Saturday, June 14, 2014

World's most famous Irish Buddhist (video)

Dhr. Seven, Pat Macpherson, Amber Larson, Wisdom Quarterly; UCCIreland
Prof. Brian Bocking, The Study of Religions Department, University College Cork, Dec. 2010

Los Angeles' Big Irish Fair Music Fest
The entire Irish population of Los Angeles has drained into the seaside shantytown of once bucolic now industrial Long Beach City, made famous by Snoop Dogg as "The LBC!"

It is the site of this year's Big Irish Fair and Music Fest. The Moon hangs high, and songs of auld are sung.

Few in this Buddhist town -- full of Cambodian and Bangladeshi Theravada, Tibetan Vajrayana, Chinese and Vietnamese Mahayana temples, and even an American Zendo and yoga studios galore, now overflowing with Ireland'ers, Irish expats, and the massive diaspora -- will know that the most famous Irish Buddhist in history is Ven. Dhammaloka from Dublin.

He was the first Westerner to ordain in the Buddhist tradition of Asia.

A tiny island of magnificent world import
Who was this "hobo," this wanderer, world traveler, spiritual pioneer, the most famous Occident in the old Orient who blazed a trail for us all? Ignored by history, this enigmatic freethinking Dubliner used various aliases, with the Buddhist name Dhammaloka ("Dharma World"), the "Irish Buddhist," who came before Brits Alan Bennett and H. Gordon Wallace and other credited as the first Westerners to explore Buddhism as monastics.

He converted from Catholicism to Theravada Buddhism around 1900, and became widely known throughout Asia in the process. He managed, as a good Irishman, to eventually fall afoul of the colonial establishment and its Christian missionaries.

Uncovering Ven. U Dhammaloka's unique story has taken some inspired detective work on the part of UCC's Prof. Brian Bocking and his colleagues. But their efforts have not been in vain. The Lost Irish Buddhist emerges after all these years as one of the earliest Western Buddhist monks, pre-dating many others who have claimed the title. Prof. Bocking takes us through an amazing odyssey.

Emerald Isle: sunset across Lower Lough Erne Fermanagh, Ireland (
The First [Western] Buddhist monk
I drove out to UC Riverside [on May 16, 2011] to hear a professor in from Cork, Ireland talk about perhaps the first Irish Buddhist monk -- at least the first one we know of, who took robes in Burma fighting Christian incursions [British hegemony], defending the Dharma after his ordination, appointing himself "the Bishop of Rangoon," Burma.

His birth name is unclear because of the aliases he used in life, so his birth and death, to date, remain speculative (1856-1914?). He's a predecessor, combative if genuine, of more refined and less cantankerous Western converts. His appearance, suddenly in 1900, and his fading out by 1914, makes up a rather Zelig-like "hobo" bohemian character in Asia, where he covered considerable territory. He garnered fervent press -- some generated by his alter ego/nom de plume "Captain Daylight." He's a character worth getting to know.

The 2011 issue of Contemporary Buddhism featured Prof. Brian Bocking's article alongside scholars Thomas Tweed, Alicia Turner, and Laurence Cox (see his initial research). They hosted a UC Cork Dhammaloka Day Conference on Feb. 19th 2011 highlighting their research. More

1 comment:

Laurence said...


Thanks for the kind comments! I just wanted to add that there is now a project to bring Dhammaloka's life to the screen, using a Buddhist crowdfunding site:

Thanks again,

Laurence Cox