28 October marks one year since the passing of my beloved teacher, Professor Alexander Fedotoff (1956– 2018). He was an outstanding erudite, a polyglot, and professor of Korean, Mongolian, and Tibetan literature. He was born in Novosibirsk, Russia and graduated from the Department of Mongolian Studies and Tibetology in the Faculty of Asian and African Studies at St. Petersburg University. Professor Fedotoff spent the last twenty years of his life as a director of the Center for Eastern Languages and Cultures at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski.”
He was one of the brightest professors in Bulgaria and emanation of a true bodhisattva for many of his students and colleagues. His achievements were boundless as well as his enlightening impact on countless students in the country and abroad. To preserve and spread his legacy, a Foundation “Professor Alexander Fedottof” was founded by his wife, Snezhana Todorova.
Professor Fedotoff was my PhD supervisor and I had the privilege to attend many of his courses given in Sofia University. During his lectures we traveled in the mystical and inspiring world of Eastern cultures – Tibetan history and language, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Korean poetry, Shamanism, and more. These lectures were not only source of a huge amount of knowledge but also moments of contemplation and healing. The first course I attended was dedicated to the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bardo Tödrol Chenmo; The Great Liberation through Hearing in the Bardo). The book was translated from Classical Tibetan to Bulgarian language by him. The first lecture of this course, given on 15 November 2001, was dedicated to the subject of death not only in Tibetan Buddhist tradition but in the spiritual traditions of Egypt, India, Central America, as well as Orthodox Christian beliefs.
Here are fragments of this lecture, relating to the Buddhist parable of “the other shore,” the death, the reincarnation, the realization of the individual self and its dissolving in the absolute self:
The other shore is the boundary that divides the world and beyond. To pass to the other shore is connected to the idea of reincarnation. Rebirth is mentioned in the ancient Vedic hymns and described in details for the first time in the Katha Upanishad (5th century BCE). It states that after death, the human personality ceases to exist as a whole entity. The human self is the consciousness that is released from the frames of the category of individuality. In the Katha Upanishad it is mentioned that what happens to a small piece of salt dissolved in the ocean is the same thing that happens to the human soul after death – it dissolves and is released from identity.
In Tibetan Buddhism, meditation is a key element in the acquisition of knowledge. It raises the question “Who am I?”. In order to meditate properly, the practitioner must realize his or her own self. What are the principles of existence? Everything around is a reflection, a mirage, a projection of our consciousness. How can a self be manifested if it does not leave its physical chains and pass beyond to see other worlds and compare them. Without awareness of the self, one cannot realize everything that is absolute in nature because the self is an absolute category. The individual self contains everything that characterizes the absolute self.
Differences between the individual selves are determined by the distance traveled on the path to the truth. The more path it is walked, the less differences are found and the less attachment to samsaric characteristics. As much as we realize that the individual self is connected to the other selves, that much the individual self reaches the absolute self. The core of each individual being is part of a single, unifying all entity.
During our life we are losing or acquiring something. After samsara we gain a real life. The life after death can be a bright beginning. The clear light, which is absolute consciousness, is unbearable and scares most people, but the enlightened one can face it.
The one who follows the path of Dharma, the bright path of the absolute truth, must overcome his or her own self. In a state of perfectly calm mind, the self disappears along with all boundaries and definitions.”
As the Katha Upanishad states: “The knowing self is not born; It does not die. It has not sprung from anything; nothing has sprung from It. Birthless, eternal, everlasting, and ancient, It is not dead when the body is dead.” (1.2.18)
It is the same with the real teacher who dispels the darkness of ignorance and brings the light of wisdom. He is not dead when his body is dead. His legacy is eternal. He will manifest again and again in different form and in different time as long as the need for wisdom remains.
Related features from Buddhistdoor Global
The Way of the Bodhisattva: A Tribute to Prof. Alexander Fedotoff
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