One of my cultural heroes is Alexander CSOMA de Koros or Körösi Csoma Sándor (1784-1842), a Hungarian pioneer of Tibetan studies who was responsible for compiling the first Tibetan-English dictionary. Born in Transylvania (not too far from where I was born), CSOMA was an adept linguist (he spoke over 10 languages) and a fellow nomad in spirit. Inspired by the quest for the "original homeland of the Magyars (the way Hungarians call themselves) in Central Asia" that has been part of my countries cultural tradition, he set out on an adventure to follow up on a traditional lore recounting that there were Magyar tribes still living in Asia. Oral legends recorded at the times when the pagan Magyars were converted by Christian missionaries in the 11th century would claim that some of the tribes had stayed in Asia. People have to this day set out to find the roots of our nomadic tribal ancestors who came and settled in the Carpatian valley (Eastern Europe ) around 9 AD...what makes the search difficult is that being a tribal-oral society, there were no written document left by the Magyars, who claimed to have been part of the Scythian tribal empire (which included many other ethnic groups like Persians, Huns, Turks, Mongols and other Asiatic tribes). Recent research based on archeological & ethnomusicological evidence found some ethnic relatives of the Hungarians in Xinjiang, the north-western province of China, called UGARS, a now Muslim minority that used to have a similar shamanistic tradition to the pre-Christian Magyar tribes.
Long story short, CSOMA set out for the East on foot and traveled to the frontier Himalayan regions, Ladakh, but he never reached Tibet. In Ladakh, he studied under local Tibetan Buddhist teachers or lamas and compiled the first Tibetan-English dictionary and a Tibetan Grammar (both published 1834) while studying Buddhist texts. In 1842 set out again on quest for Magyar homeland, but died on the road in Darjeeling of malaria. You can find his writings that were composed by Csoma’s teachers at his request here.
He was later recognized as "Csoma Bosatsu, the Bodhisattva of the Western World" by Japanese buddhists who consecrated a Tibetan tanka (see above) and a statue to him.
For me, his story is not so much about 'looking for the ancestral land' but rather about 'finding home' in a country that offered him spiritual roots. As someone who believes in reincarnation, I have a hard time connecting my identity to my current ancestors alone, and I prefer to identify myself as an artist/spiritual nomad/soul traveler [we all go back to same cosmic source]. Tibet, this completely magic land with a tragic history, has always had a mysterious power over me. I've been drawn to the Tibetan visual and spiritual world since I was a child and had several dreams about living in the mountains as a young Tibetan boy. Once an isolated country with one of the most powerful, but hardly accessible traditions, the displacement of Tibetans by the Chinese government had inadvertently forced their Buddhist leaders to become the spiritual ambassadors of the world who have been playing a major role in elevating people's consciousness globally.
In our life and in the world "...the only way to break the chain reaction of confusion and pain and to work our way outward into the awakened state of mind is to take responsibility ourselves. If we do not deal with this situation of confusion, if we do not do something about it ourselves, nothing will ever happen. We cannot count on others to do it for us. It is our responsibility, and we have the tremendous power to change the course of the world's karma...As bodhisattvas...we are acknowledging that we are not going to be instigators of further chaos and misery in the world, but we are going to be liberators, bodhisattvas, inspired to work on ourselves as well as with other people."
- Chögyam Trungpa
/////////////////////////// In my new series, I will try to honor my spiritual debt to Tibet.