The first Buddhist mission to the West: Charles Pfoundes and the London Buddhist mission of 1889 – 1892
British Association for the Study of Religions (BASR)
This article challenges two general assumptions shared by scholars of Western Buddhism: (1) that the earliest Buddhist missions to the West were those established in California from 1899 onwards; and (2) that Ananda Metteyya‘s (Allan Bennett‘s) London mission of 1908 was the first Buddhist mission to London and thus to Europe. Recent collaborative research by scholars in Ireland and Japan demonstrates instead that the Japanese-sponsored ‗Buddhist Propagation Society‘ (BPS) launched in London in 1889 and led for three years by the Irish-born Japanese Buddhist Charles Pfoundes predates both of the above-mentioned ‗first‘ Buddhist missions. In this article we offer a first attempt to document the nature, activities and significance of the London BPS, drawing on Japanese and UK sources to examine Pfoundes‘ role and that of his Japanese sponsors. We discuss the nature of Pfoundes‘ Buddhism, the strategy and activities of the London BPS and the reasons for its eventual demise. The conclusion examines the links between the BPS and the later ‗first‘ Japanese Buddhist missions in California and asks what hidden connection there might be between Pfoundes‘ missionary campaign in London in 1889-92 and Ananda Metteyya‘s return from Burma as the ‗first‘ Buddhist missionary to London, almost two decades later.
Pfoundes , London Buddhism , Buddhism , Theosophy , Irish Buddhist Propagation Society , Charles Pfoundes
Bocking, B., Cox, L., and Yoshinaga, S. (2014) 'The first Buddhist mission to the West: Charles Pfoundes and the London Buddhist mission of 1889 – 1892', Diskus, 16 (3), pp. 1-33.
© 2014 the author. Published by British Association for the Study of Religions (BASR