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Dhammaloka Day – Lost Irish Buddhist

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The centenary of the newly-discovered  “Irish Buddhist”  U Dhammaloka, tried for sedition on January 31st 1911 by a Cork-born judge in colonial Rangoon, will be remembered at UCC on Saturday February 19th 2011, in an event hosted by UCC’s flourishing  Study of Religions Department.

‘Dhammaloka Day’ also sees the Irish launch of the special issue of the journal Contemporary Buddhism (Vol. 11, no. 2, 2010),  devoted to this remarkable and unjustly forgotten figure, a Dublin-born [migrant] worker who crossed the world to become a pioneer European Buddhist monk in Asia.

This enigmatic, free thinking Irishman [(ca. 1856-1914)] was known by several names, including Laurence Carroll and William Colvin.  U Dhammaloka was his Buddhist name given at ordination. Many knew him simply as “the Irish Buddhist”.  The details of his Dublin family, his life as a hobo in the States and a beachcomber in Asia are as mysterious as his eventual disappearance or death – and his fake obituary in 1912.

Dhammaloka became a Buddhist monk probably in the 1880s. From 1900 he attracted frequent press attention in Burma and elsewhere as a popular and controversial public figure. He lived according to the strict rules of the ancient Burmese Buddhist monastic order; yellow-robed, shaven-headed, walking barefoot and taking only one meal a day. Yet Dhammaloka travelled extensively between 1900-1914 in colonial Burma, Siam, Cambodia, Singapore, Malaya, Japan, China, Ceylon, India, Nepal and beyond.  Famous throughout South-East Asia in his time, he drew crowds of thousands to his speeches, confronting the colonial establishment and especially Christian missionaries.

Autodidact, atheist, temperance campaigner and Buddhist revivalist, Dhammaloka was supported in Japan in 1902 by Letitia Jephson of Mallow, denounced in Singapore in 1905 by journalist Edward Alexander Morphy of Killarney, and tried for sedition in Burma by Mr. Justice Daniel Harold Ryan Twomey, a native of Carrigtwohill, Cork and grandfather of the renowned anthropologist Professor Mary Douglas.

‘Dhammaloka Day’ features an international line-up of scholars of colonial-period and contemporary Buddhism  including Burma expert Prof. Alicia Turner (Toronto), Sri Lanka expert Dr Elizabeth Harris (Liverpool), historian of American Buddhism Prof. Thomas Tweed (Austin, Texas), historian of Irish Buddhism Dr Laurence Cox (Maynooth) and scholar of Japanese religions Prof Brian Bocking (Cork), who is also chair of Ireland’s first department for the non-confessional study of religions, at UCC.

Uncovering Dhammaloka’s unique story has taken some inspired detective work on the part of UCC’s Professor Brian Bocking and his research colleagues Alicia Turner and Laurence Cox, and their efforts have not been in vain. The lost Irish Buddhist emerges after all these years as a truly remarkable character, one of the very first Western Buddhists, pre-dating others who – until now – were regarded as the earliest European Buddhist monks. [His voice and personality also emerge from the research as by turns charming, frustrating, witty, grandiose. He was evidently a great story-teller and a courageous and resourceful individual.

Dhammaloka Day will run from 2.30-6pm in the Boole Lecture Theatre. For details and registration visit http://www.ucc.ie/en/studyofreligions/dhammaloka-day (youtube video on Dhammaloka, programme, poster and registration form).

Copies of the Contemporary Buddhism special issue on U Dhammaloka will be on sale at the Dhammaloka Day event, at the special price of €20.

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