Ancient Indian Wisdom as the Foundation Stone of Andrej Belyj’s Theory of Symbolism

The role of German classical philosophy, Anthroposophy, Russian religiously oriented philosophy and French Symbolism in the development of the Russian Symbolist movement is well recognised. Up till now, however, another component of its ideology has been forgotten—the ideas of ancient Indian philosophy. My presentation is going to be focused on some Indian ideas which Andrej Belyj knew and used in his writings on the theory of Symbolism.

In this paper two extremely interesting articles written by Belyj are chosen to exemplify the Indian influence on Russian Symbolist thought. They are “Èmblematika smysla” from the collection Simvolism (1910) and “Krizis soznanija” (1920) which is still unpublished as a whole work and its manuscript is kept in RGALI: f.53, op.1, n.81 (the last paragraphs of this manuscript, from 87 till 120, have been published under the title “Evangelie kak drama” in Moscow, 1996).

As has been already mentioned this subject is new in the history of Belyj studies. According to existing bibliographies, there are some published works where Belyj`s theoretical heritage is discussed from the philosophical point of view. Among the researchers of these aspects of Belyj`s creative works are Maria Carlson, Steven Cassedy, John Elsworth, Roger Keys, John Kopper and Avril Pyman. It appears that Maria Carlson`s approach in her investigation of the influence and the participation of some Russian Symbolist writers in the Theosophical movement is more similar to mine than anyone else’s.

According to Bely`s own words, his theory of Symbolism is based on German and Eastern ideas, Indian in particular (see “Èmblematika smysla,” paragraph 1). My hypothesis is that the conceptual roots of Belyj`s theory are to be found in certain ideas from the Vedanta, one of the ancient systems of Indian philosophy, and Buddhism. (The subject of German influence on Belyj`s Symbolism is very well discussed in Steven Cassedy`s articles from the collection Spirit of Symbolism edited by John Malmstad (New York, 1987).) Evidence to support this statement is in Belyj`s theoretical works, for instance in the following themes, which are originally Indian:

1)“Tat tvam asi” (I am you);
2) perception of the world as an illusion;
3) karmic ideas and re-incarnation;
4) meditation and yoga.

For example, in “Emblematika smysla” Belyj writes that Hindu ideas of Parabrahman come close to the concept of Symbol. In this case the famous statement from the Chandogya Upanishad, “I am you,” is echoed in Belyj`s axiom “the unity is the symbol.” Methodologically his construction of the pyramid of meaningful emblems is a reproduction of the Indian trinity of Brahman-Atman-atman.

Further evidence of Belyj`s intention to use certain ideas from Indian philosophy is found in “Krizis soznanija.” This time he approaches the domain of Buddhist thought. In order to solve contemporary epistemological problems he turns to one of its crucial ideas, which is the statement of the identity of the objective and subjective worlds. Belyj argues for a close connection between the theory of personal mind and the theory of knowledge. Also, discussing the Gospel of St. John in detail, Belyj writes that the only path to a new consciousness leads through meditation and yoga. Besides epistemological questions religious issues are addressed in this manuscript. In Belyj`s opinion, the religious crisis of the turn of the twentieth century, associated with ideas of the imminent Apocalypse, might also be overcome with the ideological help of Indian philosophy. Together with other Symbolist writers and philosophers of his generation Belyj argues that ideas of karma and re-incarnation are relevant for the restoration of Christian belief. (See paragraph 116 in “Krizis soznanija.”)

In conclusion I repeat that my intentions here are to emphasize the importance of basic Indian ideas about the spiritual integration between the Universe and the human being in Belyj`s creation of the theory of Symbolism. They do not reduce the role of contemporary European thought about the nature and origin of the Universe and the meaning of history in Belyj`s ideas. On the contrary, I argue that it is the fusion of Eastern and Western components that accounts for the particular character of Belyj`s philosophical heritage.