit. Before I came to the uni­ver­sity, I had no idea of Sanskrit. I had learnt Lat­in in school, but I was at a gym­nas­i­um which was sci­ence ori­ented. We had a lot of Math, Phys­ics, Chem­istry, and so on, but not so much Human­it­ies. I loved Sanskrit from the start. And the oth­er thing I had no idea about, I had not thought about before I came to the depart­ment of Indo­logy and Tibetan and Buddhist Stud­ies, is the prob­lem of old texts; how is it that we have them? Where do they come from? How are they trans­mit­ted? and so on and so forth. And so, these [top­ics] some­how got me attracted.

And then I must say, I was impressed by Steinkell­ner. I found him very inter­est­ing, and I enjoyed study­ing with him very much. So, Steinkell­ner was a big influ­ence. The second one, I must men­tion her, was Her­tha Krick, who at that time was an assist­ant at the depart­ment of Indo­logy. My first-year Sanskrit teach­er was Roque Mes­quita Then in my second year, it so happened, I was the only stu­dent of Her­tha Krick, with whom I read the Kālidāsa at that time. First, I had no idea where to begin and where to end and what this was all about. But Her­tha Krick, she was really a won­der­ful per­son and a very good teach­er. Then of course there was Steinkell­ner. Her­tha Krick and Steinkell­ner, they were my Sanskrit teachers.

This was in 1975. In 1975, I changed from Philo­sophy to Buddhist and Tibetan Stud­ies. At the time, the insti­tute was very, very small. There was Steinkell­ner, Geshe Lob­sang Dargyay was assist­ant, and the second assist­ant was Gen­ia Gazda, but she left, I think, in 1975. No, she still was there. And Tauscher, he got this job on a resarch pro­ject order­ing and cata­loguing the estate of Erich Frauwall­ner. It was in 1977 that Geshe Lob­sang Dargyay left, and Helmut Tauscher got his assist­ant pos­i­tion, and I got onto the research pro­ject. This was in 1977. And in 1979 I got a con­tract with the uni­ver­sity and as a so-called Stud­i­enas­sist­ent, a stu­dent assist­ant, an assist­ant that is still a stu­dent. So, I star­ted here in 1979 at the uni­ver­sity and I earned my PhD in 1983. That is, one or two years after Tauscher, if I remem­ber correctly.

At that time, the depart­ment was in the Maria-Ther­­esi­en-Straße, top floor. There were only three rooms and the kit­chen; one room was for lec­tures, one room was Steinkell­ner­’s room, and the third one was where Tauscher and I sat. And I don’t remem­ber when, but at a cer­tain point of time, there was an itin­er­ant lib­rar­i­an who vis­ited us from time to time to cata­logue our lib­rary books. And later, I could­n’t say when it was, begin­ning of the 1980s I think, there was a sec­ret­ary pos­i­tion, an admin­is­trat­ive pos­i­tion. So, it was a very, very small place. There was no extra room for the lib­rary or a sem­in­ar room, all the rooms were at the same time lib­rary rooms.

In 1977, this was import­ant, Steinkell­ner, accom­pan­ied by Tauscher and me, estab­lished the Wien­er Stud­i­en zur Tibet­o­lo­gie und Buddhis­muskunde. Since then, the series had a num­ber of edit­ors. First it was Steinkell­ner alone, then it was Steinkell­ner and Tauscher, later Helmut Krass­er too was edit­or, and Birgit Kell­ner, and Klaus-Dieter Math­es, and now also myself. Now we’re plan­ning volume 96. This is quite a suc­cess­ful thing. Yes, not so bad, almost 100 volumes now.

Early interests in Musicology and Philosophy

IN:      What made you inter­ested in Musi­co­logy and Philosophy?

MTM: These are two things I am inter­ested in. Before I really focused on my PhD, I played a lot of music. In fact, at a cer­tain point in time, I wanted to be a pro­fes­sion­al musi­cian. As a child I had piano les­sons for many years, and then changed to the flute. I did not make it to the Academy of Music, but for years I played flute, sax­o­phone, and gui­tar in vari­ous obscure jazz and rock bands until the time I had to fin­ish my PhD. And in addi­tion to that, for a while I also stud­ied Musicology.

And Philo­sophy, I don’t know, I don’t know what to say. I was always inter­ested in lit­er­at­ure and Philo­sophy, Reli­gion, and so on. And one influ­ence, maybe, I thought of, some­how in ret­ro­spect­ive, was my reli­gion teach­er at gym­nas­i­um. His name was Edgar Roth, and he was an extremely nice per­son. He was the Prot­est­ant teach­er in an oth­er­wise Cath­ol­ic School. And we had very inter­est­ing classes, dur­ing all of the eight years of my gym­nas­i­um because what we did most of the time was that six, sev­en, eight people sat around the table read­ing the Bible. In fact, this is exactly the thing that we still do. It is not the Chris­ti­an Bible but it’s Buddhist texts. But still, we sit in a small group around the table and very slowly read these texts. In fact, this is what happened in gym­nas­i­um in Bible Stud­ies. So, there was a bit of learn­ing of the Cat­ech­ism, Luther­’s Cat­ech­ism by heart. And there was church his­tory. But the main bulk was read­ing the Bible; old test­a­ment, new test­a­ment with oral com­ment­ary from the teach­er. It was inter­est­ing. Not that I made the con­nec­tion when I star­ted out in Buddhist Stud­ies but with hind­sight one can’t help to notice the similarity.

IN:      What made you inter­ested in Buddhism and Indi­an Philosophy?

MTM: Inter­est­ing ques­tion. I can­’t remem­ber, really. I would say it was just sheer, sheer curi­os­ity. I think also, the feel­ing that, at that time, the churches in Europe or the churches in the West got very cosy, or too cosy, with people in power. So, it was just an attempt to look else­where, at how things were in oth­er places. And there was a bit of a fash­ion for India at the time. The oth­er thing, maybe it was inter­est­ing to think back to that time, what brought me there was the lit­er­at­ure of the Amer­ic­an Beat authors. Firstly Jack Ker­ou­ac. I read Jack Ker­ou­ac’s On the Road and The Dharma Bums, and I wanted to know more about this and then I read Alan Watts and the poetry of Gary Snyder. I did­n’t like [Allen] Gins­berg so much but I liked, still like, Gary Snyder. So this also nudged me towards India and Buddhist Studies.

IN:      Were there some teach­ers of Buddhism, I mean of Buddhism as a prac­tice and reli­gion, teach­ers from Asia, per­haps, present in Vienna at that time?

MTM: I don’t remem­ber. For me, my teach­er was Lob­sang Dargyay. He was a lama, a guru in his own right. But I nev­er became a Buddhist, I nev­er con­ver­ted to Buddhism. But my Buddhist teach­er in this sense in the begin­ning was Lob­sang Dargyay, of course. I must also men­tion Kalu Rinpoche, who came to Aus­tria, to Scheibbs, and who was, for me, a very impress­ive per­son. Anoth­er import­ant influ­ence for me was Doo­boom Tulku, who for some years was the dir­ect­or of the Tibet House and with him I had some inter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tions. But this was it. I nev­er went into this Buddhist scene; I nev­er was a mem­ber of a Buddhist group.

I knew a lot of those people, of course. I always knew some­body like Geshe Lob­sang Dargyay and later I would say it was the Japan­ese col­leagues. Also from my early days it was Bhante Seelawansa who was a stu­dent at the uni­ver­sity when I was a stu­dent. You know Bhante Seelawansa? He is now the head of the Theravada com­munity in Aus­tria. He got his PhD at the uni­ver­sity in the 1970s, I think, or around the 1980s, some­thing like that.

So, it was a mixed her­it­age. First it was Tibetan, then Japan­ese, and then Theravada.


Studying at the University of Vienna, memories of teachers including Lobsang Dargyay and Uray Géza

IN:      How did you study at uni­ver­sity? What did your classes look like? and who were your teachers?

MTM: So, my most import­ant teach­er was, of course, Steinkell­ner, who I can­’t praise too much. Steinkell­ner, in that respect, he becomes more and more of a guru. Steinkell­ner was very, very nice. He was very, very clev­er and well read. It was incred­ible. Steinkell­ner some­how knew everything, I thought at the time. In many ways I still think so. His classes were extremely interesting.

Oth­er teach­ers included Her­tha Krick, whom I men­tioned, and Bet­tina Bäumer. Of course, there was Geshe Lob­sang Dargyay who taught spoken Tibetan, mod­ern Tibetan, at the uni­ver­sity. In Tibetan Stud­ies, maybe my most import­ant teach­er was Uray Géza who came here as a guest teach­er and was teach­ing us about Tibetan His­tory. He really con­cen­trated on His­tory, he was a his­tor­i­an. I remem­ber his classes very well.

I would like to men­tion that there was a very nice group of stu­dents. There was Helmut Tauscher and Gudrun Büh­ne­mann, who was the first stu­dent who got their PhD with Steinkell­ner, she was a bit bet­ter off because she had a Ger­man sti­pend, where­as Tauscher and I always worked. Tauscher, I think, he drove cars. I was a jan­it­or, a house­keep­er, and I had vari­ous odd jobs before I got a job at the Uni­ver­sity of Vienna. Ja, so there was Gudrun Büh­ne­mann and Helmut Tauscher, Andrea Leick and Michael Egger who later pur­sued oth­er interests. In the Indo­logy depart­ment there was Ernst Prets and Syvia Stark. This was a very nice group and we stud­ied togeth­er, wrote papers togeth­er. And, of course, Krass­er came a bit later, he was also part of the group.

I as well took a lot of sem­inars with Ger­hard Ober­ham­mer, but I could not really warm up to his approach. I pre­ferred the philo­logy and epi­stem­o­logy of Ernst Steinkellner.

IN:      How do you remem­ber Lob­sang Dargyay and Uray Géza as people? and as teachers?

MTM: Lob­sang Dargyay, he was an extremely gentle per­son. Very dis­creet, very nice, very, very patient. Ja, so he would teach us spoken Tibetan and he also wrote a manu­script with words and phrases for his classes. It was used for years. There should also be some record­ings where he reads his book. I don’t know, maybe I still have a copy of his manu­script. It was a book, almost. It was pho­to­copied at that time, of course. There were, I don’t know, 20, 25 les­sons, some­thing like that. That is, a pro­gramme for a whole year. He was a very, very nice man. He used to make Tibetan tea in the kit­chen of the insti­tute with an elec­tric hand mix­er and Aus­tri­an dairy butter.

Uray Géza was a com­pletely dif­fer­ent per­son. When he came here, he was a chain smoker.

When he gave les­sons, he smoked one cigar­ette after the oth­er. He was very know­ledge­able in his field, in His­tory. I think it was dif­fi­cult for him in Vienna because in Hun­gary he used to work at the Academy of Sci­ence and star­ted to teach only in Vienna, so I think he did­n’t have any exper­i­ence of teach­ing. The oth­er thing was, maybe for him there was a little cul­ture shock, com­ing from Com­mun­ist Bud­apest to Vienna; to some long-haired, unruly stu­dents. But, in fact, we got along very well. We liked him and his wife, and we got along very well. He was an inter­est­ing man; he could talk and talk and talk for hours on end about his­tory. To all our regret, he met with a pre­ma­ture death. He was not so old. We just in time man­aged to pro­duce a fest­s­chrift for him. In fact, this was a very sad occa­sion. He was already bed-rid­den. We went to vis­it him to present him with his fest­s­chrift, he was lying in bed. Dav­id Jack­son was there [too] and he was read­ing out the table of con­tents to Géza. I think Géza was very pleased, but this was just a short time before he died.

After him, after Géza, his wife, Katal­in Uray-Kőhalmi taught at the depart­ment. Her field was a dif­fer­ent field to Géz­a­’s but she also taught for many years at the depart­ment here. So, there was Uray Géza, as a guest pro­fess­or, and a num­ber of oth­ers like Andras Róna-Tas from Hun­gary and Wang Yao from China (we are still talk­ing here of the earli­er days of the department).

IN:      What did you do in classes? Read texts?

MTMMost of the time we read texts, lec­tures were rare. Steinkell­ner gave lec­tures on “Buddhism, it’s essence and devel­op­ment”, things like that, and also lec­tures on Tibetan his­tory. But most of the classes were read­ing classes. Lan­guage classes and read­ing classes. The same in the depart­ment of Indo­logy. Almost all classes were read­ing classes and lec­tures were rare. Uray Géza lec­tured on Tibetan his­tory but also read the Old Tibetan Annals in class.


IN:      What was the gen­er­al atmo­sphere at the uni­ver­sity at that time? How do you remem­ber aca­demia in the 1970s?

MTM: I remem­ber there were the last years of left­ish aca­demia, left­ish activ­ity in Vienna. There still were a lot of vari­ous Com­mun­ist groups; Marx­ists, Len­in­ists, Trot­sky­ists. When I was a stu­dent, you could not enter the uni­ver­sity without being handed some fly­ers for this and that. Yes, I remem­ber that. At some point, they van­ished completely.

There was a lively atmo­sphere. It was good to study, it was good fun, it was nice. Uni­ver­sity was free, that is, free of charge, you just had to pay a small fee to the student’s uni­on. We had this very nice group of friends. Nobody had money but some­how there was always money to meet for a glass of wine or two, some­how this was always pos­sible. It was good times. I would say I had a very, very nice time as a stu­dent. I was lucky with my teach­ers, friends, and colleagues.

IN:      What did you like about Buddhist Philosophy?

MTM: I thought it was inter­est­ing to devel­op a sys­tem of thought without an ego. These the­or­ies that there is no essence nowhere, that the only essence is essence-less, I found these fas­cin­at­ing. I think this was some­how the main point. The oth­er was the sheer strange­ness of it. The Mad­hya­maka which, I think, was too strange for me early on. This is why, I looked more at the epi­stem­o­lo­gic­al and logic­al side. I thought this was some­thing that was a bit more con­crete. And this also inter­ested me, I must say. These logic­al the­or­ies inter­ested me for some time. So, this whole Buddhist epi­stem­o­logy and later one, when I learnt more about it, these the­or­ies about lan­guage that belonged to the Buddhist tra­di­tion, I found this very inter­est­ing. In fact, I stayed always more on the Buddhist side and the Sanskrit side, and not so much in Tibetan Stud­ies. I would say my main interest was Indi­an Buddhism and Sanskrit, but I always ended up with the Tibet­o­lo­gists. I also taught a lot of Tibetan in Vienna, later also in Prague.

IN:      Could you say some­thing about your PhD? How did you decide the topic?

MTM: This was a spe­cial interest that developed study­ing under Steinkell­ner, when the philo­soph­er Dhar­makīrti for me, some­how, came into focus. As one pro­ceeds from one inter­est­ing thing to anoth­er. I thought how vast this lit­er­at­ure is and how little of it has been edited and trans­lated. So, if you just think of two big names in Buddhist epi­stem­o­logy — Dignāga and Dhar­makīrti, still after 40 years now, a lot of stud­ies have appeared and a lot of research has been done, but still there are no com­plete edi­tions, com­plete trans­la­tions of the works of these two philo­soph­ers. So, read­ing and learn­ing about Dhar­makīrti with Steinkell­ner got me inter­ested and then it was Steinkell­ner­’s pro­pos­i­tion, ask­ing me if I wanted to take up the Vādanyāy­anā and I found the top­ic inter­est­ing, a book on debate and the rules of debate. This was my first major undertaking.

Teaching at the University of Vienna

IN:      And after your PhD? How was it start­ing to work at the university?

MTM: The dif­fer­ence was not so big for me because I’d already worked at the uni­ver­sity as a study­ing assist­ant for many years, when we were just a small group. So Steinkell­ner, he was boss, Tauscher took care of the admin­is­tra­tion and the fin­ances, and I took care of the lib­rary. I ordered and cata­logued the books.

Then, when I had my PhD, I star­ted to teach. This was a big change, of course. I was very afraid of teach­ing. To my sur­prise, I found that it went quite well. I nev­er thought that I would have to teach if I stayed on at the uni­ver­sity, but of course you have to. I found that I quite liked it, it was not a big dif­fi­culty. But when I star­ted, I was very excited. I remem­ber the first time I stood in front of a small class; I was very nervous.

IN:      How old were you at that time?

MTM: When I got my PhD, I was 28. Then I star­ted to teach.

IN:      What did you teach? and how did you teach?

MTM: My first classes were Tibetan classes. The first class I taught was Tibetan lan­guage. I taught Clas­sic­al Tibetan — my spoken Tibetan was always very poor — on the basis of Hahns’ book. This was my first teach­ing duty, an intro­duc­tion to Clas­sic­al Tibetan.

Through­out my teach­ing career I taught Tibetan classes and Sanskrit classes, but I haven’t giv­en many courses of lec­tures. More and more I con­cen­trated on read­ing texts in class, of which we have a Sanskrit ver­sion and a Tibetan ver­sion. So, for example, if it was in the cur­riculum of a Tibetan class, I would read a Tibetan text from the Tengy­ur, for which we also have the Sanskrit ori­gin­al. We would read the Tibetan but also go back to the Sanskrit and I’d point out how the Tibetans had trans­lated the Sanskrit, or the oth­er way around if it was a Sanskrit class.

This semester, for example, we read the Abhid­har­makośa. We read the Sanskrit text, but also the Tibetan trans­la­tion with it. Then I had classes on Buddhist Philo­sophy and classes on the pramāṇa-tra­di­­tion of the Dignāga-Dhar­­makīrti tra­di­tion. Quite often I read Atiśa in class, Bod­hipath­apra­dīpa in Tibetan, Abhid­har­makośa, pieces of Dhar­makīrti, things like that. Dhar­makīrti is dif­fi­cult. For me, Dhar­makīrti was an excep­tion­al fig­ure, in his thought and also in his writ­ing. His Sanskrit is just plain crazy. You know that some people say that his Sanskrit was so bad that he could­n’t do bet­ter. I think it’s the oth­er way round. I think he had some kind of lit­er­ary agenda, he wanted to write high­brow and inter­est­ing Sanskrit, not the plain Sanskrit. It makes it very dif­fi­cult reading.

IN:      What else do you like about Dharmakīrti?

MTM: His the­or­ies on lan­guage and what he wrote about lan­guage, this I find extremely inter­est­ing. That he took this top­ic developed by Dignāga, that words refer by exclu­sion, and tried to describe con­cepts and func­tions of the human brain, this is a very inter­est­ing attempt. Buddhist Philo­soph­ers were the fore­run­ners, to have dis­covered that lan­guage func­tions only by dis­tinc­tion, mak­ing dis­tinc­tions is the main func­tion of lan­guage. To keep to this idea and devel­op it in detail, this is very interesting.

IN     Who are your favour­ite Philosophers?

MTMLet’s stay with the stud­ies as this is very clear for me. Apart from Steinkell­ner, my favour­ite schol­ars are [Louis de] La Vallée-Poussin and Étienne Lamotte. When I was a stu­dent, when I dis­covered this kind of lit­er­at­ure, it was La Vallée-Poussin and Étienne Lamotte. Their trans­la­tions and their works for example, Vas­ub­andhu’s Abhid­har­makośa and Lamot­te’s Vimalakīrtinirdeśa sutra book. These were the people I admired. As for Asi­an Philo­soph­ers, Dhar­makīrti is a fas­cin­at­ing fig­ure, Kumāri­la e.g. And I like the Mad­hya­ma­kas, I like Nāgārjuna.

University education in the 1970s

IN:      What was the study pro­gramme called when you were a stu­dent? and when you were teach­ing? Who were your stu­dents? How was it focused?

MTM: When I was a stu­dent in the 1970s, the sys­tem was dif­fer­ent from the sys­tem today. You had a major and you had a minor. There was no bach­el­or’s degree, no mas­ter­’s degree, there was only a PhD programme.

IN:      That is inter­est­ing. From the begin­ning to the end, for eight years or more?

MTM: Yes, it took me eight years, includ­ing what I read before going for Tibetan and Buddhist Stud­ies almost 10 years. All in all, it took me 13 or 14 semesters, some­thing like that. It would take some­thing like four or five years of stud­ies and three or four years of PhD work. So, in total it could take sev­en, eight, or 10 years.

And inter­est­ingly, when I entered uni­ver­sity there was no study pro­gramme in that sense. I think at that time it just said that you had to be a registered stu­dent at the uni­ver­sity for some years, I think it was four years, and your PhD work had to be approved. This was it. There were no more rules and reg­u­la­tions apart from that. When your PhD thes­is was accep­ted, you were admit­ted to take the final exams. At that time there were five; two from your major, one from your minor, and two from Philosophy.

IN:      And that was oblig­at­ory for every­one in Humanities?

MTM: Yes, exactly. You had to take these exams in the course of 48 hours, which was the most dif­fi­cult part because you had to get five people to meet you over the course of two days. So, I took my exam­in­a­tion with Steinkell­ner, my second exam­iner was Ober­ham­mer. In His­tory of Art it was Fil­litz, and in Philo­sophy it was Hans-Dieter Klein and anoth­er pro­fess­or of philo­sophy. It was very stressful.

I know that some oth­er depart­ments, at that time, had their own intern­al rule; you have to take this class, these lec­tures etc. but the gen­er­al rule was just that you had to be a stu­dent for such a such a time, and you had to write a thes­is. This was it.

IN:      And there were no exams in between?

MTM: Yes. Nor­mally you would take classes and you would pass an exam for every class. So, if you took a class with Uray Géza, at the end of the semester you would take an exam­in­a­tion. At that time, you would still get a cer­ti­fic­ate, a report, for every single exam you took. When I star­ted, it still had to be stamped. You had to buy stamps. It was an A4 sheet, every exam has one sheet, and it had to be stamped. It was not very expens­ive, it cost two shil­ling or five shil­ling, I don’t remem­ber. I don’t remem­ber where you bought the stamps, but you had to buy them in advance and then stick one on each of the report sheets. It was good fun, I liked it. And then you had a whole pack­age of your Scheine, of your reports, and this you could show…. or loose. It was also registered, there was already at that time a com­puter pro­gramme. And you coun­ted hours, of course. For an extraordin­ary sti­pend you had to have, I think, 20 hours and bet­ter than 1.5 on average.

IN:      So, it was a mark­ing system?

MTM: Yes, 1–5; 1 the best and 5 failed.

So you just col­lec­ted this single exam­in­a­tion reports. And at one time the rub­ber stamps were abol­ished, but this was pre-pre-pre-Bologna programme.

IN:      And that was spe­cial stamps for the university?

MTM: No, these were in gen­er­al use, not extra. There were spe­cial stamps to pay these fees, Stem­pel­marken. So, if you got a cer­ti­fic­ate you had to put one to show you paid your fees. This was then stamped. This was even before dip­loma stud­ies and MA stud­ies were intro­duced. So, I must have been among the last gen­er­a­tions who stud­ied in the old sem­in­ar PhD sys­tem. In Tibetan and Buddhist Stud­ies, the rule was that you had to hand in two, at that time it was called, sem­in­ar papers, and two suc­cess­ful sem­in­ar papers would qual­i­fy you to apply for PhD stud­ies. This was the intern­al regulations.

IN:      So, the stu­dents had to prove some­how that they are cap­able of doing the PhD. If they wer­en’t cap­able, they would just leave the uni­ver­sity without any certificate?

MTM: Yes, that’s right, exactly. So, some­how it was harder because if you left, you left with empty hands. Now after three years you get your BA, at least. It was not pos­sible back then. In this respect, the new sys­tem is better.

IN:      And you could choose which classes you wanted to take?

MTM: Yes, in fact this was very, very free.

IN:      And you did not write what is now equi­val­ent to a Bachelor’s or Mas­ter­’s thesis?

MTM: Our equi­val­ent would be these sem­in­ar papers, but not in a form­al way, no. I wrote two. In my first, I talked about Sanskrit and Tibetan ver­sions of texts. There was someone in India, I for­got his name, who pub­lished a so-called recon­struc­tion of Vinīt­adeva texts. This was my first task, to write a cri­tique of this so-called recon­struc­tion. And the second one was some Dhar­makīrti translations.

Development of research interests

IN:      How have your interests developed over the course of your stud­ies and research?

MTM: I must say my top­ics of interest did not devel­op. They did not devel­op in this respect as I was already inter­ested in philo­soph­ic­al top­ics in gen­er­al, but I nev­er under­stood them well. I kept some­how with­in these kinds of things, but the situ­ation did not change. In fact, in some ways it even got worse. It’s all rel­at­ive. When I was 18, I read philo­soph­ic­al books and thought, “ah, inter­est­ing but I can­’t under­stand it, let’s try some­thing else.” I do the same thing today.

Teaching at the University of Vienna (part II)

IN:      So, you star­ted teach­ing when you were young, how did it devel­op? What were your responsibilities?

MTM: I had vari­ous respons­ib­il­it­ies. At the old depart­ment, I was at the lib­rary. First, I was also cata­loguing, doing much of the cata­loguing, and later I was super­vising the cata­loguing. For a long time we would work togeth­er — Steinkell­ner would read the cata­logues, I would read the cata­logues, and accord­ing to our means we would order the books, con­cen­trat­ing on Philo­sophy, Reli­gion, His­tory, and sun­g­bums (gsung ‘bums, col­lec­ted works)We tried to buy as many sun­g­bums as we could. I also cata­logued the books. So, I have a smat­ter­ing of Japan­ese and Chinese because I cata­logued all those books. This I did for a long time, really.

Later, but this is in the later phase, I became a so-called study pro­gram dir­ect­or. This is now my second stint and I’m already in my fifth year. But this is now in the new sys­tem in the Bologna world. Organ­ising a cur­riculum, organ­ising who teaches what, and super­vising the pro­gress of the stu­dents, and see that exams are registered in the right place. And advise the stu­dent, that is also an import­ant part, I think. I have done this for a few years now. Then, of course, pub­lish­ing the Wien­er Stud­i­en zur Tibet­o­lo­gie und Buddhis­muskunde. I was always involved in that. Then I was involved in organ­ising the vari­ous con­fer­ences; the Csoma de Kőrös con­fer­ences, we organ­ised one in Velm, and then the second big Tibetan con­fer­ence in Seg­gau [Castle].

Establishing the Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde

IN:      Could you tell us more about the pub­lic­a­tion series and the conferences?

MTM: So, the Wien­er Stud­i­en zur Tibet­o­lo­gie und Buddhis­muskunde were estab­lished in 1977 as a not-for-profit organ­isa­tion called Arbeit­skre­is für Tibet­ische und Buddhistische Stud­i­en (ATBS). It developed into an inter­na­tion­ally well-regarded series, and we pub­lished a lot of dif­fer­ent books from col­leagues from all over the world. The first book was the Verse-Index of Dhar­makīrti’s Works. The first volumes were writ­ten with a type­writer and then prin­ted off­set. The first was writ­ten by Helmut Tauscher on a type­writer. The second was the thes­is of Lob­sang Dargyay, his Munich PhD thes­is, then we got [Pio­tr] Klafkowski’s book, I don’t know why really, Gudrun Büh­ne­man­n’s book was again her thes­is here, and num­ber five was Tauscher­’s thes­is. Then we had this very inter­est­ing book pub­lished by Lob­sang Dargyay, apply­ing philo­lo­gic­al meth­ods to Tibetan texts, and writ­ten in Tibetan. We still have a Tibetan type­writer some­where. This is a museum piece by now.

IN:      It must have been revolu­tion­ary at the time, to pub­lish a West­ern book in Tibetan?

MTM: Well, I don’t know, this was in 1981. We have some inter­est­ing arte­facts; the first is a Tibetan type­writer and we have two sets, com­plete sets, of Tibetan fonts. We have the led types. We got them from the pub­lish­ing house of Holzhausen. Why they had them in the first place, I don’t know. At some point, they called us and told us that they are throw­ing out all their old led types. We said you can­’t throw them away. They said they can­’t trans­port them, they weigh tons. I do not remem­ber how they finally were trans­por­ted to the depart­ment. Lob­sang Dargyay’s book it was writ­ten on a Tibetan type­writer. Then this Jitāri (by Gudrun Büh­ne­mann), it was writ­ten already on an IBM Ball Head machine. There was Michael Egger, who also worked for the lib­rary a lot, in fact in cata­loguing, and he was able to do jus­ti­fic­a­tion on an elec­tric type­writer by count­ing the steps and half-steps for every line.

Then there were the pro­ceed­ings of the sym­posi­um and the Michael Aris book on Bhutan (Sources for the His­tory of Bhutan). That is also inter­est­ing, the book was pub­lished in 1986 and today we are com­ing back to Bhutan; Math­es is going tomor­row to Bhutan, and we have a col­league in the Fac­ulty of Law who is involved in reor­gan­ising the law edu­ca­tion in Bhutan. All these first pub­lic­a­tions were typed on a type­writer and then prin­ted by using the off­set pro­cess. There was also that extra piece of a Mon­go­li­an book by [András] Róna-Tas, pub­lished in Uyghur Mon­go­li­an script.

IN:      And your book.

MTM: Yes. This was just an attempt to cata­logue the Sanskrit col­lec­tion of epi­stem­o­lo­gic­al texts. Yes, at that time, it was import­ant to get an impres­sion of what’s really there. It’s not a com­plete cata­logue, it con­cerns only the epi­stem­o­lo­gic­al texts in this col­lec­tion. I don’t know when the change occurred to manu­scripts that were pro­duced using word pro­cessing pro­grams and per­son­al com­puters, but the series still pub­lishes manu­scripts that are handed in by the authors. We cur­rently pub­lish two or three volumes a year. With the intro­duc­tion of com­puters, pub­lish­ing got a lot easi­er. So, this is a type of pub­lish­ing where the authors bring the fin­ished manu­script. For a long time the books were prin­ted with a print­er in Vienna now it’s a print­er in lower Aus­tria. So, this is the series.

The first eight volumes, I still remem­ber, were sup­por­ted by the Min­istry, I can­’t remem­ber what the name of the min­istry was at that time, the Min­istry of Sci­ence and Edu­ca­tion. So we had money from them, but only for the first eight volumes. Since then, we have so many sub­scrip­tions that from selling one edi­tion, we can fin­ance the next one. The­or­et­ic­ally, any­way. In the­ory, the stand­ing orders fin­ances the next pub­lic­a­tion. And in between, we got some, not very much, money. Some authors brought money for the pub­lic­a­tion. The future is, again, a dif­fer­ent top­ic. This was in gen­er­al the mod­el and with some extra money brought by some of the authors. This worked quite well, I must say. Of course, there is no pub­lish­ing house and there are no employ­ees. After Steinkell­ner the series through the years had vari­ous edit­ors, Tauscher, Krass­er, Kell­ner, Math­es, and also me.

The Csoma de Kőrös symposium

IN:      So, the Csoma de Kőrös symposium?

MTM: Yes, the Csoma de Kőrös sym­posi­um were an import­ant insti­tu­tion for con­nect­ing East and West. At that time, again the Aus­tri­an con­nec­tion was import­ant. Of course, there were his­tor­ic­al con­nec­tions and friend­ships. Aus­tria still is nom­in­ally a neut­ral coun­try, and the Hun­gari­ans were the mer­ri­est bar­rack of the camp, die glück­lich­ste Baracke im Lager. So, there were chan­nels between Bud­apest and Vienna. This was an occa­sion to bring Hun­gari­an schol­ars and the schol­ars from Czechoslov­akia, at that time, East­ern Ger­many, Rus­sia, and so on togeth­er. The first sym­posi­ums were very, very small. There were 40, maybe 50 people. All of them were held in Hun­gary except for one that was in held Velm, near Vienna in Aus­tria; this was the fore­run­ner of the IATS conferences.

The oth­er thing at that time, the Hun­gari­ans had a much more prom­in­ent pos­i­tion because, of course, Csoma de Kőrös is the founder of mod­ern Tibetan Stud­ies. At that time, [Lajos] Ligeti was still around. Ligeti, I think was a kind of Sta­lin­ist. He was a party mem­ber, at least, and also the head of the academy, a Mon­go­li­an schol­ar. He could sup­port Tibetan and Mon­go­li­an because he had an import­ant place in Hun­gari­an aca­demia. And then, as I remem­ber, in sup­ple­ment­a­tion of the Csoma de Kőrös meet­ings, the Young Tibet­o­lo­gists con­fer­ence was estab­lished. They first met in Zürich in 1977 and some years later the two con­fer­ences merged into one world con­fer­ence. The Csoma de Kőrös con­fer­ences were very good fun. It was still a small group meet­ing in nice places in Hun­gary; Mátrafüred and Csopak, and some­where near the Danube, I don’t remem­ber the name. I did­n’t go to the first one, to Mátrafüred, but I went to Csopak, and I was one of the organ­isers for the Velm conference.

Think­ing back, I’m sorry that I did­n’t keep a diary. With so many inter­est­ing people like [Tur­rell] Wiley and Roy Andrew Miller. Miller was later a guest pro­fess­or in Vienna. Miller and Wiley, the two togeth­er were so funny, they had a kind of double act. They were incred­ibly funny. They were very, very funny and very, very nice. Wiley was an extremely nice person.

IN:      What was the atmo­sphere like at these meetings?

MTM: The atmo­sphere was gen­er­ally friendly. I remem­ber a lot of drink­ing was going on. So even com­ing from a wine grow­ing coun­try, Aus­tria, I was aston­ished in the neigh­bour­ing coun­try by how much one could drink at one meet­ing. No, it was very good fun. All the meet­ings were very intense, lots of lec­tures, all day long. A lot of con­ver­sa­tions, inter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tions, but also a lot of partying.

Also, people I had for­got­ten about; [Walth­er] Heis­sig, the Mon­go­li­an schol­ar, he was not young any­more when he came to Csoma de Kőrös symposiums.

IN:      What was the concept behind the Csoma de Kőrös sym­posi­ums? Who did they invite?

MTM: In the begin­ning, they invited the estab­lished schol­ars, I would say. This was also one of the reas­ons why the Young Tibetan con­fer­ence was foun­ded. In the begin­ning, the Csoma de Kőrös sym­posi­um was a bit old boys club. This changed rather quickly, but in the begin­ning it was like that.

The Tibet­o­lo­gic­al scene then was much, much smal­ler than it is today. The focus [of the sym­posi­ums] was on Tibet but also Mon­go­li­an and a bit of Cent­ral Asia, but the main focus was on Tibet, I would say.

The development of Tibetan Studies in Vienna

IN:      Could you tell me a bit about the Inter­na­tion­al Asso­ci­ation for Tibetan Stud­ies (IATS) in Vienna? and per­haps more about Tibetan Stud­ies in Vienna? It seems to be a suc­cess­ful field.

MTM: A very suc­cess­ful field. Indi­an Stud­ies [at Vienna] goes back a long time, but the fact that Tibetan Stud­ies could be estab­lished was the luck of the hour, one has to say. There was some inter­est­ing com­bin­a­tion because there was the Social Demo­crat­ic Min­is­ter for Sci­ence, Her­tha Firn­berg, and there was a very open-minded Car­din­al of the Cath­ol­ic Church, this was Car­din­al [Franz] König. And there was Steinkell­ner. I don’t know, there was some chem­ic­al reac­tion that led to the estab­lish­ment of this little depart­ment and this kind of stud­ies. Then, of course, I have to say that in the con­text of uni­ver­sity this was a tiny depart­ment. It was even tini­er than Indo­logy; Indo­logy was small, and Tibet­o­logy was tiny. Later it grew a little bit with the fusion around the turn of the mil­len­ni­um. Tibetan and Buddhist Stud­ies were always suc­cess­ful in pub­lic­a­tions, and also in acquir­ing research pro­jects. Even today the depart­ment is not big but there’s a lot of pub­lic­a­tion activ­ity and there’s a lot of research pro­jects going on.

We did­n’t talk about this so far, it’s the oth­er suc­cess of Steinkell­ner, Ober­ham­mer was also involved with it, the estab­lish­ment of the research depart­ment at the academy. This is also the ini­ti­at­ive of Steinkell­ner and Ober­ham­mer, the Insti­tut für Kul­tur- und Geistes­geschichte Asi­ens, the Insti­tute for the Cul­tur­al and Intel­lec­tu­al His­tory of Asia. It has since become very, very big. In the 1970s it did­n’t exist at all. There were only these two smallish uni­ver­sity depart­ments but now you have, again, Indi­an Stud­ies and Tibetan Stud­ies merged in 1999. I don’t remem­ber what year the Insti­tute for the Cul­tur­al and Intel­lec­tu­al His­tory of Asia was foun­ded, but this was very, very import­ant because now the num­ber of schol­ars and people work­ing in Vienna has become much, much big­ger. Steinkell­ner was the first pres­id­ent. Then [Helmut] Krass­er, who unfor­tu­nately died very, very young. Now Birgit Kell­ner is head of that depart­ment — per­haps you should talk to her?

This is a gen­er­a­tion I didn’t men­tion before. I men­tioned the first old group but the next group after us, so to say, were Birgit Kell­ner, Horst Lasic, Chris­ti­an Schickl­gruber, and Hilde­gard Diem­ber­ger. Chris­ti­an Schickl­gruber is now Dir­ect­or of the Welt­mu­seum in Vienna. And Hilde­gard Diem­ber­ger pro­fess­or at the Depart­ment of Social Anthro­po­logy in Cambridge.

There may be one per­son of interest in your research, there’s this one Aus­tri­an hero of Tibetan Stud­ies, who is [René de] Nebesky-Wojkow­itz. He was a pion­eer. As I under­stand, he was quite a cha­ris­mat­ic fig­ure. For Tibetan Stud­ies, this was before the depart­ment was foun­ded [in Vienna], there were two people; Robert Bleich­stein­er, an anthro­po­lo­gist who wrote the fam­ous book called Die gelbe Kirche (Mys­ter­i­en der buddhistischen Klöster in Indi­en), which became a clas­sic, and Nebesky-Wojkow­itz, who wrote this big book on Tibetan oracles and demons (Oracles and Demons of Tibet). He also died very, very young. He com­bined his field research with lit­er­ary tex­tu­al stud­ies, I think that’s a big achieve­ment in his book. It really is a clas­sic. There’re these little loops in his­tory — I wrote a small piece on Nebesky-Wojkow­itz for the Deutsche Bio­graph­ie that was pub­lished in 1980s. And now there’s a pro­ject man­aged by [Mar­tin] Gaenszle on René de Nebesky-Wojkowitz’s achieve­ments, work, and collections.

So, besides this Uni­ver­sity depart­ment here, there is this big depart­ment at the Academy of Sci­ence. It’s two depart­ments, you could say, where people work on Buddhism, Tibet, Japan, and so on.

IN:      Why would you say that people work­ing on Tibet have mostly focused mostly on Philosophy?

MTM: They haven’t, not in Vienna.  Diem­ber­ger, Schickl­gruber, they are not Philo­soph­ers. I think, my impres­sion is that most Tibet­o­lo­gists con­cen­trate on His­tory. I’m not sure, but that’s my impres­sion. Those who are work­ing on the more philo­soph­ic­al side are the minor­ity. Anthro­po­logy is also big [here], big­ger than Reli­gious Stud­ies and Philo­soph­ic­al Studies.

The International Association for Tibetan Studies (IATS)

IN:      Could you please say some­thing on the IATS meet­ing in Aus­tria? You must have been there?

MTM: Of course, I was one of the organ­isers. That was partly because I was driv­ing the little bus, pick­ing up the people from the train sta­tion and driv­ing them back to the train station.

This was after the Velm con­fer­ence, which was not such a big con­fer­ence. The IATS was a bit big­ger. Steinkell­ner, Tauscher, and me, we hunted for a loc­a­tion, this was good fun. The three of us drove around in a car look­ing at loc­a­tions. This we did for Velm too. I don’t know how we found Seg­gau, but it was ideal because it was a secluded place but not too far from the little town. I don’t know what else I can tell you; it was a suc­cess­ful con­fer­ence. It was a lot of work to get everything organ­ised. People had to stay togeth­er, they had to share rooms, who do you put with whom…this was quite an effort. But it was very suc­cess­ful, and we also pub­lished the pro­ceed­ings in, I think, sev­en volumes, some­thing like that. Quite a big pub­lic­a­tion came from this conference.

Memories of Rolf Stein

IN:      How do you remem­ber Rolf Stein when you met him?

MTM: Oh, yes. I remem­ber him very vividly. I was very, very impressed by him. I was very, very shy because I was a stu­dent, and he was such a big man. He was also one, I must say, whose work I had read and admired. Then I met him, and he was very nor­mal, so to say, and very nice. For some reas­on, I don’t know why this happened, I was his guide for one day. We walked around in Vienna, I took him to the city, to the first dis­trict. We went to the Stephans­dom, the Alb­er­tina [Museum], and we had lunch and just chat­ted. This was Stein. I remem­ber him as a nice per­son, and he impressed me. So, I met him just the once in Vienna.

IN:      Did you meet [Dav­id] Snellgrove?

MTM: No, I nev­er met him. I met [Tadeusz] Skorupski. In fact, I was stand­ing in him for when he had his sab­bat­ic­al at SOAS, but I nev­er met Snellgrove.

Teaching at Charles University, Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE), and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)

IN:      You have taught abroad [as well as Vienna], could you tell us some­thing about it? For example, I think you have been very influ­en­tial in Prague.

MTM: Prague was inter­est­ing, it was good fun. I wondered why [Josef] Kolmaš would not teach, but he would­n’t teach at the uni­ver­sity. I had the impres­sion there was a kind of oppos­i­tion between the academy and the uni­ver­sity, some­thing I had also seen in Bud­apest. I star­ted to travel every second week to Prague. I got on the train Monday morn­ing, I had a class Monday after­noon and stayed overnight, I had anoth­er class Tues­day morn­ing, and Tues­day even­ing I would be back in Vienna. There were not so many books going around. I wrote to Michal Hahn and asked him wheth­er he had a few spare cop­ies. He found some and sent them, I think eight or 10 books. These books were giv­en to the lib­rary in Prague.

There was a small group. From the people who fin­ished the class, there was Zuz­ana Vok­ur­ková and Jiří Hol­ba. There was a third one, anoth­er young woman but I don’t remem­ber her name. But Jiří and Zuz­ana were the main stu­dents. We [all] went out and we talked a lot. I also vis­ited Kolmaš, and he showed me his col­lec­tion, the pub­lic­a­tions of the academy, and the books he brought from Tibet. It was good fun. I liked to be in Prague, and I tried to speak a little Czech. I don’t remem­ber much any­more. I got one good laugh, I remem­ber that because I wanted to start my class and the stu­dents were still going in and out and I said, Ukončete výs­tup a nás­tup, dveře se zavíra­jí” (“Please fin­ish exit­ing and board­ing, the doors are clos­ing”, Prague metro warn­ing before the depar­ture of each train) and every­body laughed.

Yes, it was nice. Prague was also dif­fi­cult because so many tour­ists came in. I went in the 1970s and it was really nice and quiet, maybe too quiet. But when I taught [there], there were so many tour­ists and then everything that goes with tour­ism, not so nice taxi drivers, strange prices in res­taur­ants, and so on. This got out of hand a little bit in Prague. Yes, so I’m happy and the Prague con­nec­tion some­how held with Daniel [Beroun­ský] com­ing reg­u­larly to Vienna and Tauscher going to Prague. Jiří was also here two or three years ago. On the oth­er hand, you could say, one does­n’t meet too often though it’s so close.

So, there was Prague, and I was quite act­ive in the Erasmus net­work and the CEEPUS net­work. I taught in Warsaw, Kraków, Prague, Brat­is­lava, Bud­apest, Szeged, and also in Göt­tin­gen and Heidel­berg. And Rome, I for­got Rome. The CEEPUS net­work is in fact a net­work of Reli­gious Stud­ies but had this Buddhist and Tibetan Stud­ies aspect. Over the years, I think it was very fruit­ful, these reg­u­lar vis­its and the con­tacts. So, last year, Daniel was here, and Tauscher was in Prague. I think this was very good, and every­where [I went] I had inter­ested stu­dents and inter­est­ing meet­ings with col­leagues. So, I think this is a very good pro­gramme. It’s also very inter­est­ing for stu­dents; people from out­side come and they bring dif­fer­ent approaches and oth­er topics.

Then I had oth­er teach­ing stints because, for private reas­ons, I lived for some years in Bud­apest and then some years in Lon­don. In Bud­apest I was teach­ing at the Cent­ral Asi­an Insti­tute. I lec­tured on Buddhist Philo­sophy and I had Tibetan classes. There were small groups of stu­dents. It was nice for me because at that time, I mean it was just for two years, I was teach­ing Buddhist stuff at the depart­ment. Yes, I was a guest teach­er, and I was quite inde­pend­ent, that was nice.

Then I was in Lon­don. This was very dif­fer­ent. For me, [it was] a bit of a cul­ture shock because it was the first time I got to know an Anglo-Sax­on uni­ver­sity and the sys­tem is quite dif­fer­ent. I grew up and worked in the Cent­ral European sys­tem, so to say. So, this was dif­fi­cult and much more reg­u­lated than here. But on the oth­er hand, it pre­pared me a little bit for the Bologna pro­gramme. At first, I was stand­ing in for Skorupski who was on a sab­bat­ic­al. [Ulrich] Pagel was there, he was my main per­son in Lon­don and [someone] I already knew because he had vis­ited Vienna earlier.

All in all, I must say, I prefer the old sem­in­ar sys­tem. I under­stand the Bologna pro­gramme for big fields of study, but for the small depart­ments I think the old sem­in­ar sys­tem just worked fine. The dif­fi­culty for small depart­ments is that, some­how, the Bologna sys­tem pre­sup­poses a quite fixed rigid cur­riculum, for maybe quite a small num­ber of stu­dents. The old sys­tem was much more con­cen­trated and much more flex­ible. Now all the years are sep­ar­ated, the BAs are sep­ar­ated from the MAs, and again the PhDs are com­pletely sep­ar­ated. And in the old sys­tem, the entry qual­i­fic­a­tion was about Sanskrit and/or Tibetan, and this was all you needed in terms of entrance exam­in­a­tion because nobody would learn Sanskrit or Clas­sic­al Tibetan just for cred­its because it’s too dif­fi­cult. And now we have anoth­er sys­tem and I’m not in favour because, at the moment the entrance lec­tures are not the lan­guage classes but gen­er­al lec­tures, gen­er­al intro­duct­ory lec­tures you have to pass to be allowed into the stud­ies. This does not really show the qual­i­fic­a­tion for this field of study. I would much prefer to have the Tibetan or Sanskrit classes as the primary import­ant courses. One semester as an ini­tial test to be accep­ted into the studies.

IN:      What kind of exam is it between the dif­fer­ent years?

MTM: You have to pass the first semester. You have to accom­plish some basic exams at the begin­ning of your stud­ies. If you don’t do that you can­’t go on. At the moment, in our depart­ment here, there are three exam­in­a­tions: one on Buddhism, one on Indo­logy, and one on Mod­ern South Asi­an Stud­ies. So, you should, ideally, listen to a string of lec­tures and pass these exam­in­a­tions. If you pass these, you can go on. That’s the system.

IN:      Who do you con­sider to be your most import­ant stu­dents? Per­haps stu­dents who have con­tin­ued you in your work?

MTM: There were those people who just came after me, like Birgit Kell­ner and Horst Lasic, but I would­n’t say they were my stu­dents. They took classes with me. In Prague, Zuz­ana and Jiří stud­ied with me. I would have to think, I can­’t remem­ber at the moment. Schickl­gruber also took classes with me. At the moment I can­’t think of more. There were many people who sat in my courses or took classes with me, but I did­n’t have pupils in that sense because I went away and took a long time leave from uni­ver­sity. So, I did not get into this phase where I had stu­dents of my own. I did­n’t do that.

Changes and developments in the fields of Tibetan and Buddhist studies

IN:      How do you think the field of Tibetan and Buddhist Stud­ies has developed through­out your career? or approaches to the topic?

MTM: That’s very dif­fi­cult to say in a few words. It got much big­ger. In my field of Dhar­makīrti and related stud­ies it exploded, I must say. I could­n’t explain in a few words.

The Human­it­ies changed a lot in the 1970s in many respects. I would say it became more mod­ern. When I was a stu­dent, everything was more old-fash­ioned. That’s a very gen­er­al state­ment. What changed the field com­pletely was the intro­duc­tion of com­puters and the inter­net. This really was a big revolu­tion. In terms of philo­lo­gic­al stud­ies, this changed the game com­pletely. I was just in between, I nev­er really went into these new meth­ods of research, but it had changed com­pletely from the things I learned as a stu­dent. So, this was a big change.

The oth­er big change, I think, is that it became more open. More people are work­ing in the field who are more aware of what’s going on in philo­sophy, in anthro­po­logy, in gender stud­ies, and so on. This is a devel­op­ment now. Also, that inter­dis­cip­lin­ary stud­ies also got much stronger. That also can be a bit of a fash­ion, but it also got much stronger.

You could also add, I don’t have stat­ist­ics, but there are more women now in our field. If I look at my depart­ment there’s the suc­cessor of Ober­ham­mer is Karin Preis­endanz, the head of the academy depart­ment is Birgit Kell­ner, and there are many research­ers, like Bar­bara Gerke e.g. I remem­ber people say­ing, You get your degree and then you marry, or I can give you some­thing to type here. I also remem­ber one of the pro­fess­ors of the older gen­er­a­tion explain­ing the crisis of mod­ern archi­tec­ture, it is one of my favour­ite stor­ies. Do you know how the crisis of mod­ern archi­tec­ture comes about? Because women are work­ing, they go out and have jobs. Oth­er­wise, if women stayed at home, they would tell their hus­bands how ugly their homes really are, and nicer houses would be built. So, the crisis of mod­ern archi­tec­ture is because women don’t stay at home. So, this changed. As we know, the situ­ation is far from per­fect but on the oth­er hand a lot has changed.

Research and travel in Asia

IN:      Were you ever able to travel to Asia and to Tibetan communities?

MTM: Yes, I would be able to travel but I was not so inter­ested. I could have gone to China, for example we had invit­a­tions from Wang Yao, but then I pre­ferred to go to Ham­burg to study with Schmit­thausen while I was on a sti­pend. I trav­elled to India to do some research. As I men­tioned, I was always more inter­ested in the Sanskrit and the Indi­an side, and not so much in Tibet and Tibetan Stud­ies per se. So, I nev­er had a strong urge to go to Tibet. I nev­er did, in fact. I went to India a few times. I’ve been to Ladakh, Nepal, and Dar­jeel­ing, for example. Not too often, how­ever, as I’m really a book­ish type of per­son. I was already very happy with the inven­tion of the pho­to­copy­ing machine because I like to sit at home and read the books, or the pho­to­cop­ies, or now the PDFs on the com­puter. But I could’ve trav­elled much more if I’d wanted to.

IN:      How do you remem­ber India when you went there?

MTM: I first went to India in 1978. This was an extremely inter­est­ing jour­ney; it was one of the most inter­est­ing jour­neys of my life. At that time, and how it was usu­al at that time, I trav­elled over land. I went by train to Istan­bul, through Tur­key, crossed the Van Lake by ship, went by train to Tehran, by bus to Mashad, by bus to Her­at, by bus to Kabul, and by bus to Peshawar. I then crossed Pakistan by train and walked on foot into India. It was very inter­est­ing, this trans­ition from Europe, one coun­try after the oth­er, down to India.

India was an over­whelm­ing exper­i­ence in many respects. I liked it; I liked the food, I liked the people, all in all. I was com­pletely shocked by poverty. I had known about it, but I had nev­er seen a real slum in my life. I had seen poor quar­ters in Istan­bul, but noth­ing com­pared to what I saw in India. My first exper­i­ence was a very mixed exper­i­ence. I met won­der­ful people, for example the Sikhs in Amrit­sar. I remem­ber my vis­it to the Golden Temple very vividly. But then most of the people liv­ing in the street in Bom­bay, it was not so funny. It was ter­rible. All in all, I liked the place and I liked the food. I still find it an inter­est­ing but dif­fi­cult place.

The first time I trav­elled there I just went from Del­hi to Amrit­sar to Ladakh. I went to Leh and Hemis, not many people were there. In Iran it was just the year before the revolu­tion. In Afgh­anistan it was very easy to travel, no prob­lem at all. And in India, I went to Varanasi, Bom­bay, and Sarnath.

Reflections on career, biggest challenges, and contributions

IN:      What has your career giv­en to you per­son­ally? How has it influ­enced or changed your life?

MTM: I would say that the most inter­est­ing part of my career was that I met so many inter­est­ing people; among my col­leagues and stu­dents. And this, inter­est­ingly, is not really because of the sub­ject. I would say that I still find the sub­ject inter­est­ing. In this respect, I was very lucky. As I men­tioned, we were this nice group of stu­dents, I had nice teach­ers, and some­how I could carry this on through­out my life. I got to meet inter­est­ing people, make friends here and there, and know people all over the world. And it was really a high point of my work, to work with John Taber, Vin­cent Eltschinger, and Isa­belle Ratié on this Pramāṇavārt­tikas­vavṛtti pro­ject as a team of four, which I find extremely nice.

Per­son­ally, it gave me a chance to read books. This is what I wanted, and still want to, do.

IN:      What did you find the most chal­len­ging in your work?

MTM: Per­haps the middle years of my stu­dent life, get­ting my act togeth­er to be able to fin­ish the stud­ies, was the most chal­len­ging thing. To con­cen­trate and write the PhD thes­is. I think that was the most difficult.

IN:      What do you think are your biggest aca­dem­ic con­tri­bu­tions, and why?

MTM: My aca­dem­ic con­tri­bu­tions are insig­ni­fic­ant. They are very, very slight. Maybe one con­tri­bu­tion that some­how is still inter­est­ing is this sur­vey of Buddhist lit­er­at­ure that I com­piled with Steinkell­ner, which became a hand­book. I think this will stand for some more years. Not for the more recent entries of trans­la­tions of stud­ies, but for a short over­view of the lit­er­at­ure of this period.

Oth­er than that, it’s hard to say. I taught a lot of stu­dents in Vienna and oth­er places, maybe this. Also, I must say, I worked for the depart­ment here a lot. Maybe this is what I have done. All in all, I would say, I have done very little with my life.

A message for future generations of students and researchers

IN:      As we are con­duct­ing this pro­ject for cur­rent and future research­ers, those who are inter­ested in Tibet, do you have a mes­sage for them?

MTM: For stu­dents, my mes­sage is to read as much as pos­sible and fin­ish your stud­ies as soon as pos­sible, time passes too fast. Also, as one of the depu­ties of the so-called Dir­ect­ors of Stud­ies this is what I tell my stu­dents generally.

Additional info



Dharmakīrti’s Defin­i­tion of “Points of Defeat” (nigra­has­thāna). In: B. K. Mat­ilal und R. D. Evans (eds.): Buddhist Logic and Epi­stem­o­logy. Dordrecht: Reidel 1986 (Stud­ies of Clas­sic­al India 7), p. 133–142.

A Vis­it to Rāhula Sāṅkṛtyāyana’s Col­lec­tion of Neg­at­ives at the Bihar Research Soci­ety: Texts from the Buddhist Epi­stem­o­lo­gic­al School. Wien: Arbeit­skre­is für Tibet­ische und Buddhistische Stud­i­en 1988 (WSTB 18), 34 p.

3a. Dhar­makīrtis Vādanyāy­aḥ. Teil I, Sanskrit-Text. Wien: Ver­lag der Öster­reichis­chen Akademie der Wis­senschaften 1991 (SÖAW 581, VKSKSO 25), XXX, 75 p.

3b. Dhar­makīrtis Vādanyāy­aḥ. Teil II, Über­set­zung und Anmerkun­gen. Wien: Ver­lag der ÖAW 1991 (SÖAW 581, VKSKSO 25), XXI, 135 p.

  1. Frag­ments from Dignāga? Traces of a Pre-Dhar­­makīrti Buddhist Polem­ic Against the Nyāya-nigra­has­thāna. In: Stud­ies in the Buddhist Epi­stem­o­lo­gic­al Tra­di­tion. Pro­ceed­ings of the Second Inter­na­tion­al Dhar­makīrti Con­fer­ence, Vienna, June 11–16, 1989. Ed. by E. Steinkell­ner. Wien: Ver­lag der Öster­reichis­chen Akademie der Wis­senschaften 1991 (ÖAW, phil.-hist. Kl., Denk­s­chriften, 222. Bd., Beiträge zur Kul­tur- und Geistes­geschichte Asi­ens 8), p. 211–225.
  2. Indi­an Buddhist Semantics in the 7th Cen­tury A. D. Dharmakīrti’s The­ory of “Exclu­sion” (apoha). Semi­ot­ische Berichte Jg. 17, 3/4, 1993 (Zeichen / Kul­tur, Akten des 3. Öster­­reichisch-Ungar­is­chen Semi­otik-Kolloqui­ums Szom­bathely / Velem 1992), p. 323–330.
  3. Uddyotakaras Kritik der apoha-Lehre (Nyāyavārt­tika ad NS 2.2.66). Wien­er Zeits­chrift für die Kunde Südasi­ens 38, 1994 (Orbis Indi­c­us, Ger­hardo Ober­ham­mer lus­trum XIII. exi­gen­ti ab amicis dis­cip­u­lisque obla­t­us), p. 351–366.
  4. Togeth­er with E. Steinkell­ner: Die Texte der erken­nt­nis­the­or­et­ischen Schule des Buddhis­mus. Sys­tem­at­ische Über­sicht über die buddhistische Sanskrit-Lit­er­­at­ur II. Mit einem Vor­wort von Heinz Bech­ert. Göt­tin­gen: Vand­en­hoeck & Ruprecht 1995 (Abhand­lun­gen der Akademie der Wis­senschaften in Göt­tin­gen, phil.-hist. Kl., dritte Folge, Nr. 214), XX, 137 p.
  5. sāmānād­hikāraṇya in Dignāga, Uddyotakara and Dhar­makīrti. Stu­dia Indo­lo­giczne 4 (Aspects of Buddhism, Pro­ceed­ings of the Inter­na­tion­al Sem­in­ar on Buddhist Stud­ies, Lwiw, 25 June 1994), 1997, p. 163–176.
  6. Ed. togeth­er with H. Krass­er, E. Steinkell­ner, H. Tauscher: Tibetan Stud­ies. Vol. 1–2. Pro­ceed­ings of the 7th Sem­in­ar of the Inter­na­tion­al Asso­ci­ation of Tibetan Stud­ies, Graz 1995, 1, 2. Wien: Ver­lag der Öster­reichis­chen Akademie der Wis­senschaften 1997 (ÖAW phil.-hist. Kl., Denk­s­chriften 256), 1120 p.
  7. René Nebesky-Wojkow­itz. Neue Deutsche Bio­graph­ie, Band 19. München 1998.
  8. Ed. togeth­er with B. Kell­ner, H. Krass­er, H. Lasic, H. Tauscher: Pramāṇakīrti. Papers ded­ic­ated to Ernst Steinkell­ner on the occa­sion of his 70th birth­day. Wien: Arbeit­skre­is für Tibet­ische und Buddhistische Stud­i­en 2007 (WSTB 70), 1103 p.
  9. Togeth­er with V. Eltschinger, J. Taber, I. Ratié: Dharmakīrti’s The­ory of Exclu­sion (apoha). Part I, On Con­ceal­ing. An annot­ated trans­la­tion of Pramāṇav­art­tikas­vavṛtti 24,16–45,20 (Pramāṇav­art­tika 1.40–91. Tokyo: The Inter­na­tion­al Insti­tute for Buddhist Stud­ies 2018 (Stu­dia Philo­lo­gica Buddh­ica, Mono­graph Series XXXVI), XI, 211 p.

Résumé (August 2021)

Michael Tor­sten MUCH (ali­as Wieser-Much)

born Vienna 1955, Aus­tria; Aus­tri­an cit­izen­ship; mar­ried to Kath­ar­ina Wieser



Academic activities (University of Vienna, “Institute of Tibetan and Buddhist Studies,” since 2000 “Institute of South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies”):

1994–2020 Ass. Prof. (retired 2020)

1983–1994 Uni­ver­sity assistant

1979–1983 Stud­ies assistant

1977–1979 Research assist­ant for order­ing and cata­loguing the estate of Erich Frauwallner.


Academic activities (outside Vienna University):

2001–2003 Lec­turer (part time) at SOAS (Dept. for the Study of Reli­gion), London

1998–2000 guest teach­er ELTE, Bud­apest (Belső-ázsi­ai Tanszék)

1996–1997 guest teach­er Charles Uni­ver­sity (Ústav Dal­ne­ho Vycho­du), Prague

1997–2017 Guest lec­turer – mostly in the frame­work of the ERASMUS and CEEPUS pro­grams – at the uni­ver­sit­ies in Warsaw, Bud­apest, Krakow, Brat­is­lava, Rome, Prague, Szeged, Göt­tin­gen, Heidelberg.



2015–2020 chair „Arbeit­skre­is für tibet­ische und buddhistische Stud­i­en, Univ. of Vienna“, co-edit­or Wien­er Stud­i­en zur Tibet­o­lo­gie und Buddhismuskunde

2008–2009 and 2014–2020 Deputy Study Pro­gram Dir­ect­or, Fac­ulty of Philo­lo­gic­al and Cul­tur­al Stud­ies, Univ. of Vienna

1992–1999 Con­trib­ut­ing edit­or European Bul­let­in of Him­alay­an Research

1977 Found­ing mem­ber of the „Arbeit­skre­is für tibet­ische und buddhistische Studien“

1985–1986 Hum­boldt-schol­ar­ship, Insti­tut für Indo­lo­gie (Lam­bert Schmithausen), Uni­versität Hamburg.



1983 Dr. phil., Uni­ver­sity of Vienna

1975–1983 Tibetan and Buddhist Stud­ies, Insti­tute of Tibetan and Buddhist Stud­ies (Ernst Steinkell­ner); Indo­logy, Insti­tute of Indo­logy (Ger­hard Ober­ham­mer); His­tory of Arts (Her­mann Fil­litz) – all at the Uni­ver­sity of Vienna

1973–1975 Philo­sophy and Slav­ist­ics (Pol­ish), Uni­ver­sity of Vienna.