Monthly Archives: December 2014

The first Buddhist mission to the west … led by an Irishman

The new issue of the British Association for the Study of Religion’s journal DISKUS, just published, includes an article by Brian Bocking, Laurence Cox and Yoshinaga Shin’ichi showing that the first Buddhist mission to the west was not Ananda Metteyya’s 1908 mission to London (as traditionally thought) or the Japanese missions to California from 1899 on (highlighted in more recent scholarship) but the 1889 – 1892 mission of the Buddhist Propagation Society in London, led by Irish-born Capt. Charles Pfoundes.

The research includes Pfoundes’ biography, the Japanese background to the mission, the London world of public debate within which it took place, Pfoundes’ approach to Buddhism and the difficulties of being the first missionary, the conflict with Annie Besant and Theosophy’s claim to represent “esoteric Buddhism”, and possible traces left by the mission.

The article is open-access and can be read online at with a link for PDF download. It includes original copies of the flyers for the Society and for some of Pfoundes’ public talks as well as excerpts from newspaper accounts, reports by Pfoundes to his Japanese sponsors and accounts by Japanese visitors – bringing to life a lost world and the extraordinary moment when Buddhist missionaries first grappled with the question of how to speak to western audiences.

This site now includes a new page dedicated to material dealing with Pfoundes.


Image: Researchers at Pfoundes’ grave in Kobe:
Prof. Akai Toshio, Prof. Brian Bocking, Dr Laurence Cox, Prof. Alicia Turner, Prof. Yoshinaga Shin’ichi