Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov is unquestionably one of the greatest works of world literature. With its dramatic portrayal of a Russian family in crisis and its intense investigation into the essential questions of human existence, the novel has had a major impact on writers and thinkers across a broad range of disciplines, from psychology to religious and political philosophy (Connolly, 2013).
Fyodor Dostoevsky portrayed the complexities of human mind. Dostoyevsky wrote: ‘I am a realist in a higher sense: That is, I depict all the depths of the human soul’.
Dostoevsky’s psychological penetration into the human soul and his dealing with moral and philosophical questions had a profound influence on the literature of the 20th century (Baumann et al., 2005).
According to Foy and Rojcewicz (1979) Dostoevsky’s writings are testimony to the continuous and brilliant interrelations between his fictional and journalistic narratives, his understanding of individual, family and group dynamics, his intellectual search for the roots of ideology, and the authentic experience and spiritual quest of his life. Dostoevsky was a master criminal psychologist and proto-existentialist religious philosopher. Nietzsche called Fyodor Dostoevsky “the only psychologist from whom I had anything to learn,” (Milgrom & Milgrom, 2009).
The work of Dostoevsky, a novelist, journalist and short-story writer, is considered to be one the most impressive, not only among the Russian, but definitely also within the world literature. His powerful and finely-tuned depictions of the human condition in all its variety, and his profound philosophical, psychological and religious insights of human nature are characteristic for his style. His novels anticipated and influenced several developments of the 20th-century ways of thinking, including psychoanalysis and existentialism (Rosetti & Bogousslavsky 2005).
Dostoevsky’s work inspired a number of psychologists. Freud conceded that he had not discovered the unconscious: The poets had discovered it long before him; and he singled Dostoyevsky out as the greatest writer of them all (Beveridge, 2009) Appignanesi (2008) called Dostoyevsky the Shakespeare of the asylum.
Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov is one of the finest fictional explorations of the moral psychology of making life-and-death decisions, reasoning about ethical responsibility, and dealing with guilt and accountability (Montello & Lantos, 2002). Dostoyevsky had written about the dangers lurking in the human psyche (Blum & Yasutomi, 2006).
As traditionally defined, the central conflict in The Brothers Karamazov is between faith and the rejection of God’s world (Berman, 2009). Nonetheless a vast amount of Buddhist philosophy is narrated in the novel. Jones (2005) found elements of Buddhism in Dostoyevsky’s religious convictions.
Dostoyevsky was a prolific reader. To write a novel in such caliber, he may have profoundly read Western and the Easten philosophies. Dostoyevsky is known for his existentialist views. In his works, Dostoyevsky addresses the concept of free will or freedom. (Uwasombav, 2009).
There are many similarities between Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov and Jathaka stories especially the Asthramanthra Jataka story.
The Jataka stories or Jataka tales are a voluminous body of folklore concerned with previous births of the Buddha which is based as a collection of five hundred and fifty stories. These stories are from the Buddhist Khuddaka Nikaya, or “Collection of Little Texts” that were compiled in the period of the 3rd Century B.C. to the 5th Century A.D.
The Jataka stories entered European ground at the end of the medieval period via Arabs and were translated and spread into all the main languages, viz; Greek, Spanish, German, Italian, French and English (Janné, 2014). T.W. Davids – a British scholar and the Pali language, Indologist stated that Buddhist Jataka Stories impacted the Western fables and stories.
Brothers Karamazov and the Asthramanthra Jataka story describe sexual craving and indulgence in the old age violating social and moral norms. Both stories profoundly analyze the inner mental conflicts reveling the darkest side of the human mind. According to Dostoyevsky, “there is no reason, but only reasoners; behind every rational formula there is a formulator; behind every generalization there is generalizer (Uwasombav, 2009).
The renowned Sri Lankan Literary genius Martin Wicramasinghe D.Lit. believed that Fyodor Dostoyevsky may have had some influence by Asthramanthra Jataka story to write his psycho- philosophical novel -Brothers Karamazov. Moreover he saw similarities in French writer Jean Baptiste Poquelin Moliere’s Tartuffe and Somanassa Jatakaya. Literary giants such as Victor Hugo, Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, Leo Tolstoy etc were influenced by the Jataka stories. Many essences from Jataka stories can be noticed in their writings.
For a considerable extent, Dostoyevsky’s life experiences were added to this great novel. Therefore many thoughts that were repressed in Dostoyevsky’s mind reflect in this novel. For Dostoyevsky writing Brothers Karamazov would have been an emotional purgation. Dostoyevsky may have created the fictional character Fyodor Pavlovich (the old land owner) based upon his own father’s certain personality traits as well as the influence that he received by reading Asthramanthra Jataka story.
The Brothers Karamazov is a tale of bitter family rivalries that was written on two levels: On the surface it is the story of a parricide in which all of a murdered man’s sons share varying degrees of complicity but, on a deeper level, it is a spiritual drama of the moral struggles between faith, doubt, reason, and free will. In the Asthramanthra Jataka story too two levels can be found: on the surface accumulation of sexual urges following seduction and in the second level the murders impulsions of an old mother who wants to kill her son to have sexual relationship with a young apprentice.
Asthramanthra Jataka story indeed a spiritual drama of the moral struggles between maternal love, sexual urge, faith, doubt, reason, and social norms.
In Asthramanthra Jataka story a senile old woman was seduced by a young apprentice in order to measure the sexual urge in old age. The seduction was done with the consent of the old woman’s son- Bodhisattva and after a few months the old woman agrees to kill her own son then to have a sexual relationship with the young apprentice.The Bodhisattva is doing this social experiment in order to demonstrate the destructive nature of craving to his student.
The Jataka storyteller saw craving as a much deeper problem and craving led to clinging. In this Jathaka story the old woman’s inner mental conflicts and murderous impulses were intricately described by the Jathaka story teller. After the seduction the senile old woman’s dormant sexual urges come to the surface like an erupting volcano. She sees her own son as an obstacle to fulfill her sexual desire. Then she decides to kill her own son.
The old land owner in Brothers Karamazov and the old woman in Asthramanthra Jataka have similar characteristics with regard to sensual pleasures. The Jataka story teller describes the old woman’s sexually inclined mind as the way Fyodor Dostoyevsky described the old landowner’s lustful mind.
According to the novel the old land owner Fyodor Pavlovich is a selfish immoral man who indulges in alcohol and has no fear or respect to the God. Dostoyevsky panted Fyodor Pavlovich as the great evil.Fyodor had three sons Mithya, Ivan and Alyosha. As the rumor goes he had a fourth illegitimate son named Pavel Smerdyakov who worked as his servant.
Mithya (Dmitri), Ivan, Alyosha, and Smerdyakov grew up separately. When they gathered together in the town where Fyodor lived, the story began. Harvey Mindess associates the characters of the Karamazovs with Dostoevsky’s character: Fyodor stands for Dostoevsky’s sensuality, Ivan for intellectual brilliance and cynicism, Dmitri for the proud, declamatory lust and passion, Alyosha for devotion, kind-hearted altruism, and Smerdyakov for smugness, stupid treachery and maliciousness (Oikawa, 2000).
Three brothers reflect different psychic energies. Mithya acts like the Id component which is the unorganized part of the psyche that contains a human’s instinctual drives. It is the source of bodily needs, desires, and impulses, sexual and aggressive drives, seeks immediate gratification of all needs. Ivan is cynical and acts according to the reality principle like Ego. Alosha like Super Ego reflects the internalization of cultural rules, aims for perfection, spiritual goals, and acts as conscience.
The Jataka stories highlight impermanence, suffering and non-self. Also indicate that suffering is a normal and inevitable part of life, but the nature of suffering is determined by how one responds to it. In The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan Karamazov was convinced it is not right that there is so much suffering in the world, and was convinced nothing could make it right. As a result he was left with no choice but to reject the ticket for this world, or to be indignant toward the world, which means he was indignant toward life in it (McCoubrey, 2004).
Being an ultimate nihilist Nietzsche believed that humans can never live outside a value construct. Nietzsche’s contribution to debates on alienation is oblique, but pivotal (McManus, 2005). Dostoevsky appear to agree that human self-alienation was inevitable. Emptiness’is a human condition to which both Buddhism and Nietzsche responded. The Jathaka storyteller wrote that alienation is a part of dukkha or unsatisfactoriness.
Dostoevsky grasped Buddhist Existentialism especially the Shunyata principle (the inherent emptiness of all phenomena) which is a type of awareness-release. He discusses nihilistic interpretation of the concept of voidness. Dostoevsky presents the character of Ivan Karmazov who is a nihilist. Ivan finds no clear meaning to his life.
Ivan Karamazov is trapped in what from this viewpoint is a non-problem, and Dimitri Karamazov is changed by overwhelming shock and symbolic dream, not by meditation. However, diagnosis and advice concerning man’s illusions about his painful situation represent only the starting-point of Buddhism (Futrell, 1981).
Dostoevsky’s ideas were closely connected with Eastern Orthodox Christianity and also with Buddhism. In Brothers Karmazov the ideal of the Bodhisattva (which is central to the Mahayana Buddhism) is profoundly discussed by Dostoevsky.
To be continued…