On This Day

The Day the First British Missionary Entered Myanmar’s Buddhist Order

By Wei Yan Aung 21 May 2020

Yangon — On this day in 1902, Charles Henry Allan Bennett, an analytical chemist born in London, entered the Buddhist Order in Myanmar (then Burma). Given the dharma name Ananda Metteyya, he became the first Buddhist missionary in Britain.

Aspired by the Light of Asia, a narrative poem by Sir Edwin Arnold about the life and philosophy of Gautama Buddha, he studied Buddhism in Sri Lanka before joining the order.

He became a Theravada Buddhist monk aged 30 in what was then colonial Burma and founded the International Buddhist Society together with monks from Myanmar and Sri Lanka, lay members Arnold and Thomas William Rhys Davids, president of London’s Pali Text Society. He published the Buddhism Magazine and distributed free copies to libraries across Europe.

He practiced Buddhism for seven years before leaving the country for his first mission in his homeland.

The English monk was an unusual sight under British colonial rule. He was also incongruous with his shaven head and robes in London’s streets, refusing to use horses and carts or hold cash.

With the support of the Buddhist Society of Great Britain and Ireland, and thanks to  Ananda Metteyya’s efforts to promote Buddhism through talks and publications, interest spread in Buddhism in Europe.

However, he was forced to leave the Buddhist order due to his ailing health and he died in London aged 51 in 1923.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko