Eminescu and Mahavira
K. Gajendra Singh
Romanians Yearning for Indian Culture and Spirituality
In the autumn of 1983 before the freezing cold set in , after visiting Romania’s Steel Complex at Galatsi (India sold 5 million tons of iron ore annually), I decided to go further north to Iasi, capital of Moldovia region (the northern half is the republic of Modovia since the collapse of the Soviet Union). At its university library, I was pleasantly surprised when shown an exercise book which had an almost complete translation of Panini’s grammar done in 1883, by Romania’s all-time great poet, novelist and journalist, Mihail Eminescu – a sort of Ghalib and Tagore rolled into one.
Eminescu, who was born (1850-1889) not far from Iasi, had studied Sanskrit at Berlin and had translated Ashtadhyayi to take his mind off his depression. This is not surprising since Sanskrit has been taught in Romania since 19th century and at Iasi itself up to early twentieth century.
Regarded as the most representative Romanian poet, Eminescu’s poems span a large range of themes, from nature and love to hate and social commentary. He was influenced by the work of Arthur Schopenhauer and his most notable poem, “Luceafarul” includes elements of Vedic Cosmogony. His poems have been translated in over 60 languages. He is considered the godfather of the modern Romanian language. He remained popular and accepted by even the Communist regime of Nikolai Ceausescu.
Poets and intellectuals like Eminescu, Mircea Eliade and S. Al-George have brought Indian philosophy, religion, art, history and poetry to Romania and acted as interpreters to the West. Eliade had studied Sanskrit and Indian philosophy at Calcutta and Shantiniketan in late 1920s and spent 6 months at an ashram in Rishikesh. Later he taught at Paris and Chicago and was a prolific writer on Raja Yoga, Indian philosophy and mysticism. He in fact was the first to bring Indian philosophy to America. But his book Maitreyi of his romantic liaison did cause considerable controversy. It was made into a film too. The author saw some of Maitri’s letters to Eliade.
In 1982, I attended an extraordinary display of Romanians doing Hath Yoga exercises, some of them over 70 years old. However the Communist regime stopped such classes. It did clarify that it had nothing against the system of Yoga. Later, in the wake of 1989 spontaneous uprising and overthrow of the Ceausescu regime, then taken over by the ex-communists and the military, it was revealed that Yoga classes were being used as a cover for clandestine meetings.
In 1983 and 1984, I organized many screenings of Attenborough’s film on Gandhi at the Residence. It was seen, apart from diplomats, by a large number of Romanian officials and party members including an old couple, who were senior to Ceausescu in the seniority list of party membership. The regime had banned the release of the film as the party line did not accept that non-violence can bring about a revolution.
When an Indian foreign minister with intellectual pretensions visited Romania in 1983, a list of Indian classics and books translated into Romanian and books written by Romanians on India was made. It filled 50 pages and covered a wide range; starting with Vedas, Upanishads, hymns, coins, history, geography, philosophy, culture and literature. It is easy to find complete works of Rabindranath Tagore, Prem Chand and others in Romanian. Tagore, who visited Romania in 1926, was a household name.
Many Romanians would visit the Embassy library and some, especially students, would request for unusual and difficult books on Raj Yoga and mysticism. Once, I queried one student. He said that while watch was kept on all Romanians visiting foreign missions, the regime was less intolerant of visitors to the Indian embassy. With books and knowledge banned or prohibited in the country, library books remained one of the only windows still open to them, he said.
Romanians are a highly cultured people with their theatre, ballet, and music developed at par with the best in the West in communist era. Before the 2nd World War, Bucharest was known as the Paris of the Balkans.
But the new Romanian generation is Western and consumer oriented. There is a sad story of Dr. Amita Bose, who had taught Sanskrit, Bengali and Indian culture in Bucharest for twenty years. She also translated Eminescu’s poems into Bengali. She died soon after the change of regime in Bucharest, unwanted in her country of adoption and unsung in India, whose cultural ambassador she had become. But she left behind thousands of students, many still pursuing Sanskrit studies and Indian philosophy. Indian films with socialistic themes starring Raj Kapoor used to be very popular in communist era. But now the Indian dance and song films with “dishim dishum” have replaced them on Romanian TV channels.
Below is a glimpse of interest in Indian culture and philosophy, an article by Prof. George Anca, an indefatigable Romanian in his efforts in bringing India and Romania closer. He taught Romanian language and literature at University of Delhi (1977-1984)
Between Mahavira and Eminescu:
Gandhian Jainism in Romania
By George Anca
Meeting Acharya Mahapragya, listening to His Words, reading his books, and especially understanding, all the way through, what happens with one’s mind and actual Ahimsa path of transformation of heart and thus of mankind itself were among life term achievements. Post-Gandhian career of non-violence appeared as a global re-foundation of urgent ahimsa practice, from a non-violent lifestyle to economics – e.g. hunger and poverty as sources of violence -, and spirituality in the light of Ahimsa Prashikshan. Instead of formal declarations we shared, tens and thousands of us, an intimate, almost silent consciousness change helped by most qualified trainers, under the guidance of Acharya Mahapragya and Uvacharya Mahashraman.
As a Romanian, I tried to spread the teachings of Rajsamand. I wrote afterwards a micro-novel – The Orissa Woman. Jain Poem – and I did a research on Ahimsa in Romanian literature from the ancient ballad Mioritsa/ The Little Lamb/ Memna (in Hindi) to the new Romanian Heysichasm, re-reading in ahimsa-key poets like Mihai Eminescu, Lucian Blaga, Vasile Voiculescu. Before Rajsamand I lectured, at Delhi University, on Mircea Eliade’s Centenary in the World, mentioning that he has introduced ahimsa concept in Romania and commented Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent revolution.
Mihai Eminescu (1850-1889) rewrote in Romanian on his own the beginning of the world from a sparkling point, as in Nasadya Sukta. Even a violent birth of cosmos has to be challenged. I wish Eminescu were in Rajsamand and see the tenth Terapanth Acharya, Mahapragya as a confirmation of his holy visions.
Climbing the Hill with thought to Tirthankaras and Terapanths, some of us got an increased feeling of Christmas on 25th December, few days after Id. Dr. Gandhi made clear once more our growth through Rajsamand encounter, a landarmakin our way to better humanity. Rudi sent here his Introduction to Jainism. Mezaki found similarities between Shinto and Dacian Zalmoxe. Gabriela spoke of enthusiasm in Rajsamand. Thomas reformulated his interfaith statement.
Vinod wrote me a letter just in Rajsamand. And I received in Bucharest from the editors – P.V. Rajagopal and S. Jeyapragasam – Ahimsa Nonviolence -, International Gandhian Institute for Nonviolence and Peace, Madurai, May-June 2007, including articles “Economics of Nonviolence and Peace” by Acharya Mahapragyaji, and “The Nonviolent Revolution – the Italian who embraced Gandhi’s Satyagraha to oppose Fascism and War-II” by Rocco Altieri.
“The search for spiritual salvation did not require Gandhi to retire to a cave as a hermit, for he carries the cave with him” (A. Capitini).
Romanian priest and scholar Constantin Galeriu speaks on Mahatma Gandhi as the only leader of revolutions who discovered the Savior, through Sermon on the Mount preaching to love one's enemies. He proved to his enemies that he loved them, even dying as a martyr. In his own words: “I think only evil should be hated not evil-doers even when I could be the victim”; “Not to admit and to detest your enemies’ mistakes should never rule out compassion, and even love for them”.
The same spirit was shared recently in Romania by the author of The man, his people and the empire: ‘What is freedom?’ probed one student after Rajmohan Gandhi’s address at a university in Baia Mare, a northern Romanian city of 130,000 that was once a major mining centre. Prof Gandhi replied that ‘if the state tells me what to do, I say I will resist. But if my conscience asks me not to do something, I want to obey it. Then I find I have inner freedom.’
For them, and his university audience, Gandhi highlighted four key points;
‘If you’re planning a strategy for a community or country, leave absolutely no-one out;
‘Have the courage to speak the truth to your own side;
‘Think a lot but also leave room for inspiration;
‘If you find hatred around you, fight it. If people are hating each other, reconcile them. If someone is hating you, forgive him.’ (Rob Lancaster, “Romania: Reaching out to young leaders” 22/04/2010).
On a blog on internet, Ion Burhan sees in Gandhi's satyagraha a way to make conscious some “social sins” of Romanian society such as: richness without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, gain without morals; science without humanism, religion without personal sacrifice, politics without principles.
An article by Satish Kumar on Jain religion, translated into Romanian, keeps in original the supplementary readings as for a global communion: Padmanabha Jaini, Jaina Path of Purification, Jawahar Nagar, Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidas, 1979. /Acharya Mahaprajna, Anekanta: The Third EyeLadnun, Rajasthan, India: Jain Vishva Bhavati, 2002. / Umasvati, That Which Is: Tattvartha Sutra, translated by Nathmal Tatia, San Francisco and London: Harper Collins, 1994. / Pratapaditya Pal, The Peaceful Liberators: Jain Art from India (1995). New York and London: co-published by Los Angeles County Museum of Artand Thames and Hudson. / Jan Van Alphen, Steps to Liberation: 2,500 Years of Jain Art and Religion (2000). Antwerp, Belgium: Etnografisch Museum.
On the site of Biblitheca publishing house is announced (May 2011) the last book issued in Romanian translation: Introducere in Jainism by Rudi Jansma and Sneh Rani Jain. Ahimsa - “the heart of Jainism” -, Gandhi – modern apostle of Jainism -, Karma are among keywords of the presentation for general public.
A letter sent to Romanian Parliament by Cristina María Speluzzi from Buenos Aires República Argentina is opened by a quotation from Gandhi:
Honorable Members of the Romanian Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
“The greatness and the MORAL progress of a nation can be judged by the way the animals are treated” - (M.K. Gandhi)
The dark specter of a death sentence for strays in Romania is again of major concern for people from all over the world…
Again, poor innocent animals are about to be legally massacred by the tens of thousands…
We found out that The Romanian Parliament’s Committee for Public Administration Territorial Planning and Ecological Balance intends to make a new law regarding the management of strays….and they want:
- the dogs captures by the dog catchers will be PTS after 14 or maximum 60 days (those considered dogs for fights, aggressive breeds will be PTS after 48h or 10 days ; those sick will be PTS immediately).
- sick animals will not be given for adoption.
- those who feed or take care of strays will be fined
- the minimum conditions for the captures, living quarters, transport, care (food and shelter) WILL BE ELIMINATED FROM the new law.
- the clear description of how the euthanasia will be done and what substances are to be used WILL BEELIMINATED FROM the new law…it will be replaced with ” the euthanasia will be done by a specialist “.
- the non-profit organizations for animal protection WILL HAVE NO RIGHT to complain about the living conditions of dogs in municipal shelters. The control will be done only by the Sanitary-veterinary Authority.
- the non-profit organizations for animal protection WILL HAVE NO RIGHT to capture, take care or spat/neuter strays.
In his book The Gandhian Mode of Becoming, Gujarat Vidyapith, Ahmedabad, 1998, Dr. Catalin Mamali adds to the “simple list” of comparison terms - Socrates, Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, Martin Luther, Thoreau, Ruskin, Tolstoy, Steiner, Marx, Tagore, Freud, Mao, Lenin, Savarkar, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mother Teresa - one more frame of reference: Niccolo Machiavelli. A special feature for a book on Gandhi published in India may be also the large number of Romanian authors in bibliography: Badina O, Blaga L, Botez M, Brucan S, Constante L, Draghicescu M,Eliade M, Gusti D, Herseni T, Ierunca V, Istrati P, Mamali C, Neculau A, PredaM, Zapan G.
“As a thinker and practitioner of politics Machiavelli had a profound influence on European political life. Seeking power through any means was the major principle of his philosophy.
As against this Gandhi preached and practiced ethical principles of purity of means for attaining his objectives. One can hardly imagine two completely opposite view points and their paths of life. (Govindbhai Raval, Vice Chancellor, in “Foreword”)
“Mamali’s book has one organizing axis a comparison of Gandhi with Machiavelli, for understanding both of them better, as each other’s contrast, dialectionally – not to end up telling the reader whom he should follow. Interestingly, they were both fighting for freedom of their lands. But to Machiavelli such giant tasks accrued to the Prince. To Gandhi the liberation could only be done by those who should be liberated; the people, not the way Machiavelli (and the Marxist tradition) saw them, as “masses,” as superficial admirers of success: hence to be led by feeding them with successes.” (Johan Galtung in “Introduction”).
In the end the author makes a pool - each of the 140 statements can be given grades between 1and 5 according to the readers’ degree of agreement or disagreement to the respective position. Here are some of satyagraha, ahimsa, but also aparigraha statements.
1. It is impossible to detach, to separate the ends from the means.
6. Any economy ignoring moral values is ultimately wicked and artificial.
8. The individual entrusted with a public mission should by no means accept valuable presents.
20. Any person willing to act in support of social welfare should never depend on public charity.
21. Only when a person is able to look at his/her own errors through a magnifying glass and at the others’ through a minimizing one, is he/she capable to correctly evaluate his/her and the others’ mistakes.
42. Centralization as a system is improper for the non-violent functioning, and organization of the society. It is hard to achieve a non-violent society within centralized systems.
47. Most of the people would rather forget their own father’s death than the loss of their fortunes.
50. Not to admit and to detest your enemies’ mistakes should never rule out compassion and even love for them.
55. The means should be in harmony with the purpose.
67. It is altogether difficult for a person living in dire poverty to achieve his moral development. Those who accomplish it in such strained circumstances are people of extraordinary ability.
73. Bad means cannot help attain good ends.
90. In my opinion any person who eats the fruits of the earth without sharing them with the others and who is of no use to the others is a thief.
96. Non-violence is indispensable to genuine economic development.
98. I think only evil should be hated not evil-doers even when I could be the victim.
99. In my opinion a person should never use friendship to gain favours.
112. I think that the most efficient means to have justice done is to do justice to my own enemy.
114. When many people live in dire poverty, it is of utmost importance to cultivate in all of us the mental attitude of not boasting objects and appliances which are denied to millions of people, and, consequently, to reorganize our lives in keeping with this mentality as fast as possible.
120. I think that each and every person should give up the desires to possession of as many things as possible.
124. Individuals should primarily use goods produced by indigenous economy.