The Info List - Edward Conze

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EBERHART (EDWARD) JULIUS DIETRICH CONZE (1904 – September 24, 1979) was an Anglo -German scholar probably best known for his pioneering translations of Buddhist


* 1 Life and work * 2 Legacy * 3 Publications * 4 Notes * 5 References * 6 External links


Conze was born in London
of mixed German , French , and Dutch ancestry. His father belonged to the German landed aristocracy , and his mother to what he himself would have called the "plutocracy". His background was Protestant
, though his mother became a Roman Catholic in later life. He seems to have had a rather difficult relationship with his mother. Conze claimed to be related to Friedrich Engels
Friedrich Engels

He was born in England because his father happened to be posted there as German Vice-Consul, but this meant that he had British nationality. He was educated at various German universities, graduating with a Ph.D. from the University of Cologne in 1928, he then proceeded to carry out post doctoral studies in comparative European and Indian Philosophy at the University of Bonn and the University of Hamburg . Conze had a talent for learning languages and picked up fourteen of them, including Sanskrit
, by age 24. Like many other Europeans, he came into contact with Theosophy early in life. He also took up astrology , and remained a keen astrologer throughout his life. While still a young man, he wrote a substantial book called _The Principle of Contradiction_.

Conze opposed Hitler
's rise to power, joining the Communist Party and seriously studying Marxist thought. For a while he was the leader of the communist movement in Bonn
, and his autobiography, _Memoirs of a Modern Gnostic _, talks about organizing communist street gangs in Hamburg
, which briefly put his life in danger.

In 1933 he came to England, having earlier taken the precaution of renewing his British nationality, and he arrived at the age of 29, virtually without money or possessions. He supported himself by teaching German and taking evening classes, and he became a member of the Labour Party . He met many prominent figures and intellectuals in the Labour movement and was not impressed. However, Secretary of State for Education , Chair of the Labour Party and MP Ellen Wilkinson did impress him, and the two later published two books together entitled _Why War?_ and _Why Fascism?_.

Conze became very active in the socialist movement in Britain, lecturing and writing books and pamphlets, until eventually becoming disillusioned with politics. At 35 he found himself in a state of intellectual turmoil and collapse. Even his marriage had failed. Indeed, in his memoirs he admits "I am one of those unfortunate people who can neither live with women nor without them."

From 1933 until 1960 he lectured in psychology, philosophy and comparative religion at the University of London
and the University of Oxford
. Between 1963 and 1973 he held a number of academic appointments in England, Germany
and the United States, including a significant amount of time as a Visiting Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Lancaster .

At this point he discovered – or rather rediscovered – Buddhism
. When 13 years old he had read _Gleanings in Buddha Fields_ by Lafcadio Hearn . However, Conze's first significant contact with Buddhism
was at this midpoint in his life, at the beginning of the Second World War , through the writings of D.T. Suzuki . Conze was a student of Max Walleser (1874-1954), an Indologist, Tibetologist and Sinologist who lectured at Heidelberg University.

Once intrigued, Conze devoted the rest of his life to Buddhism
, and in particular to translating the _ Prajnaparamita
_ or _Perfection of Wisdom_ sutras, which are the fundamental scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism. In these transactions he was inspired by the work of his teacher Walleser who published his own study on the Prajnaparamita: _Prajñápáramitá, Die vollkommenheit der erkenntnis, nach indischen, tibetischen und chinesischen quellen_ (1914). However, he wasn't just a scholar in the academic sense. During the war he lived on his own in a caravan in the New Forest
New Forest
and practised meditation , following very seriously the instructions given by Buddhaghosa in the _ Visuddhimagga _, and allegedly achieving some degree of meditative experience. Being brutally honest, especially about himself, he would confess in his later lectures in America that he was just a Buddhist scholar and not a monk and therefore people should not be disappointed if his actions and behaviors did not live up to the Buddhist
ideal. Reflective of Conze's prominent position as a Buddhist
is the fact that he served as vice president of the Buddhist

After the war he moved to Oxford
and remarried. In 1951 he published _Buddhism: Its Essence and Development_, a very successful book, which is still in print. However, his real achievement over the following twenty years was to translate over thirty texts comprising the Prajnaparamita
sutras, including two of the most well-known of all Buddhist
texts, the _ Diamond Sutra
Diamond Sutra
_ and the _ Heart Sutra _.

In the 1960s and '70s he met with university students of Buddhism
in Canada
and lectured at several universities in the United States
United States
; he was appreciated by his students. However, he was very outspoken, and gained the disapproval of the university authorities and some of his colleagues. With the combination of his Communist past and his candid criticism of American involvement in Vietnam
, he was eventually obliged to leave. He died on September 24, 1979 in the Yeovil General Hospital ( Sherborne , Dorset


Conze was a Middle European intellectual refugee, fleeing from Germany
before the war like many others. However, he wasn't representative of the dominant strains in 20th-century intellectual life, being very critical of many trends in modern thought. He was a self-confessed elitist. Indeed, he entitled his autobiography _Memoirs of a Modern Gnostic_, believing as he did that Gnosticism was essentially elitist . Neither did he approve of democracy or feminism .

He is certainly representative of a Western pre-war generation that became disillusioned with Marxism, especially in its Soviet form. Where he differed from others was in the fact that he did not really lose religious beliefs. He transferred his idealism from politics to Buddhism

Dr. Conze has been called "the foremost Western scholar of the Prajnaparamita
literature." It is especially significant that as a scholar of Buddhism
he also tried to practice it, especially meditation. This was very unusual at the time he started his work, and he was regarded as eccentric in the 1940s and 1950s – objective scholars were not supposed to have any personal involvement in their subject. He was hence a forerunner of a new strain of Western scholars in Buddhism
who are practicing Buddhists.


* _Why War?_ (1934) - with Ellen Wilkinson * _Why Fascism?_ (1934) - with Ellen Wilkinson * _The Scientific Method of Thinking: An Introduction to Dialectical Materialism_ (1935) * _An Introduction to Dialectical Materialism_ (1936) * _Spain To-day: Revolution and Counter Revolution_ (1936) * _Contradiction and Reality: A Summary_ (1939) * _Buddhism: Its Essence and Development_ (1951) * _Abhisamayālaṅkāra_ (1954) * _Selected Sayings from the Perfection of Wisdom_ (1955) * _The Buddha's Law Among the Birds_ (1956) * _ Buddhist
Meditation_ (1956 ">

* ^ _Memoirs of a Modern Gnostic_ Part II pg 2; Part I pg 27; Part II pgs 109-110 * ^ "Memoirs of a Modern Gnostic Part I pg 37". _www.conze.elbrecht.com_. * ^ Nattier 1992, pg. 166


* Sangharakshita (1996). _Great Buddhists of the Twentieth Century_. Windhorse Publications. ISBN 0-904766-80-2 . * Edward Conze, The Memoirs of a Modern Gnostic, Part 1 1979 * De Jong, J. W. (April 1980). "Obituary: Edward Conze 1904–1979". _Indo-Iranian Journal_. Springer. 22 (2): 143–146. doi :10.1163/000000080790080729 . * Humphreys, Christmas (February 1980). "Dr. Edward Conze, 1904–1979 (Obituary)". _The Middle Way_. London: The Buddhist Society. 54 (4): 229–231. * Nattier, Jan. _The Heart Sutra: A Chinese Apocryphal Text?_. Journal of the International Association of Buddhist
Studies Vol. 15 Nbr. 2 (1992)