It’s not often that you can say for definite, who was the first Westerner to join an Eastern religious community. Nevertheless, Irishman, Laurence Carroll, or Dhammaloka, as he became known, was probably the first Westerner to become a Buddhist Monk. It was this role which made him famous in Burma during the 20th Century, where he denounced the spread of Christianity. How did a Dublin lad make the transition into a Burmese Buddhist Monk? Born in 1856, he left Ireland in his teens and made his way to the US. He began working as a merchant sailor, but seems to have been dismissed from his ship whilst he was in Japan. Eventually, he reached Rangoon where he met his first Buddhist Monk. Despite being an atheist he was ordained as a Novice Monk in 1884 (it is quite possible to be an atheist Buddhist, as Buddhism does not demand belief in a deity). Not only was Dhammaloka a Westerner and a Buddhist Monk, he also denounced Christian missionaries and European colonialism. This led him into trouble, and he was charged with sedition in 1902. Dhammaloka established the Buddhist Tract Society in Burma in 1907. Fate took a negative turn for Dhammaloka in 1910, when opponents reported him to the Chief Court of Rangoon, after he publicly accused Christians of being immoral, violent and set on the destruction of Burmese tradition. He was bound over for a year and charged approximately 1,000 Rupees as a surety he would not re-offend. The world’s first Irish Buddhist Monk seems to have died between 1913 and 1915, popular with the Buddhists of South East Asia, if not the Colonial Authorities.
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