Philosophical Studies (Sinology and lndology) in
St. Petersburg (Leningrad), 1985-1990
Torchinov, E. A
Philosophy East & West
Copyright by University of Hawaii Press
Studies in the field of history of Oriental philosophy in St. Petersburg
(Leningrad) have a long tradition. Such names as V. P. Vasyliev, O. O.
Rosenberg, T. I. Stcherbatsky (with his school), and J. K. Stchutsky, the
famous specialist in the Book of Changes, must be mentioned. At present,
the center of Oriental Studies in St. Petersburg is the Institute of Oriental
Studies (St. Petersburg branch), which continues the traditions of the
former Asiatic Museum. Stalin's repressions and the suspicious attention
of the post-Stalin state and its academy's leaders toward studies of
nonmaterialistic systems and religious thought prevented the normal
development of such researches. Nevertheless, the level of scholarship
among St. Petersburg researchers has been rather high and scholars'
attitudes toward the problematics of classical Orientalistics has saved
them from the dangers of vulgar sociologism and other such conse-
quences of totalitarianism in scholarship. The focus of their studies has
been the analysis of texts--research on ancient manuscripts (Dunhuang
and others). Only around 1980 did problems of culture become more and
more important for these scholars. Historico-philosophical studies were
considered to be an integral part of such researches, and a new period
of development began.
The core of historico-philosophical investigations in the field of
Sinology and lndology in the IOS is a group of scholars in Buddhist studies
established in 1986 and reorganized in 1987. Its members include V. I.
Rudoy (the head of the group), E. P. Ostrovskaya M. E. Ermakov, and me.
V. I. Rudoy and E. P. Ostrovskaya are lndologists, and other members of
the group are Sinologists.
The methodological foundations of the research undertaken by this
group were established by Rudoy and Ostrovskaya in 1984-1986.
1. The Principle of Polymorphism. The thesis of the polymorphic struc-
ture of lndian Buddhist as well as Brahmanical texts was formulated
on the basis of an examination of different texts of Nyaaya-vai`se.sika
(Anambhatta`s Tarkasa.mgrahadipikaa).Sa.mkhyaa-yoga (Pata~njali`s "Yoga-
suutra" and Vyasa`s commentaries on it), and the Buddhist Abhidharma
(Vasubandhu's Abhidharmako`sa). According to this theory, lndian philo-
sophical texts contain three levels of meaning: doctrine itself, a logico-
discursive level, and the discipline of psychotechnique.These levels are
interconnected and interconditioned. Doctrine (religious doctrine) is piv-
otal in the system. It is uncritically inherited from its religious context
(Buddhist or Brahmanistic), and is represented in the texts by the so-called
ideologems or polysomic quasi-terms. The main ideologems are common
for Buddhist and Brahmanical traditions: (1) karma, (2) aatman (in Bud-
dhism, anaatman) and (3) mok.sa (in Buddhism, nirvaa.na). The predomi-
nance of religious doctrine in the philosophical text is a reflection of
the social position of the traditional thinker, usually a member of some
monastic community or an ascetic yogin. This is also the reason for a total
absence of atheistic systems (in the sense of denying religious values) in
classical lndian philosophy. But this doctrine did not exclude the presence
of some elements of materialistic ideas. The doctrine determined the
borders of philosophical discourse, which could not transcend the ideo-
logical limits of religious "dogmas." For example, the Buddhists and Brah-
manists denied or defended the substantialist principle, not because of
their philosophical sympathies, but because of their doctrinal attitudes:
the Buddhist doctrine of anaatmavada determined the total elimination
of the substantialist principle in Buddhist philosophy, and the Brahmani-
cal doctrine of eternal self made the Brahmanical thinker an ardent
The logico-discursive or philosophical level originated with the neces-
sity of explaining the principles of the doctrine to neophytes or of defend-
ing them in debates with opponents. But in the course of time, philosophy
(though limited by its doctrinal framework) became a relatively indepen-
dent form of mental activity directed at solving its own specific problems.
Psychotechnique (yoga) is the level connected with the realization of
the religious pragmatics of the system, or with the attainment of a special
altered state of consciousness in accordance with the school's teachings
about liberation. Liberation was also one of the main religious doctrines
of the lndian religions, and the goal of their yogic practices. So the
psychological problems connected with the idea of liberation became
extremely important for philosophy as well. The philosophers analyzed
and described ordinary states of consciousness, keeping in mind the
question of its transformation into the liberated psyche of the perfect
yogin. For this reason psychology was the main subject of lndian philoso-
phy, just as ontology was the main concern of ancient Greek philoso-
phy. In lndian philosophy, ontology was derivative of religious doctrine,
and hence an element of philosophical thinking of only secondary
Psychotechnique also provided philosophy with the raw material for
its psychological speculations.
The theory of structural polymorphism has also served as the basis
for resolving the problem of the relationship between religion and philo-
2. The Hermeneutical Procedure. The hermeneutical procedure replaces
the philological method of translating and interpreting the philosophical
text with a method based on the understanding of technical terms and
their meaning in the context of the system investigated. The first point
of interpretation is the terminology test; after the terms and their meaning
are established, it is possible to translate the text. Then follows the
interpretation of the text in the context of the system studied, looking at
it from an internal perspective. The final step, then, is to interpret the
system from the point of view of contemporary historico-philosophical
A very important concern here is to establish those criteria for decid-
ing which texts are to be studied and translated. Preferable are those texts
which were authoritative for the tradition itself. Later texts are favored
over earlier ones because they include in some implicit form the material
and problematics of the earlier texts. A study of the chosen text must
reconstruct the whole system as it was developed during the period of
the composition of the text. So the text should ideally be representative.
The sum total of such synchronic reconstructions in diachronic perspec
tive is nothing other than the history of the philosophical system.
The system cannot be isolated from how it functioned in its historico-
philosophical and cultural context. For example, the Nyaaya-Vai'se.sika
principle of the difference between the substance and the qualities it
possessed cannot be understood without studying Buddhist polemics.
3. Directions in the Evolution of Buddhism. Indian classical forms of Buddhism
can be seen as normative, paradigmatic forms for regions in which this
religion was spreading (China and Tibet). The Buddhist tradition was formed
in the process of interaction between it and native forms(substrate forms)
of spiritual culture: Daoism, Confucianism and folk religions in China,
the Bon complex in Tibet, and so on. In these regions, Buddhism represented
not only itself but the integrity of the Indian spiritual tradition
as well. In the regions of the secondary reception of Buddhism (for example,
Japan and Mongolia), Buddhist traditions were formed through the same
process of interaction (with Shinto or Shamanism), but Buddhism in
these latter regions represented not only India, but also the cultures
of the regions of the primary reception of Buddhism (China for Japan,
and Tibet for Mongolia). The degree of transformation of Buddhism is thus
determined in important measure by the degree of maturity of the culture
of the country of primary reception. Chinese culture, for example,
transformed Buddhism much more than the Tibetan culture did.
4. The Problem of Buddhist Cosmology. The importance of this area for
the group is connected with an important program of studies in the field
of Buddhist cosmology (the joint monograph The Buddhist World View is
now under way). The main methodological problems have been addressed by
E. P. Ostrovskaya. They include the questions of interaction
between mythological and logical modes of thinking, the "cosmological
mind" as a result of such interaction, the problem of cosmological
categories as derivative of mythological thinking, and so on. Especially
portant is the problem of understanding the Buddhist cosmos as a
"psychocosm" in which the different levels of consciousness of living
creatures and the different levels of yogic contemplation correspond
with some objective reality. The study is based on the third cosmological
chapter of the Abhidharmako'sa (Rudoy and Ostrovskaya) and includes
in itself an analysis of the interaction between the Buddhist and the
native world views in China (Torchinov) and the cosmology of Chinese popular
The range in the research of this group is much broader than Buddhist
studies: Rudoy and Ostrovskaya are very much involved in Brahmanical studies,
and Torchinov does research in Daoism as well.
Besides individual articles, the members of the group are publishing
Anambhatta's Tarkasa.mgrahadipikaa.This monograph includes a foreword,
translation, commentaries, and an historico-philosophical reconstruction
of its contents.
V.I.Rudoy in 1990 published his studies on the first chapter of the
Abhidharmako'sa. it is the first translation of the text from its original
Sanskrit. The book includes an article dedicated to outlining the history
of classical lndian Buddh'ist philosophy, a translation of the text,
commentaries, a study of the text, the publication of Sanskrit, Tibetan, and
Chinese versions of the text, and a Sanskrit-Tibetan-Chinese terminological
glossary. In his study, Rudoy analyzes such important terms as dharma and
nirvaa.na, and suggests his own quite original interpretations of them.
For example, dharma for Rudoy is the designation not only of elements on
a psychic continuum, but a unit of description of these elements as well. So,
Buddhist thinkers solved the problem of "the paradox of psychic processes,"
where descriptions of psychic conditions are necessarily reflexive, by relying
on the psychic conditions of another person or some outer subject.
In Abhidharma, psychic conditions are considered to consist of dharmas,
and these dharmas are taken as verbal units of description. It must be
noted that this study is the first after Stcherbatsky's attempt to pursue
research in Buddhist philosophy based on original texts.
M. E. Ermakov has finished a study and partial translation of Hui-jiao's
Biographies of the Eminent Monks (Cao-seng zhuan), and has begun to study popular
Buddhist cults and beliefs from Chinese materials of the fourth to sixth
Daoism as an organized religion is the general theme of studies by
E. A. Torchinov. His research also addresses the relationship between
Daoism and science in China. Torchinov has criticized the traditional
conception of Daoist religion as a degradation of ancient "philosophical
Daoism" (in reality there was "Daoist philosophy," but there was no
"philosophical Daoism"--the part cannot be taken for the whole). Now
he is working out the conception of the unity of Daoism as complex
cultural phenomenon. In the center of his studies are such texts as Ge
Hong's Baopu-zi, Yinfu jing, Cuanyin-zi, and the Wu Zhen Pian (Chapters
on the Understanding of Truth) of Zhang Boduan. Torchinov has finished
a book, Daoism: The Sources, Evolution, and History of the Development
of the Doctrine, which is awaiting publication. This book includes a
consideration of some general problems in Daoist studies (the relation-
ship between religion and philosophy in Daoism, Daoism and folk religion,
and so on), an outline of the history of Daoism, and a brief analysis
of some important points of Daoist teaching (cosmology, philosophical
categories, the theory of immortality and Daoist practice, and so on).
Torchinov is interested in the problems of Buddhist-Daoist interac-
tion. He considers the main result of this exchange on the philosophical
level to be the influence of original Chinese naturalistic organicism and
cosmicism on Buddhist psychologism, which then stimulated metaphysi-
cal speculations on the part of Chinese Buddhist schools with their
Torchinov also studies the ideas of the Chan and Huayan thinker,
Zong-mi(780-841), and has two publications on Vietnamese Chan
The contribution of the scholar, V. S. Spirin must be noted in the field
of general methodological and historico-philosophical studies. In his basic
work, The Structure of Ancient Chinese Texts (1976), he as a pioneer
explored the ideological significance of formal structures (parallelism,
syntax, and so on) in classical Chinese philosophical texts. He also identi-
fied a connection existing between Chinese philosophy (appearing first of
all in textual structures) and mathematics. He protests against the wide-
spread assumption that a developed formal logic was absent in ancient
(the Warring States period) Chinese philosophy. V. 5. Spirin is presently
working on a translation and historico-philosophical research of the Yi
jing(Book of Changes), applying his structuralist approach. The research
of Spirin has exerted an influence on some of the Moscow Sinologists, the
leader of whom is A. I. Kobzev. But Kobzev denies the scientific character
of textual structures, considering them to be the product of pseudo-
mathematical operations with numbers and figures, most of them paired,
in the construction of philosophical texts.
An important part of the research into Chinese spiritual culture is the
study of the categories of the culture--its "mentality." This problem is
one of the leading subjects of study by the St. Petersburg Sinologist-
historians Y. L. Kroll and A. S. Martynov. Kroll studies conceptions of time
and space in Chinese culture, the conception of historical process in
Chinese historiography, the type of thinking ("correlative thinking") of the
ancient Chinese, and so on.
The study of conceptions of "historical process" and "historical time"
is also represented by Martynov. He is examining the official ideology of
imperial China, which he distinguishes from Confucianism and calls
"imperial" (or the emperor's) ideology. He also studies the interaction of this
official ideology of imperial China with Confucianism (as an ideology of
the ruling bureaucracy) and Buddhism (as an ideological structure of
primary non-Chinese origin which is trying to "desacralize" the sacred
cosmos of Chinese culture). The state position on Chinese Buddhism is
also reviewed in Martynov's studies.
The influence of religious Buddhism and Daoism on Chinese culture
(especially the literature of the third through the sixth centuries) is
studied by M. E. Kravtsova. She has also paid some attention to the cultural
meaning of the famous debate on the "indestructibility of the spirit" (shen
mie-shen bu mie), which occurred in China during the fifth and sixth
In these changing times, Sinological and lndological research is becoming
increasingly important in the academic life of St. Petersburg.
2 - V. I. Rudoy,"On the Reconstruction of the Matrikas (Number Lists)
of Abhidharma,"in History and Culture of Central Asia (Moscow, 1983).
3 - E. P. Ostrovskaya, Anambhatta: Tarka-sa.mgraha (Compendium of Discourses)
Tarka-dipikaa (Explanations to the Compendium of Discourses), vol.
85 of Monuments of Oriental Scriptural Culture (Moscow, 1989).
4 - V. I. Rudoy, Vasubandhu, Abihidharmako'sa Part 1: Analysis According to
the Classes of Elements, vol. 86 of Monuments of Oriental Scriptural
Culture, and vol. 35 of Bibliotheca Buddhica (Moscow, 1990).
5 - M. E. Ermakov, "Biographical and Hagiographical Literature of Early
Chinese Buddhism," in Buddhism: Problems of History, Culture, and the
Current Situation (Moscow, 1990).
6 - E. A. Torchinov, "The Main Directions of the Evolution of Daoism in the
Liuchao Period: On the Materials of Ge Hong's Treatise Baopu-zi," in
Dao and Daoism in China (Moscow, 1982); "Daoist Philosophy in the Texts
of Religious Daoism: On the Materials of Yinqfu jing and
Chapters on the Understanding of Truth by Zhang Boduan," in Social
and Philosophical Aspects of the Critics of Religion (Leningrad. 1985);
"Ethics and Ritual in Religious Daoism: Chapters on the Understanding of
Truth by Zhang Boduan," in Ethics and Ritual in Traditional China (Moscow,
7 - E. A. Torchinov. "Daoist-Buddhist lnteraction: Theoretical and
Methodological Problems," in the Journal of the Peoples of Asia and
Africa 2 (1988).
8 - E. A. Torchinov, "Reflections on Hiinayaana and Mahaayaana in the
traditional historico-philosophical treatise, Yuan ren lun, by Zong-mi,"
in History of Philosophy Yearbook 1989(Moscow, 1989).
9 - V. S. Spirin, The Structure of Ancient Chinese Texts (Moscow, 1976).
10- Y. L. Kroll, "The Discourse of Sima Qian on the 'Six Schools," in China.
History, Culture and Historiography (Moscow, 1979); "The Problem of
Time in Chinese Culture and Huan Kuan's Dircourse on Salt and iron," in
The History of Traditional Chinese Ideology (Moscow, 1984).
11- A. S. Martynov, "Buddhism and the Confucianists, Su Dongpo and Zhu Xi," in
Buddhism: State and Society in the Countries of central and Eastern Asia
during the Middle Ages (Moscow, 1982), "State and Religion in the Far East,"
in Buddhism and State in the Far East (Moscow, 1987).
12- M. E. Kravtsova, "Buddhist Poetry of Early Medieval China," in Buddhism:
Problems of History, Culture, and the Current Situation (Moscow, 1990).
13- The philosophical significance of Russian classical Buddhist studies should
also be mentioned--names such as V. I. Rodoy, T. I. Stcherbatsky, and
T. V. Ermakova. See, for example, T. V. Ermakova, "The Scientifico-
Theoretical Heritage of O. O. Rosenberg: A Critique on Europocentric
Attitudes," in Buddhism: Problems of History, Culture and the Current
Situation (Moscow, 1990).