Karl Eugen Neumann (* October 18, 1865 in Vienna; † October 18, 1915) is 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 is back in Berlin, studying Indology, Religion and Philosophy at he university there. 

Karl Eugen Neumann Soon after his marriage with Camilla née Nordmann from Vienna, Neumann moves to Halle and in 1891 he finishes his thesis on a Pali text. In the same year he publishes: „Two buddhist Sutta and a treatise of Meister Eckhart“. In 1892, after returning to Vienna Neumann published an anthology of texts from the Palicanon in German on the occasion of Schopenhauer’s 104th birthday. Having finished a translation of the Dhammapada in 1893 Neumann realizes his great desire to visit the original countries of Buddhism.

For a few months he travels through India and Ceylon, meeting members of the sangha, like the monk Sumangala Maha Thera and Lama Dondamdup. Besides praise for the knowledge and learning of monks, he also finds critical words for what he considers an adulteration and watering down of the original teaching of the Buddha. Back in Vienna in 1894 he takes 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.

From 1896 a friendship and lively correspondence with Giuseppe De Lorenzo (1871-1957) from Bari starts to develop. De Lorenzo translated Neumann’s works into Italian and thus becomes one of the pioneers of Italian Buddhism. In 1906 he loses all his fortunes in a bank crash and even has to sell (temporarily) the highly esteemed Siamese edition of the Tipitaka, given to him as a present by the king of Siam. His financial situation slightly improves through the legacy after his father’s death.

In 1907 he publishes the first volume of the Digha Nikaya with Piper in Munich. In 1915 Neumann dies 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. However up to this day his masterly translations of the Buddhas teachings rank among the most beautiful literary and scholarly archievements in the German language.

 
 
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