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Dhammaloka - Written Out of History

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Laurence Carroll,?1856 ��� ?1913) also known as Laurence O'Rourke and William Colvin -an Irish emigrant to Burma was ordained Dhammaloka in Burma. A free thinker, he saw what colonialism was doing to Burmese culture and he publicly denounced Christian missions and in doing so he denounced imperialism which he could not explicitly do as he would be jailed for doing so. The idea of religion as a means of resistance is an expression of Dhammoloka's Irishness as this would have been part of his Irish heritage. He founded and promoted Buddhist institutions, he practiced and preached Buddhism and attempted to reconvert those Burmese who had become Christians.

Carroll, like many of his generation, emigrated to the US in the early part of the 20th century. In 1900 he was ordained a Buddhist monk in Rangoon and became U Dhammaloka, using western atheist arguments to challenge Christian missionaries and the British empire in Asia. As U Dhammaloka he became a very public figure in Japan, China, Singapore, present-day Malaysia, Siam, Burma, Nepal, India and Ceylon and was charged with sedition, pursued by the colonial police, placed under surveillance and faked his own death before disappearing mysteriously in Penang in 1913.

Famous in his own time, Dhammaloka�۪s story did not suit later generations in Ireland or in Asia and has only recently been re-discovered by an international team of researchers. Dhammaloka�۪s history shows us different ways of thinking about what Buddhism means, the history of Irish religion and the meaning of atheism.

Dhammaloka�۪s story highlights the problems with the assumption that Buddhism is something new for Irish people, or new in Ireland. New research shows that Irish people have been aware of Buddhism since at least the 7th century AD and the first Irish person visited Buddhist Asia in the 14th century (a story circulated in the Irish world continuously up to the 17th century). There were migrant and convert Buddhists in Ireland from the late 19th century on ��� although it took a full century for an Irish person to come ���out of the closet�۝ and publicly identify as Buddhist.

The Dhammaloka Research Project is rewriting the history of ���how the Dharma came west�۝. Visit the Dhammaloka Project

The life of Dhammaloka also shows us a different side of Irish religious history. It is simply not true that all Irish people accepted ���Catholic�۝ and ���Protestant�۝ as their only choices in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. Along with Theosophists and Hindus, atheists and freethinkers, there have been Buddhists in Ireland ��� and Irish Buddhists in Asia ��� since the late nineteenth century, even though the level of sectarianism was such that it took a hundred years for the first Buddhist to ���come out�۝ publicly. Under these conditions
and the first Irish Buddhists include some truly remarkable individuals.

This website showcases some of the findings from these various research projects. It includes material directly related to the search for U Dhammaloka along with research on the broader issue of early western Buddhists in Asia and work on the history of Buddhism and Ireland. There are links to published research of various kinds, details on events and other resources covering these three extraordinary stories, as well as background on the project team and funding.

Video: Dhammaloka, "the Irish Buddhist" - a free thinker, who was written out of history.