Encyclopaedia of Buddhism Vol. 1, edited by G. P. Malalasekera O.B.E in 1965, published by Government of Sri Lanka, clearly states that an Englishman named Charles Henry Allan Bennet, who had been ordained as a Buddhist monk in Burma in 1902, returned back to England, eighty nine years ago, to establish the first ever Buddhist Mission in the United Kingdom on 16 July 1908, 'a belief shared twenty-three years later by the Anagarika Dharmapala when he came to England on a mission from Ceylon.
This 89th anniversary of the 'United Kingdom Buddhist Day' will be celebrated by the World Buddhist Foundation at the Sri Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre in NW London on 16th July 1997. To commemorate this great being a full programme has been organised by the Buddhist foundation where representatives of different Buddhist traditions will speak on different aspects of Buddhism in the UK. Dr. Rupert Gethin, attached to the Centre for Buddhist Studies, University of Bristol, will deliver the commemorative lecture on the History and Development of Buddhism in the UK. Followed by the intellectual aspect of the ceremony, a major celestial observation will be an over-night Paritta (pirith) chanting which will last till Sunday morning on the 17th. Religious activities will continue till Sangika Dana and Punnyanumodana on Sunday, followed by Buddhapuja .
Charles Henry Bennet having ordained as a monk and dived deep in the ocean of wisdom in Buddhism to find out that " Nirvana can be realised in this very life & it is not necessary to wait till you die to 'attain' it," took the name of Ananda Metteyya. Ven Ananda Metteyya in his discourses to his fellow Englishmen preached that the happiest being in the world is one who has realised the Truth. That type of person, he said, is free from all ' complexes and obsessions, the worries and troubles that torment others. His mental health is perfect. He does not repent the past, nor does he brood over the future. He lives full in the present. Therefore, he appreciates and enjoys things in the purest sense without self-projections. He is hopeful, exultant, enjoying the pure life; his faculties pleased, free from anxiety, serene and peaceful as he is free from selfish desire, hatred, ignorance, conceit, pride and all such ' defilement'; he is pure and gentle, full of universal love, compassion, kindness, sympathy, understanding and tolerance. His service to others is of the purest, for he has not thought of self. He gains nothing, accumulates nothing, not even anything spiritual because he is free from the illusion of Self, and the 'thirst ' for becoming .
Encyclopaedia of Buddhism Vol.1 describes Charles Henry Allan Bennett as an Englishman born in London on 8 December 1872. As a child he was educated at Bath and trained as an analytical chemist. Being a natural scientist, he shook off the teaching of his Catholic mother, at an early age, and declared himself an agnostic. In 1890, at the age of 18, he was struck by a literal gem , 'The Light of Asia' by Sir Edwin Arnold, where he felt that a new world of spiritual adventure dawning on his life. Thereupon he studied valuable translations of all Buddhist texts available to him .
In 1898, due to ill health, he left England and travelled towards the East and entered 'Ceylon' as a self-converted Buddhist. In Sri Lanka Charles Henry Allan Bennett studied the Buddha Dhamma deeply under a learned monk and made friends among the leading Buddhists of Sri Lanka.
On 1901 he delivered his first lecture on Buddhism in Sri Lanka on Lord Buddha's 'Four Noble Truths' which he later published in pamphlet form. This was the time when he decided to lead a Buddhist mission to England, as he was under the impression that such a mission could only succeed if a representative of the Buddhist Sangha carried it out. This made him enter the Order, but he came up with an obstacle where ordination into one of the principal sects in Sri Lanka would tend to exclude him from free intercourse with those of other sects. As the other only alternative, he decided to enter the Burmese Order, where such restrictions did not prevail.
He left Sri Lanka bound for Burma, first to Akyab in Arakan, where he was ordained. Subsequently he travelled to Rangoon. He found a more favourable centre in Rangoon later for carrying out his plans. When he was confident that he could accomplish his mission from Rangoon he declared, " Herein lies the work that is before me, the cause to which I have devoted and consecrated my life; to carry to the lands of the West, the law of love and truth declared by our Master ( Lord Buddha), to establish in those countries the Sangha of his priests." Even at such an early stage of his mission he was emphatic on the need of planting in England a branch of the parent Sangha, a belief shared twenty-three years later by Anagarika Dharmapala when he came to England on a mission from ' Ceylon'.
In December, 1901, he was formally declared a Samanera ( novice), the first stop on entering the Order. On Wesak Full Moon day (21 May 1902) he received the higher ordination as a bhikku. He was given the name Ananda Maitriya, but he later changed this second name to the Pali form, Metteyya. Even at this date his plans for the future were mature. He was already in touch with ' eminent Buddhists in England, America and Germany' and announced his intention to " found an International Buddhist Society, to be known as Buddhasasana Samagama .
The first meeting of the new society was held on March 15th, 1903, when the constitution and rules were fixed, and officers elected. Ananda Metteyya himself appears in the printed prospectus as Secretary-General, with Dr. E. R. Rost, of whom more lately, as Hon. Secretary.
Partly by correspondence and partly by constant interviews Ananda Metteyya collected a body of scholars about the mission who were enthusiastic supporters of its work. True to his promise made before leaving Rangoon, he formally admitted to the fold of Buddhism all who wished to be received, and Francis Payne, later a leading figure in English Buddhism, with his wife and children, claimed to be the first so admitted. Accounts of his lectures vary. Dr. Rost recalls a lecture in a Congregational Hall in Clapham, filled with ordinary working class men, where Ananda Metteyya held his audience with the greatest ease.
All too quickly the time allotted to his mission in England came to an end when Ananda Metteyya sailed for Rangoon from Liverpool with Dr. Rost on October 2, 1908. At an interview given to a Rangoon paper on his arrival the following month, the Ven. Ananda Metteyya expressed himself highly gratified with the work that had been done. Gratified perhaps, it is said, for what had been done - satisfied, but his health had suffered, not improved, his money was exhausted, and the teaching had not been accepted with such enthusiasm as he had hoped. But he was not beaten yet. In an ' Open Letter to the Buddhists of England' written in December, he appealed to all interested to support the work of the Society, and described with great eloquence the glory of the message of which the West had such immediate need.
His iron will to return to England was still alive, though the effort necessary to carry on with even routine work was terrible. He tried to produce the money he needed for his missionary scheme by marketing his inventive powers. Even before the mission came to England he had been experimenting on a machine for registering the power of thought. He was successful in causing a spot of light to move across a screen when he concentrated with all his power on his apparatus, which he had previously linked to a galvanometer. But he longed for more convincing experiments in the presence of witnesses, and to enable the new instruments to be acquired, turned his attention to a new method for extracting Oxygen from air. Nothing, however, came from this potentially priceless discovery, and the longed-for thousands of Pounds remained unearned. In December, 1913, Dr. Rost had to perform on him a serious operation for gall-stones, and though the news from Rangoon during the next few months was reassuring, his health was little if at all thereby improved.
In 1914 the operation performed on him had proved to be of no avail and his health was by now deteriorating. The only hope seemed a long holiday in a better climate than Rangoon and arrangements were made to visit his sister who was in California. At the time as she was coming to England it was arranged for them to meet in Liverpool. Friends in Burma raised the Bikku's passage money. He sailed to England dressed in Western clothes. Instead of the tall, straight, close-cropped, long-robed impressive monk of 1908 he was now a bent and shambling figure with an unkempt shock of hair.
His life was waning fast, and early in March the final illness,
accompanied by suffering painful to witness, took its inevitable course.
He passed away on March 9, 1923 at the age of fifty. He was buried in
Morden Cemetery. And so, there passed from sight a man whose memory
would honour for bringing to England, as a living faith, the message of
the All-Enlightened One. To commemorate and honour that messenger of
Buddhism to the West and the one who established a Buddhist Mission in
England 89 years ago for the first time in the history of the Buddhist
calendar, World Buddhist Foundation at the Sri Saddhatissa International
Buddhist Centre will pay homage to Ven. Ananda Metteyya on this United
Kingdom Buddhist Day.