Laurence O’Rourke / U Dhammaloka: working-class Irish freethinker, and the first European bhikkhu?
Cox, Laurence (2009) Laurence O’Rourke / U Dhammaloka: working-class Irish freethinker, and the first European bhikkhu? Journal of Global Buddhism, 10 . pp. 135-144.
The first European members of the bhikkhu sangha have normally been identified as Gordon Douglas / Asoka (1899), Allan Bennett / Ananda Metteyya (1901), and Anton Gueth / Nyanatiloka (1903 / 4). However, this note suggests that the first westerner to be ordained, in Burma in the mid-1890s, was working-class Dubliner Lawrence O'Rourke / Dhammaloka. The note summarises the evidence for his remarkable life and his free-thinking views.1 The Irish Sunday Independent for August 6, 1911 has an article describing what it rightly calls "Dublin man's remarkable career." The gist of the article, which cites "the American Press" as an authority for its information, is that a Dublin-born Irish-American, Lawrence O'Rourke, having been "sailor, tramp, shepherd, truckman, stevedore and tally clerk" (this last for "a British timber firm in Rangoon") came across a Buddhist pamphlet in English, studied Pali with bhikkhus and became a novice at Tavoy monastery in Rangoon (learning Burmese and Tibetan in the process). After five years as a novice he was fully ordained, and sent travelling "from village to village on the front teaching the gospel of Buddha." After this, according to the article, he became an elder, and subsequently an abbot, finally attaining "a rank which corresponds to a Bishopric in Christian churches" (Anon. 1911: 8). At this point, according to the article, "every Buddhist monk above the rank of abbot must make a pilgrimage to Lhassa [sic]," which he is represented as doing, meeting the Dalai Lama and staying for three months.2 The article adds that on his return, the population of Mandalay was too busy acclaiming him to pay any attention to Lord Curzon, and concludes by distinguishing Dhammaloka from Ananda Metteyya, who had recently visited England. Again according to the article, he was a noted newspaper correspondent,3 and his letters "displayed a very remarkable interest in Western religious controversy and a very advanced theological standpoint for a gentleman signing himself as a Buddhist priest" (Anon. 1911: 8).
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