Karl Eugen Neumann

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Karl Eugen Neumann

Karl Eugen Neumann (October 18, 1865 in Vienna; - October 18, 1915) was the first translator of large parts of the Pali Canon of Buddhist scriptures from the original Pali into a European language (German) and one of the pioneers of European Buddhism. When Neumann was born, his father, Angelo Neumann, was a tenor at the Vienna Court Opera. His mother Pauline née Mihalovits was the daughter of a Hungarian noble family. He received higher education in Leipzig, where his father had become manager of the Leipzig City Theatre in 1876. Soon after starting a banker's career in Berlin in 1882, Neumann came across the works of Arthur Schopenhauer. From 1884 he became absorbed in philosophical works and showed great interest for the Indian sources that had inspired Schopenhauer. He turned his back on banking and started to attend a college in Prague. By 1887 Neumann was back in Berlin, studying Indology, Religion and Philosophy at the university there.

Soon after his marriage to Camilla née Nordmann from Vienna, Neumann went to Halle and in 1891 finished his thesis on a Pali text. In the same year he published Zwei buddhistische Suttas und ein Traktat Meister Eckharts ("Two Buddhist Suttas and a treatise of Meister Eckhart"). In 1892, after returning to Vienna, Neumann published an anthology of texts from the Pali Canon in German on the occasion of Schopenhauer’s 104th birthday. Having finished a translation of the Dhammapada in 1893, Neumann realized his great desire to visit the original countries of Buddhism. For a few months he traveled through India and Ceylon, meeting members of the sangha, such as the monk Sumangala Maha Thera and Lama Dondamdup. Besides praise for the knowledge and learning of monks, he also found critical words for what he considered an adulteration and watering down of the original teaching of the Buddha. Back in Vienna in 1894 he took up a post at the Oriental Institute as an assistant to the indologist Georg Bühler.

Within the next few years Neumann translated and published the Majjhima Nikaya in three volumes. In 1896 he began a friendship and lively correspondence with Giuseppe De Lorenzo (it) (1871-1957) from Bari. De Lorenzo translated Neumann’s works into Italian and thus became one of the pioneers of Italian Buddhism. In 1906 Neumann lost his fortune in a bank crash and even had to sell (temporarily) the highly esteemed Siamese edition of the Tipitaka, given to him as a present by Chulalongkorn, the king of Siam. His financial situation slightly improved through the legacy after his father's death. In 1907 he published the first volume of the Digha Nikaya with Piper in Munich.

In 1915 Neumann died on his 50th birthday in poverty and is buried at Vienna Central Cemetery. His grave, forgotten and neglected for two generations, came to light again by the end of the 20th century and is being attended to by the Buddhists of Vienna.

Literature[edit]

  • Hecker, Hellmuth (1986) Karl Eugen Neumann. Erstübersetzer der Reden des Buddha, Anreger zu abendländischer Spiritualität. Wien: Octopus-Verlag. (detailed biography)
  • Neumann, Karl Eugen, trans. (1922): Die Reden Gotamo Buddhos, aus der mittleren Sammlung Majjhimanikayo des Pali-Kanons, 3 Vol, R. Piper, München. (Bd.1, Bd.2, Bd.3)
  • Neumann, Karl Eugen, Der Wahrheitpfad, Dhammapadam; ein buddhistisches Denkmal, München, R. Piper 1921.
  • Neumann, Karl Eugen (1899). Die Lieder der Mönche und Nonnen Gotamo Buddho's, Berlin, E. Hofmann & co.
  • Neumann, Karl Eugen (1911). Die Reden Gotamo Budhos, aus der Sammlung der Bruchstücke Suttanipato des Pali-Kanons, München R. Piper.

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