Monthly Archives: June 2013

“A Buddhist crossroads: pioneer western Buddhists and Asian networks 1860 – 1960”

In the last part of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, a remarkable set of individuals and networks constructed much of what we now understand today by “Buddhism”, in a set of global exchanges centred in SE Asia and involving a range of reforming Asian Buddhist networks and western converts.

A special issue of the journal Contemporary Buddhism, with the title “A Buddhist crossroads: pioneer western Buddhists and Asian networks 1860-1960”, has just been published, representing the proceedings of the Sept 2012 conference “SE Asia as a crossroads for Buddhist exchange” (a full set of abstracts is online here).

You can read the editorial online (free) here; Alicia Turner’s article “The Bible, the bottle and the knife: religion as a mode of resisting colonialism for U Dhammaloka” online (free) here; and my article “Rethinking early wester Buddhists: beachcombers, ‘going native’ and dissident Orientalism” online (free) here. Each of these is limited to 50 downloads so if you can’t use this please get in touch.

The table of contents is available here and other articles will be accessible via some university libraries.


Buddhist Bloomsday

On 16 June 1904, Dublin was a much more hybrid and global city than we now usually imagine it. Buddhism was part of the mix, not only in the novel but in the shape of actual Buddhists, academic and popular knowledge of Buddhism in Ireland and Irish Buddhists abroad…

In Ulysses:

Leopold Bloom walks past Westland Row church and reflects:

Same notice on the door. Sermon by the very reverend John Conmee S.J. on saint Peter Claver S.J. and the African Mission… Save China’s millions. Wonder how they explain it to the heathen Chinee. Prefer an ounce of opium. Celestials. Rank heresy for them. Buddha their god lying on his side in the museum. Taking it easy with hand under his cheek. Josssticks burning.

Molly Bloom soliloquises about the reclining Buddha statue from Burma at the entrance to the National Museum on Kildare Street:

look at the way he’s sleeping at the foot of the bed… like that Indian god he took me to show one wet Sunday in the museum in Kildare street all yellow in a pinafore lying on his side on his hand with his ten toes sticking out that he said was a bigger religion than the jews and Our Lords both put together all over Asia imitating him as hes always imitating everybody I suppose he used to sleep at the foot of the bed too with his big square feet up in his wifes mouth

The Blooms didn’t know the half of it.

Elsewhere in Dublin on 16 June 1904:

The 1901 census had showed a female Buddhist in Co. Dublin, a male “Hindoo Buddhist” in Munster and a male Buddhist in Galway.

Civil engineer Richard Laffere, on Gilford Road in Sandymount was taking 2 copies of each issue of the San Francisco-based magazine Light of Dharma.

Author Ramsay Colles was the Irish representative for Anagarika Dharmapala’s Maha Bodhi Society, based at 42 Dawson Street.

Enamelist Oswald Reeves, who would become a council member of Ananda Metteyya’s Buddhist Society for Great Britain and Ireland from 1910, was teaching at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art (now NCAD) and involved in the Arts and Crafts movement.

… and butter judge Robert Gibson, “esoteric Buddhist” and founder of Ireland’s first co-operative creamery in Dromcollogher, Co. Limerick, was still active in Limerick city as an alternative healer and political activist.

In the universities:

William Hoey, a specialist in the quest to identify the archaeological sites associated with the Buddha’s life (he excavated what he thought were the ruins of Sravasti and the Jetavana Grove), was Reader in Hindustani and Indian History at Trinity College Dublin.

A key text in the hunt for the sites of the Buddha’s life, On Yuan-chwang’s travels in India, 629-645 BC, by Co. Down-born Orientalist Thomas Watters, had just been published: Watters died in 1901 and the work was edited for publication by TW Rhys Davids, founder of the Pali Text Society.

The library of St Patrick’s College Maynooth held 1877 and 1903 editions of Rhys David’s Buddhism, an 1892 edition of AP Sinnett’s Esoteric Buddhism (which introduced Yeats to Theosophy), Charles Aiken’s polemical The Dhamma of Gotama the Buddha and the gospel of Jesus the Christ, and a wide range of 17th and 18th century accounts of Buddhist Asia by travellers and missionaries.

Meanwhile Trinity, Queen’s, University College Cork and University College Galway were all involved in Oriental Studies, training students for the Indian Civil Service exams and similar work in Ceylon or diplomatic missions in China and Japan. Trinity library held five original Pali texts, including Buddhaghosha’s Visuddhimagga.

… Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, about the son of an Irish soldier who becomes the disciple of a Tibetan lama, was widely available in Dublin (and would play a part in his 1907 Nobel Prize for literature).

and Irish Buddhists abroad:

U Dhammaloka (?Laurence Carroll?) had held a 300-person Wesak celebration at his Buddhist mission on Havelock Road in Singapore, and sent Arnold Abraham to Rangoon for ordination.

John Bowles Daly, who converted to Buddhism in 1890 and pioneered modern Buddhist education in Ceylon, was living in Melbourne, Australia.

Buddhist sympathiser Lafcadio Hearn (Koizumi Yakumo) was teaching at Waseda University and waiting for his Japan: an essay in interpretation to be published. Hearn died in September and was given a Buddhist funeral.

… while Captain Charles Pfoundes officiated at a Shugendo firewalking ritual in Kobe, Japan, during the Russo-Japanese war.

More about these stories and characters in Dr Laurence Cox’s Buddhism and Ireland: from the Celts to the counter culture and beyond, available at a 25% discount from (use code COX), 320 pages with illustrations.

A selection of items from the Russell Library, Maynooth exhibition “Encountering Buddhist Asia: sources of Irish knowledge from the sixth to the twenty-first centuries” is online here.

Happy Bloomsday!