Irishman Laurence Carroll was first westerner to be ordained Buddhist monk
Friday 8 January 2016
Filmmaker Ian Lawton
Laurence Carroll led a colourful life, in every sense. A 19th century Dubliner born with wanderlust in his bones, he became an alcoholic hobo and free thinker who travelled the world by steam ship and cattle car, only to eventually transform himself into U Dhammaloka — the world’s first westerner to don the saffron robes of an ordained Buddhist monk.
A hero to millions for his outspoken political stance against the yoke of colonialism across Asia during the late 1800s, Carroll’s extraordinary life story is all the more remarkable for being virtually unknown until relatively recently.
Born around 1850, he spent much of his youth in a transitory existence as a “tramp, shepherd, truckman and tally clerk” across the Europe and the USA, before signing on as a stevedore on a steamer bound for China.
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Forced to disembark in Rangoon for ‘disorderly conduct’, he eventually pitched up at a remote monastery within the depths of Burma’s forests, where he closed the door on his dissolute past to train in ancient Buddhist practices, emerging seven years later as the first fully-ordained western Buddhist monk.
Far from observing the peaceful image of the Buddhist calling, however, Laurence Carroll then dedicated his life to a political activism that set him on a collision course against the Catholic Church and rigid British Colonial rule, both of which were then firmly rooted across Southeast Asia.
A heroic figure who drew thousands to his fiery speeches promoting education and independence across Siam, Cambodia, Malaya, Ceylon and Nepal, he became an enigmatic Robin Hood of the oppressed.
“When I first stumbled upon this story, I was gobsmacked,” explains filmmaker Ian Lawton.
“Not just by the fact that this was an amazing story, but that I was only finding out about it today. I felt this man should be a household name alongside other notable Irish historical figures like Oscar Wilde, Michael Collins or Daniel O’Connell. He certainly is a great Irish hero, but one that nobody outside academia knows about.”
The discovery of Laurence Carroll’s incredible life resulted from a painstaking five years of collaborative academic detective work by Dr Laurence Cox, professor of Sociology at NUI Maynooth; Alicia Turner of York University, Toronto; and Professor Brian Bocking of University College Cork.
Shortly after his ordination, a notice appeared in a Burmese newspaper warning all Christian missionaries not to distribute religious tracts or sell bibles in the province of Burma, signed by order of U Dhammaloka, the Bishop of Rangoon. It was an audacious beginning to a life devoted to fighting the cause of...
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