On This Day

The Day the Poet who Introduced the West to Buddhism was Born

By Wei Yan Aung 10 June 2020

Yangon — On this day in 1832, Sir Edwin Arnold who wrote, “The Light of Asia” – a poem which sparked Western interest in Buddhism – was born.

Inspired by his poem, Charles Henry Allan Bennett, an analytical chemist born in London, entered the Buddhist Order in Myanmar (then Burma) which was then colonized by Britain, becoming the first Buddhist missionary in Britain under the dharma name Ananda Metteyya.

Arnold became an honorable member of the International Buddhist Society founded in Myanmar by Ananda Metteyya. He wrote the poem “The Golden Temple” about Shwedagon Pagoda, the most sacred Buddhist site in Myanmar, for Buddhism Magazine, which was published by the society.

He died on March 24, 1904, six months after writing the poem, which is seen as his final work.

Born in England and educated at University College, Oxford, Arnold served as the principal of Deccan College in Poona (now Pune), introducing ancient Indian literature to the world.

After he returned to England, he wrote The Light of Asia, a narrative poem about the life and philosophy of Gautama Buddha, which was published in 1879. The book surpassed all previous books on Buddhism which had been translated into European languages.

The poem gave westerners better insights into the philosophy of Buddha and Arnold was knighted for his poem. It has been translated into numerous languages, including Burmese.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko