Csoma Kőrösi (1784 - 1842)
There can't be many Europeans whom Buddhists revere as a saint
but the Hungarian Sándor Csoma Kôrösi is one. His grave, which lies
at the foot of the Himalayas, is a place of pilgrimage and in Japan
a pagoda has immortalised his name. When the Dalai Lama visited
Hungary he also spoke of Kôrösi as being a saint, and if anybody
is qualified to make a pronouncement on this subject it is his Holiness.
Sándor Csoma Kőrösi was born in 1784 in the village of Kőrös in
the Transylvanian county of Háromszék, which is now part of Romania.
Members of his family served as border guards. At elementary school
Kôrösi was such a bright student that his teacher recommended him
for a place as a non fee-paying student at the famous Nagyenyed
Collage. He began his studies there in 1799 and after pasing his
final exams he stayed on at the school as a teacher until 1811.
Kőrösi had a gift for learning foreign languages but his main interest
was researching into the ancient homeland of the Hungarians. While
studying at Göttingen University he became hugely excited when he
came across a source that mentioned a people called "Hiung-nu",
who were the supposed ancestors of the Hungarians and about whom
there were chronicles kept in a Buddhist monastery in Lhasa in Tibet.
After his return home from university Kőrösi had only one aim -
to get to the monastery in Tibet as quickly as possible.After learning
Tibetan he set off in 1818 and travelled on foot through Turkey
He lived in Tibet from 1823 to 183O staying in various Buddhist
monasteries, sleeping in unheated monks' cells and living off gruel
and yak-butter tea. During this time he studied and made notes on
hundreds of scrolls. In addition, working for the East India Company,
he compiled English-Tibetan and Tibetan-English dictionaries and
wrote a book on Tibetan grammar with notes in 16 languages. In recognition
of Kőrösi's work the East India Company, which was preparing to
colonise Tibet, made him a member of the company and gave him a
post as librarian, while the Hungarian Academy of Sciences made
him a member of this illustrious body.
completing these scholarly works, in 1842, at the age of 58. he
set out for Tibet once more, intending to concentrate his studies
in the Dalai Lama's library in Lhasa on the ancient ancestors of
the Hungarians. Tragically, in Darjeeling, at the foot of the Himalayas
he contracted malaria and died. The Asiatic Society erected a commemorative
column beside his grave on which, in accordance with his wishes,
the following Latin inscription was carved :
Alexander Csoma de Kőrös
Sicolo - Hungarian
His grave is looked after by both India and Hungary. Some years
ago a pilgrim set out from Kőrösi's Székely homeland and made the
journey to his grave on foot. Today Kőrösi is recognised as the
founder of Tibetology.