Collaborative research undertaken since 2009 by Alicia
Turner, Laurence Cox and Brian Bocking on the plebeian early Irish Buddhist U
Dhammaloka (?1856-?1914) has uncovered
new evidence of numerous early European Buddhist monastics around the year
1900, overturning conventional 20th century narratives that claimed
Ananda Metteyya (Alan Bennett) as the ‘first’ Western Buddhist monk.
U Dhammaloka’s radical transgression of racial and religious
boundaries, his vigorous anti-Christian preaching and his huge popularity among
the Buddhist laity made him an object of suspicion to the colonial authorities
in Burma and beyond. A year after
returning from a controversial preaching tour of Ceylon and India in 1909,
Dhammaloka was prosecuted in Rangoon under the Indian Penal Code and bound over
(by a Cork judge) to keep the peace.
In this paper I examine the
Indian connections of early Western Buddhists including Dhammaloka and assess
the significance of Dhammaloka’s Buddhist identity for a re-reading of Irish-Asian
religious encounters at the turn of the 20th century.