Theodor (Fyodor) I. Stcherbatsky was born on September 19, 1866, in the city of Kielce, Poland, the Russian Empire, where his father served at that time. His initial education was obtained in the gymnasium at Tsarskoye Selo, near St Petersburg, from which he graduated in 1884, after which he was admitted to the Historico-Philological Faculty of St Petersburg University.
His supervisor in linguistics and Sanskrit was Prof I.P.Minayev, the preeminent disciple of Prof V.P.Vassiliev, the founder of Russian Buddhology. Minayev's disciple, Prof S.F.Oldenburg, was also his teacher and they kept close academic contact throughout their lives. In 1889, Th.Stcherbatsky graduated from the University with excellent marks. He was given the degree of Candidate for the dissertation On Two Types of Glottal Consonants in the Indo-European languages [О двух рядах гортанных в индоевропейских языках] and remained at the University to be prepared for the professorship for Indology.
In 1889, he was also sent to Vienna to develop his academic skills. In Vienna he attended lectures on Sanskrit and Indology by Prof G. Bühler, a prominent expert in Indian poetics and Indian culture. He was the author of the famous Sanskrit textbook that was later translated into Russian by P. Ernstedt, this translation being edited by Th. Stcherbatsky and published in 1923. Under supervision of Prof G. Bühler, Th. Stcherbatsky studied the Grammar of Panini, Dharmashastra, some philosophical texts and Indian epigraphs. At the same time, he listened to lectures on general linguistics and interpretation of Vedic hymns by Prof F. Müller. His studies of poetics in Vienna were completed with the paper The Theory of Poetry in India [Теория поэзии в Индии], which made his name well-known. In this paper he paid special attention to the theory of dhvani, the secret content of poetical texts. Unfortunately, the paper was published only after the death of Prof G. Bühler.
In 1893, Th. Stcherbatsky returned to Russia, having become expert in Sanskrit and Indian poetical treatises. However, during several years he carried out no academic works, since he was engaged with social projects as a deputy from the nobility. Six years later, after his participation in the 12th International Congress of Oriental Studies in Rome, Th. Stcherbatsky returned to his Indological studies. The Congress held in Rome in 1899 was crucial for the development of worldwide Indology and Buddhology. A few accounts were presented on the discovery of unique artifacts of Buddhist culture in the oases of Tarim, such as beautiful works of arts and fragments of Buddhist MSS in Sanskrit and Tibetan, and they strengthened interest of scholars in the study of Northern Buddhism.
After the Congress Th. Stcherbatsky went to Bonn where he studied Buddhist philosophy under Prof Jakoby. His study there resulted in his solid knowledge of structure and stylistics of philosophical treatises.
In 1900, Th. Stcherbatsky came back to Russia and started teaching at the Department of Sanskrit, the Faculty of Oriental Languagesm St Petersburg University, succeeding Prof S. Oldenburg. He went on working there even after he became the academician. During several years, in early 1920s, he gave some classes at the Leningrad Institute for Modern Oriental Languages, too.
The first major work by Th. Stcherbatsky was the translation from Sanskrit, with systematic analysis, of logical system by the famous Buddhist teacher Dharmakirti (ca. the 7th century). The work, entitled Theory of Knowledge and Logic According to Later Buddhists [ Теория познания и логика по учению позднейших буддистов] was published in Russian in two vols. during 1903-09. European readers could evaluate this pioneering work much later, in German and French translations. Th. Stcherbatsky used it as a source for his major work, Buddhist Logic, which turned out to be a milestone in the history of Buddhology.
In 1903, Th. Stcherbatsky was elected as a member of the Russian Committee for the study of Central and Eastern Asia headed by Academician V.V. Radlow and S.F. Oldenburg. In spring of 1905, he was sent to Urga where the 13th Dalai Lama, Ngag dbang blo bzang thub bstan rgya mtsho, stayed at that time. Th. Stcherbatsky had a chance to meet the Buddhist hierarch and got his permission for the Russian scholarly expedition to come to Tibet. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, though, declined the application from Th. Stcherbatsky, so they failed to use the unique chance to get to the then secret land of Tibet. To a certain extent, his plans were realized by his disciple, B.B. Baradiyn who made an expedition to Amdo via Khalkha-Mongolia and Alashan region, during 1905-07. He visited Kumbum and Labrang monasteries in the Amdo area. His work program was developed by Th. Stcherbatsky and S. Oldenburg, and the Baradiyn expedition played an important role in the development of Russian Buddhology. It suffices to say that he brought to Petersburg about 200 volumes of rare Tibetan and Mongolian books published in Amdo along with the collection of Buddhist arts and ethnographic collection.
The deep study of Buddhist philosophy led Th. Stcherbatsky to the motherland of Buddhism, India. During 1910-11, he worked there, being sent by the Russian Committee. His stay in Bombay was rather fruitful. He managed to obtain the catalogue of the library that belonged to the great Jain scholar, Hemacandra, that even G. Bühler who had lived in Bombay for 17 years failed to do. Th. Stcherbatsky was very interested in Jain literary heritage because the Jains used to scrutinize and comment upon Buddhist treatises during the epoch of Buddhist flourishing in India. Th. Stcherbatsky was lucky enough to meet one of the local pundits who helped him to study philosophical treatises. Thus, he read all principal Nyaya treatises and translated some of them into English. Then he moved to Pune and visited the Deccan College where he made photocopies of two 13th century MSS by the well-known philosopher Udayana. In Benares he mostly studied the Mimamsa treatises. In early October of 1910 he visited Darjeeling and again met the 13th Dalai Lama. The latter invited Th. Stcherbatsky to visit Tibet and make copies of some unique Sanskrit mss kept at the monasteries of Lhasa and near Kailash. However, the Chinese authorities did not permit the Russian scholar to enter the country.
It is hard to overestimate the meaning of Th. Stcherbatsky’s Indian trip. It allowed him to get involved into the live oral tradition without which any serious research into philosophical and religious texts is almost impossible. In this sense he really followed his teacher, Prof I. Minayev, who spent many years travelling through India, Ceylon and Burma. The visit to India confirmed his admiration for its spiritual heritage.
Back in Russia, Th. Stcherbatsky started his research into the famous treatise by Vasibandhu such as Abhidharmakosha. He was stimulated by the meeting in Calcutta with D. Ross who was deciphering the fragments of Uigur MS of the treatise and, then, the news that A. Stein had discovered the entire Uigur text of Abhidharmakosha in Eastern Turkestan, that came later to Paris to S. Lévi. In December of 1912, Th. Stcherbatsky met S. Lévi in Paris and, after the consultations with L. de La Vallée-Poussin (Belgium), D. Ross (England) and U. Wogihara (Japan), the plan was developed to edit and translate the texts of Abhidharmakosha represented in Tibetan, Sanskrit, Uigur and Chinese versions along with some commentaries. Moreover, in 1914, Th. Stcherbatsky along with S. Oldenburg decided to start the series Pamyatniki indiyskoy filosofii (The Monuments of Indian Philosophy) that would include translations from Sanskrit and other Eastern languages into Russian and major European languages. Unfortunately, WW I crushed all these plans.
Th. Stcherbatsky wrote his major works that brought him worldwide fame after the 1917 Communist Revolution. In 1918, he was elected as an acting member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. In 1923, the paper The Central Conception of Buddhism and the Meaning of the Word "Dharma" based upon his extensive research into Abhidharmakosha was published in London by Royal Asiatic Society. In this paper he studied the central issue of early Buddhist philosophy such as the theory of dharmas, or elements of the being which constitute the stream of consciousness.
In 1927, The Conception of Buddhist Nirvana was published and crucially changed the understanding of the essence of the Doctrine of Mahayana. In his work, Th. Stcherbatsky made an attempt to expose the Mahayana conception of Buddha and Nirvana. For this purpose he used extensively his own translation of the first two chapters of Nagarjuna’s Madhyamaka-shastra and comments to it by Candrakirti. For many years his work served as a foundation for further Buddhological studies in this area.
While translating and studying the Buddhist texts, Th. Stcherbatsky never stopped his work for the organizing of expeditions to the East. Thus, in 1924, he was sent to Lake Baikal region by the Academy of Sciences to search for interesting Buddhist MSS kept at Buryat monasteries (datsans) and to establish contacts with local educated lamas. His disciples such as E.E. Obermiller, A.I. Vostrikov, M.I. Tubyansky and B.V. Semichov also carried out fieldwork in Lake Baikal region during 1927-31 which contributed much to the development of Russian Buddhology. Thus, E. Obermiller and A. Vostrikov who got acquainted closely with live religious tradition brought to St Petersburg a great number of Buddhist texts. In 1927, he developed plans to edit The Encyclopedia of Buddhism. In 1928, he headed the Institute for Studies of Buddhist Culture (ISBC) founded by the USSR Academy of Sciences.
ISBC united scholars of various disciplines, such as Sanskrit studies, Tibetology, Mongolian studies, Sinology, first of all E.E. Obermiller, A.I. Vostrikov, B.V. Semichov, B.A. Vassiliev and E.N. Kozerovskaya (later Sankrityayan). ISBC aimed at the comprehensive study of both Buddhist culture and its forms in the course of historical development, and its contemporary state of being in various lands. The same purpose was taken by the Indo-Tibetan Section of the Institute of Oriental Studies that was founded in 1930 after the merge of the Asiatic Museum, ISBC and the Turkological Section. The Section was headed by Th. Stcherbatsky.
Meanwhile, in 1928, Th. Stcherbatsky was elected as a member of the Society for Study of Buddhism (Gesellschaft für Buddhismus-Kunde) founded in Heidelberg by M. Walleser and was sent there to sign an agreement on the joint work of ISBC and the Heidelberg Society. A year later, Th. Stcherbatsky along with his disciple E. Obermiller edited the Sanskrit and Tibetan texts of Abhisamayalamkara, thus initiating the study of Prajñaparamita literature that was carried on by E. Obermiller.
The Buddhist studies of Th. Stcherbatsky resulted in the 2 vols. of his Buddhist Logic. The second volume, published in 1930, contained the revised translation of the treatise by Dharmakirti supplied with the commentary by Dharmottara and extensive notes by Th. Stcherbatsky. The first volume, based upon the data of the 2nd volume, presented the historical review and synthetic reconstruction of the entire building of later Buddhist philosophy.
The last work published by Th. Stcherbatsky was the translation from Sanskrit of five chapters of Madhyanta-vibhanga, one of the so-called Five Treatises of Maitreya.
It is essential also to mention another work that was initiated and edited by Th. Stcherbatsky, such as the translation from Sanskrit of Arthashastra, the treatise by Kautilya on statecraft, economic and military strategy. The translation was carried out by S. Oldenburg and the researchers who worked at the Indo-Tibetan Section of the Institute of Oriental Studies in early 1930s. It was edited only in 1959.
Th. Stcherbatsky was one of the editors of the worldwide famous series Bibliotheca Buddhiса, initiated by Russian scholars in late 19th century and aimed at the systematic edition of Buddhist texts in Sanskrit and other Oriental languages so as to make them available for the wider circles of the Orientalists all over the world. The first issue of the series, the edition of Shantideva’s Shiksha-samuccaya by Prof C. Bendall, published in 1897, was specially remarked by the decision of the Congress of Orientalists in Paris as an important and useful initiative of the St Petersburg Academy of Sciences.
During the life of Th. Stcherbatsky, 30 volumes were published in the series, including 11 edited by him. In 1936, the last issue of Bibliotheca Buddhica, the edition of Madhyanta-vinhanga by Th. Stcherbatsky, was published. In 1960, the USSR Academy of Sciences decided to revive the series and the editorial board headed by Professor G.N. Roerich sanctioned the edition of the 31th issue, the translation of Dhammapada by V.N. Toporov. In 1962, as the next issue of the series the monograph Tibetan Historical Literature by A.I. Vostrikov was published. This book, written in 1937, had been dedicated by the author to the 70th Anniversary of Th. Stcherbatsky’s birthday.
Theodor Stcherbatsky died on March 18, 1942, in Borovoye, Northern Kazakhstan, where he was evacuated along with other academics from Leningrad endangered by the German troops.
The scholarly merits of Academician Th. Stcherbatsky were highly appraised by his foreign colleagues. During the 1930s, he was elected as a member of the three oldest and most authoritative academic societies such as the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, London, the Asiatic Society of Paris, and the German Oriental Society, Berlin, as well as a corresponding member of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences.
Last but not least, Th. Stcherbatsky was one of the founders of Russian Indology and Buddhology. Among his students we can mention O.O. Rosenberg, E.E. Obermiller, A.I. Vostrikov, B.B. Baradiyn, M.I. Tubyansky, A.A. Staël von Holstein, P.V. Ernstedt, A.A. Freimann, B.V. Semichov, V.I. Kalyanov. At least three names, those by O. Rosenberg, E. Obermiller and A. Vostrikov, were internationally renowned academics.
Based upon the paper of B.V. Semichov and A.N. Zelinsky, Academician Fedor Ippolitovich Stcherbatsky [Академик Фёдор Ипполитович Щербатской], in – Th.I. Stcherbatsky, The Selected Papers on Buddhism [Избранные труды по буддизму]. Moscow, Nauka GRVL Publishers 1988, p. 15-41.
Translated by A. Zorin
Papers of Th. Stcherbatsky. Trans. by Harish C. Gupta, ed. with an Introduction by Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya. Calcutta, 1969. (Soviet Indological Series, № 2).
[Bibliotheca Buddhica XXX:] Madhyānta-Vibhanga. Discourse on discrimination between middle and extremes, ascribed to Bodhisattva Maitreya and commented by Vasubandhu and Sthiramati. Translated from Sanskrit by Th. Stcherbatsky. Moscow; Leningrad: the USSR Academy of Sciences Press, 1936. VIII, 106, 058 p.
[Bibliotheca Buddhica XXVI:] Stcherbatsky Th. Buddhist logic. In two vols. Vol. 1. Leningrad: the USSR Academy of Sciences, 1932. XII, 560 p.; Vol. 2, containing a translation of the short treatise of logic by Dharmakirti, and of its commentary by Dharmottara, with notes appendices and indices. Leningrad: the USSR Academy of Sciences, 1930. VI, 469 p.
[Bibliotheca Buddhica XXI. Pt. 2:] Sphutārthā Abhidharmakoçavyākhyā, the work of Yaçomitra, Second Koçasthāna. Pt. II / Ed. by prof. U. Wogihara and prof. Th. Stcherbatsky and carried through the press by E. E. Obermiller. Leningrad, Academy of Sciences of USSR, 1931, 96 p.
History of Buddhism (Chos-hbyung) by Bu-ston. Part 1. The Jewelry of Scripture. Translated from Tibetan by Dr. E.Obermiller. With an Introduction by Prof. Th.Stcherbatsky. Heidelberg 1931.
The Tibetan Translation of Abhidharmakoçakārikāh and Abhidharmakoçabhāşyam, the Treatises by Vasubandhu [Тибетский перевод сочинений VasubandhuТибетский перевод Abhidharmakoçakārikāh и Abhidharmakoçabhāşyam, сочинений Vasubandhu]. Vol. 2. Ed. by Th. Stcherbatsky. Leningrad, 1930. P. 97-192. (Bibl. Buddh., XX).
[Bibliotheca Buddhica XXIII:] Abhisamayālankāra-Prajñāparāmitā-Upadeša-Šāstra. The work of bodhisattva Maitreya / Edited, explained and translated by Th. Stcherbatsky and E. Obermiller. Fasciculus 1: Introduction, Sanscrit text and Tibetan translation. Leningrad, USSR Acaemy of sciences, 1929, XII, 112 p.
[Bibliotheca Buddhica XXV:] Indices verborum Sanscrit-Tibetan and Tibetan-Indices Verborum Sanscrit-Tibetan and Tibetan-Sanscrit to the Nyāyabindu of Dharmakīrti and the Nyāyabinduṭikā of Dharmottara / Compiled by E. Obermiller with a preface by Th. Stcherbatsky; from the edition of the Sanscrit and Tibetan texts by Th. Stcherbatsky. II. Tibetan-Sanskrit Index. Leningrad, USSR Academy of Sciences, 1928. 145 p.
[Bibliotheca Buddhica XXIV:] Indices Verborum Sanscrit-Tibetan and Tibetan-Sanscrit to the Nyāyabindu of Dharmakīrti and the Nyāyabinduṭikā of Dharmottara / Compiled by E. Obermiller with a preface by Th. Stcherbatsky; from the edition of the Sanscrit and Tibetan texts by Th. Stcherbatsky. I. Sanscrit-Tibetan Index. Leningrad, USSR Academy of Sciences, 1927.
Stcherbatsky Th. The Conception of Buddhist Nirvana. Leningrad, the USSR Academy of Sciences 1927, VI, 246 p.
Stсherbatsky Th. La théorie de la connaissance et la logique chez les bouddhistes tardifs. Trad. par. I. de Manziarly et P. Masson-Oursel. P., 1926, XI, 253 c. (Annales de Musée Guimet. Bibliotheque d’etudes, t. 36).
Stcherbatsky Th. Erkenntnis Theorie und Logik nach der Lehre der späteren Buddhisten / Aus dem Russischen übers. von O. Strauss. München – Neubiberg, 1924, VII, 296 c.
Stcherbatsky Th. The Central Conception of Buddhism and the Meaning of the Word “Dharma”. L., Royal Asiatic soc., 1923, 112 c. (Prise publ. fund., vol. 7).
[Bibliotheca Buddhica XXI. Pt. 1:] Sphutārthā Abhidharmakoçavyākhyā, the work of Yaçomitra. First Koçasthāna. Pt. I / Ed. by S. Levi and Th. Stcherbatsky. Petrograd 1918, VII, 96 p.
[Bibliotheca Buddhica VII:] Nyāyabindu, the Buddhist Manual of Logic, the Treatise by Dharmakīrti and its Commentary, Nyāyabinduṭīkā, the Treatise by Dharmottara. Ed. of the Sanskrit text, with Introduction and Notes by Th. Stcherbatsky [Nyāyabindu – Буддийский учебник логики. Сочинение Дармакирти и толкование на него. Nyāyabinduṭīkā. Сочинение Дармоттары / Санскритский текст издал с введ. и примеч. Ф.И.Щербатской]. Fasc. 1. Petrograd 1918.
[Bibliotheca Buddhica XX:] The Tibetan Translation of Abhidharmakoçakārikāh and Abhidharmakoçabhāşyam, the Treatises by Vasubandhu. Ed. by Th. Stcherbatsky [Тибетский перевод Abhidharmakoçakārikāḥ и Abhidharmakoçabhāṣyam сочинений Vasubandhu. Издал Ф. И. Щербатской]. Petrograd, 1917. V, 1–96 p. (I); Leningrad: the USSR Academy of Sciences Press, 1930. 97–192 p. (II).
[Bibliotheca Buddhica XIX:] The Tibetan Translation of the treatises Samtānāntarasiddhi by Dharmakīrti and Samtānāntarasiddhitīkā by Vinītadeva along with the Tibetan Commentary Written by Ngag dbang bstan dar lha rams pa. Ed. by Th. Stcherbatsky, with an Introduction. [Тибетский перевод сочинений Saṃtānāntarasiddhi Dharmakīrti и Saṃtānāntarasiddhiṭīkā Vinītadeva вместе с тибетским толкованием, составленным Агваном Дандар-Лхарамбой издал Ф. И. Щербатской]. Petrograd 1916, XVII, 129 p.
[Bibliotheca Buddhica XI:] Nyāyabindutīkāppaņī. The Commentary on Nyāyabindutīkā, the Treatise by Dharmottara Ed. of the Sanskrit text, with an Introduction and Notes by Th. Stcherbatsky [Nyāyabinduṭīkāṭippaṇī. Толкование на сочинение Дармоттары Nyāyabinduṭīkā / Санскритский текст с примечаниями изд. Ф. И. Щербатской]. St Petersburg, Typography of the Imperial Academy of Sciences, 1909. IV, 43, 5 p.
[Bibliotheca Buddhica VIII:] Nyāyabindu, the Buddhist Manual of Logic, the Treatise by Dharmakīrti and its Commentary, Nyāyabinduṭīkā, the Treatise by Dharmottara. Ed. of the Tibetan translation of the Sanskrit text, with Introduction and Notes by Th. Stcherbatsky [Nyāyabindu. Буддийский учебник логики, сочинение Дармакирти и толкование на него. Nyāyabinduṭīkā, сочинение Дармоттары / Тибетский перевод санскритского текста издал с введ. и примеч. Ф.И.Щербатской]. Fasc. 1. St. Petersburg: Typography of the Imperial Academy of Sciences, 1904, IV, 222 p.