Category: MysticThe following has been extracted from an article written by Elizabeth J. Harris , Secretary for Inter-faith Relations for The Methodist Church in London. The full article can be found by following this LINK.
In April 1908 a small Buddhist mission arrived in London from Burma, headed by a tall, lean, ascetic looking monk named Ananda Metteyya. Unlike his companions, Ananda Metteyya was not Burmese but British—the second Westerner, in fact, ever to take the saffron robe. Born in London with the name Allan Bennett, trained as an analytic chemist, he had been drawn by an intense spiritual thirst to the teachings of the Buddha, and in 1901, in Burma, he had entered the order of Buddhist monks. Although the mission did not fulfil its intended purpose, Ananda Metteyya’s eloquent writings and selfless efforts sowed the seeds that would gradually bear fruit in the growth of Buddhism in the West.
His face was the most significant that I have ever seen. Twenty years of physical suffering had twisted and scored it: a lifetime of meditation upon universal love had imparted to it an expression that was unmistakable. His colour was almost dusky, and his eyes had the soft glow of dark amber…. Above all, at the moment of meeting and always thereafter, I was conscious of a tender and far-shining emanation, an unvarying psychic sunlight, that environed his personality.
Clifford Bax, artist and dramatist, wrote these words after meeting Ananda Metteyya in 1918. A sick man incapacitated by asthma for weeks at a time, he was then wearing the clothes of a lay person and had reverted to his civilian name, Allan Bennett.
Yet, ten years earlier, as the Venerable Ananda Metteyya, he had led the first Buddhist mission to England from Burma. The Buddhist Society of Great Britain and Ireland had been formed to prepare the way for him. Bennett, in fact, was the second British person to take on the robes of a Buddhist monk and his influence on Buddhism in Britain in the first decades of the twentieth century, was deep.
Even within his own lifetime Allan Bennett was a controversial figure. In 1894, he joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a society concerned with spiritual growth through esoteric knowledge. He gained a reputation as a magician and a man of mystery, which was not completely shaken off even when he embraced Buddhism several years later. In the early years of the twentieth century, he was much praised by Western Buddhists. Yet, as time passed, he became more and more marginalised as asthma took an ever deepening grip on his life, leading to dependency on drugs.
By 1916, his case is described as a “sad” one by The Buddhist Review, published by The Buddhist Society of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1917–18, he managed to give a series of lectures and when he died in 1923, he was the acting Honorary Secretary of The Buddhist Society. Yet, his final years were marked by poverty. Clifford Bax wrote in the conclusion of his 1918 article:
As a Buddhist, he was an alert and powerful personality: as Allan Bennett, a poor man, dwelling unknown in London, he was a sick creature prematurely old. As he was putting on his overcoat, I heard Meena Gunn saying, “Why it’s riddled with moths,” and Bennett responding, “They’re such pretty little things,” and Meena continuing, “Some day we must get you a new one: this coat is too full of holes,” and Bennett answering, shy of his pun, “But, you see, I’m supposed to be a holy man.”
Bennett was buried without a memorial stone in Morden cemetery. His lifelong friend, Dr. Cassius Pereira, wrote:
And now the worker has, for this life, laid aside his burden. One feels more glad than otherwise, for he was tired; his broken body could no longer keep pace with his soaring mind. The work he began, that of introducing Buddhism to the West, he pushed with enthusiastic vigour in pamphlet, journal and lecture, all masterly, all stimulating thought, all in his own inimitably graceful style. And the results are not disappointing to those who know.
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