The Irish Buddhist: The Forgotten Monk who Faced Down the British Empire

ISBN : 9780190073084

Alicia Turner; Laurence Cox; Brian Bocking
288 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Apr 2020
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  • Recovers the remarkable story of a working-class Irishman who became a leading Buddhist reformer and anti-colonial activist
  • Rewrites the previously accepted story of how Buddhism became a modern global religion
  • Based on a decade-long collaborative project of digital and archive-based scholarship, recovering thousands of 'lost' documents and pieces of evidence

The Irish Buddhist is the biography of an extraordinary Irish emigrant, sailor, and migrant worker who became a Buddhist monk and anti-colonial activist in early twentieth-century Asia. Born in Dublin in the 1850s, U Dhammaloka energetically challenged the values and power of the British Empire and scandalized the colonial establishment of the 1900s. He rallied Buddhists across Asia, set up schools, and argued down Christian missionaries—often using western atheist arguments. He was tried for sedition, tracked by police and intelligence services, and died at least twice. His story illuminates the forgotten margins and interstices of imperial power, the complexities of class, ethnicity and religious belonging in colonial Asia, and the fluidity of identity in the high Victorian period.
Too often, the story of the pan-Asian Buddhist revival movement and Buddhism's remaking as a world religion has been told 'from above,' highlighting scholarly writers, middle-class reformers and ecclesiastical hierarchies. By turns fraught, hilarious, pioneering, and improbable, Dhammaloka's adventures 'from below' highlight the changing and contested meanings of Buddhism in colonial Asia. Through his story, authors Alicia Turner, Brian Bocking, and Laurence Cox offer a window into the worlds of ethnic minorities and diasporas, transnational networks, poor whites, and social movements. Dhammaloka's dramatic life rewrites the previously accepted story of how Buddhism became a modern global religion.


List of Illustrations
Introduction: A Courtroom in Rangoon
Chapter 1: Dhammaloka Before Dhammaloka: Before 1900
Chapter 2: The Irish Buddhist Wins Burmese Hearts: 1900-1902
Chapter 3: Trampling on Our Religion: 1901
Chapter 4: Tokyo. An Irish Burmese Monk in Imperial Japan: 1902-3
Chapter 5: Multiplying Buddhist Missions. Singapore, Bangkok, Penang: 1903-1905
Chapter 6: Interlude: Who was the First Western Buddhist Monk?
Chapter 7: The Vagabond Journalist's Account: 1905
Chapter 8: A Print Revolution: 1907-1908
Chapter 9: A Controversial Tour of Ceylon: 1909
Chapter 10: Dhammaloka's Last Years and a Mysterious Death: 1909-1912
The Irish Buddhist - timeline

About the author: 

Alicia Turner, Associate Professor of Humanities and Religious studies, York University Toronto is a Religious Studies scholar specializing in modern Burmese Buddhism, nationalism and secularism. 
Brian Bocking is Emeritus Professor of the Study of Religions, University College Cork, and previously Professor of the Study of Religions at SOAS, University of London. He has written widely on the academic study of religions and East Asian religions. 
Laurence Cox is Associate Professor of Sociology, National University of Ireland Maynooth, a specialist in social movements and a historian of Buddhism in Europe, especially Ireland. Together with colleagues around the world they have spent the past ten years tracking down Dhammaloka's life. The three authors came together around their fascination with this many-sided Irish Buddhist.

"This groundbreaking study rewrites our understanding of the first Westerners to embrace Buddhism as a living faith. The authors offer a vivid portrait of a working-class Irishman in colonial Burma for whom Buddhism was not just a personal spiritual quest but a radical social and political practice." - Stephen Batchelor, author of Secular Buddhism and After Buddhism

"This is an extraordinary book. The authors have painstakingly tracked down scraps of evidence of U Dhammaloka's life from across continents, often in the most unlikely of places, and have succeeded in piecing together a wealth of information to reveal an unlikely and likeable hero. The result is not simply a gripping story. It is an education into the lives, ingenuity, and resilience of the usually undocumented, ordinary people living precarious lives on the margins of society across the globe at the height of Empire. It retraces the extensive networks of cooperation they formed in common cause for survival and a dignified life against a backdrop of extraction, exploitation and misrepresentation. This is a history of those who usually have no voice in its writing, a history that dismantles the civilizing myths of colonialism." - Kate Crosby, Professor of Buddhist Studies, King's College, London

"With notable tenacity and thoroughness, the authors trace the wandering career of the first European convert Buddhist monk, U Dhammaloka. Recounting the life of the fascinating twentieth-century working-class Irishman turned Burmese Buddhist monk, the authors bring into sharp relief the ways in which currents of intellectual, religious, and economic change made Buddhism a global tradition in an age of migration, colonization, and empire in Asia" - Richard M. Jaffe, Director of the Asian/Pacific Studies Institute and Professor of Buddhist Studies, Duke University

"Among the early European converts to Buddhism, we think of Madame Blavatsky, Alexandra David-Neel, and Ananda Metteyya. But there were many more, perhaps none more intriguing than the Irishman U Dhammaloka. Drawing on some impressive detective work, the authors here paint a fascinating picture-more than a sketch, less than a portrait-of this shape-shifting Buddhist monk. In the process, they provide many insights into fin-de-siècle Buddhism." - Donald Lopez, Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies, University of Michigan

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