Coming To Teach Us 272 Rules of Life

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Coming To Teach Us 272 Rules of Life


Extensive newspaper essay describing the Buddhism mission of Ananda Metteyya as well as the conditions in England, his early life, and how he lives as a monk in Burma. Includes pictures of him and his sponsor, Mrs. Hla Oung.


Tenier, Philip



Deseret Evening News, Salt Lake City, Utah, First Edition, pg 19




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Coming To Teach Us 272 Rules of Life
New Kind Of Buddhist Priest Plans To Convert Heathen America And England From Their Benighted Ways--He Has Only Eight Possessions In The World And Must Not Look On The Face Of Woman Or Touch Food Afternoon--Food Collected From Faithful In A Begging Bowl.
Special correspondence.
London, June 3, – – England has a strange new missionary, whose preaching begins this month, and if his hopes are realized London in the near future will become the center of the general mission to the West – – to the countries of Europe and to United States of America.
Dwelling in a small house in the quiet suburbs of Barnes is a Westerner who has for several years lived the life of an Eastern monk in order to be able to tell to those whose manner of existence he has abandoned how much better the world would be according to his belief, if they were to accept the faith which he has now brought back to them, the Buddhism which he holds to be the religion of the future for the West as well as for the East.
A tall, spare figure, envelope in a brilliant orange-colored robe, giving glimpses beneath it of two under-garments of a slightly different shade of orange-yellow; a smooth, hollow cheeked face, tan to a few intermediate between the average white man's and that which one sees in the China man and his neighbors in Asia; a pair of intense, hazel eyes under dark eyebrows, which stand out the more prominently for being surrounded by a perfectly clean-shaven skull; long, thin, nervous fingers, slightly stained with tobacco--such are the most striking outward characteristics of the Bhikkhu Ananda Metteyya, the latest apostle comes to the shores in search of converts.
Incongruous object.
He looks a curiously incongruous object against the wallpaper of the villa of the suburban Barnes; and Oriental growth torn violently from the soil and planted amid surroundings which harmonize ill with its nature. But this stature and the hazel eyes and a nose whose contour is strange to Eastern peoples betray that the Burmese monk's robes clothes no real Burman; when the voice is heard the listener recognizes that he who talks is a Briton. And indeed the Bhikkhu or mendicant monk of today, was until seven years ago known by the name of Allen Bennett MacGregor. In spite of his present appearance he was born in South London, not many miles from where he is now spending the Buddhist Lent in the retirement enjoined on him by the rules of this order.
It is only natural that such a personage should have become a nine days' wonder and that his temporary monastery should be the resort of interviewers. But while receiving them all courtesy, the monk has smilingly but in inexorably put aside all inquiries about himself. It is not the individual who is of interest, he declares, although he admits that the early press clippings have amused him. He has a sense a humor. "I do not know where they got their information from," he says, and does not mind admitting that much of it is incorrect.
His early life.
His friends, however, who knew him in Burma, are not unwilling to tell what little they know of his early life. Born in 1872, the son of the civil and electrical engineer, the young MacGregor went to Bath, in the west of England, to be educated, and his taste soon led him in the direction of analytical chemistry. When he grew he went to the laboratory of Dr. Dyer, the well-known chemist. Later still he proceeded to Paris and made researches on his own account, Inc. particularly interested in such studies as the properties of the Hertzian waves. When he came back to London he was engaged in some journalistic work in addition to chemistry and was also attracted to some extent by occultism. But his health broke down. He suffered from asthma and was threatened with consumption.
Going to the East in search of health, he made the acquaintance in Ceylon of a number of Buddhists, including one who is known to visitors of Colombo as the Prince-priest and in his own church as the venerable Jinayaravangasa-Thera-- a cousin of the King of Siam. This man had retired from the world after diplomatic career which took him to London and Paris, and he now lives the life of a monk, whose only vanities are the collection of books on Buddhist antiquities and the chewing of betel nut, a mild dispensation not forbidden to priests.
Initiated as a monk.
Already favorably disposed towards Buddhism through reading Sir Edwin Arnold's "light of Asia," MacGregor decided to join the priesthood. For this purpose he went to Burma, as many of the Cingalese themselves do, and received the preliminary ordination at the coast town of Akyab in December, 1901. In the following may he was admitted to full orders, the ceremony, in honor of the first European to become a priest, being more generous than usual and attended by over 70 priests, brilliant in yellow silk, a band with drums, symbols and pipes, and Bannermen bearing golden flags. Then on a boat anchored in the river the candidate appeared before the chief priest, received his alms bowl and his robes, declaring himself free from disease, a male, a free man, unhampered with debt, and over twenty years of age. The assembly received his request to be admitted to their order, and henceforward Allan Bennett MacGregor was the Bhikkhu Ananda Matteyya, a penniless monk.
Mission to England.
That was come to England to prepare the way for the establishment of a permanent mission in connection with the international Buddhist society, which he founded in Burma five years ago, with its headquarters at the beautiful Shwe Kyi Myin Temple in Mandalay. Originally intended to go to Japan from Burma, and perhaps might have proceeded thence to the United States, but with the foundation of a branch of the international Buddhist Society in London which headquarters near the British Museum, decided him to come first to Europe, and to open his mission to the West in the city of his birth. In October he returns to Burma, to continue his 10 years in the priesthood, after which he will himself be qualified to ordain others.
Wandering mendicant.
During his stay in London, the task of reconciling the rules of his order with the environment in which he finds himself is by no means easy. Happy for him it is Lent, corresponding to the wet season in India, during which time every monk must sleep each night in the same place. The house at Barnes is, therefore, his retreat, and there is no necessity to live the life of a wandering mendicant, with no permanent shelter and only eight possessions in the world--the three robes, the begging bowl, the filter, the razor, the rosary and the umbrella, supplemented sometimes by a huge palmleaf fan.
Will have to use his own fan.
But there are 272 ordinances to observe, dealing with all departments of life, walking, sleeping, eating, talking, dressing, etc., down to the minutest points. The monk may in England be able to abstain from food afternoon every day to refuse any needs a specially prepared for him (it is rather a concession to have any meat at all), to take no intoxicants, to where no extra clothing against the weather, and neither Kerry nor possess any money. But it is harder in this country, except for the entire recluse, never to look upon the face of any woman. Here certainly comes in the use of the fan, if the words of the Buddha to his monks are to be strictly obeyed when he said; "beware of looking on a woman. If you see one let it be as if you saw her not. If you must needs speak to her, that it be with a pure heart and upright behavior. Is she old? Regard her as your mother. Is she honorable? Regard her as your sister. Is she of the small account? Regard her as a younger sister. Is she a child? Treat her with reverence and courtesy."
If, as the Bhikkhu hopes, there will one day be a Buddhist priesthood established in the West, it is clear that the members of it in their passage through our streets will have good cause to remember the tale of the elder in Ceylon who incautiously allowed his attention to be attracted by the louder laugh of a woman, and then, realizing the impropriety of his act, looked at her teeth implants into "the meditation upon bones," a mortifying exercise considered very helpful to the saint. So, when asked later whether he had passed a woman on the road he replied:
"was it a woman or a man
that pass this way? I cannot tell.
But this I know, a set of bones
is traveling along the road."
No food after noon.
The observance of the rule not to touch food afternoon one day until the following morning is no small hardship. In Ceylon the monks are allowed to chew betel nut, which has considerable stimulating powers. They are permitted, too, to drink tea, which is also taken by the Chinese monks, far less strict in every way. But in Burma such indulgences are not recognized. The Bhikkhu is allowed to smoke cigarettes on account of his asthma; and these are two exceptions to the ban against food which are generally recognized throughout the Buddhist priesthood.
"We may take sugar, both ordinary and Palm-sugar," said the Bhikkhu, "and also gi (clarified butter). So you see that if I liked I could make toffee for the evening!"
Diet problems.
"Do you not find it rather difficult to keep going all day on the food taken before noon?"
"Yes, especially if I sit up late, as I have had to do sometimes since arriving in London. It is not so much hunger, as a sensation of faintness which comes upon me. But, of course, in Burma we do not sit up late."
The monks, indeed, retired to rest soon after sunset, and they interpret the permission to use sugar fairly widely. If they do not make toffee, at least they have syrups prepared for them, the sugar being mixed with the carefully strained juice of such fruits as are mentioned in their Scriptures.
Rich widow patron.
However, Buddhism is not a misogynist's religion, in spite of these warnings to the monks. In the present mission an important part is played by a rich Burmese widow, Mrs. Hla oung, who is not only honorary treasurer of the international Buddhist society, but has also, out of her private means, finance the visit of Ananda Metteyya to London, and is now living in a neighborhood house to the monks retreat at Barnes. Like Burmese women in general, she has business capacity quite equal to a man's, and, fortunately for the mission, she delights in using her brains and her wealth to support of it, as well as for religious charities in her own land. She is, of course, a lay woman, for the order of Buddhist nuns hardly exists outside China nowadays. In view of the very subordinate position which the nuns formerly occupied with respect to the monks, advocates of the rights of women cannot regret this fact. Among the Buddhist laity, on the other hand, women always have played a prominent part.
Object of campaign.
The object of the evangelistic campaign which Ananda Metteyya leads and Mrs. Hla Oung supports is the introduction to the west of Buddhism as a living religion instead of a mere object of learned study. The doctrine to be taught is that of the "lesser vehicle," as it is called by adherents of the other and numerically larger school the "greater vehicle" is already at work in America both in San Francisco and more recently in New York, under the direction of the Japanese Buddhist mission. But the lesser vehicle, though the nickname is hardly complementary, is the more primitive and Orthodox school, and this still waits to be brought to America.
Coming to America.
The enthusiasm of Ananda Matteyya, scarcely concealed by the low evenness of his tones and certainly revealed by his penetrating eyes, does not recoil before the idea of spreading the faith in the near future from England to America and to the continent where there is already a promising field claimed in Germany. His acquaintance the late Col. H. S. Olcott (who visited Burma in company with the prints-priest mentioned above) has encouraged him to hope for success in the United States when he arrives there. But in order to establish a community of the yellow robe for affective work in a new land, it is necessary to have one monk of not less than 10 years' standing in at least four others, fully ordained, to assist him. With such a staff ordinations can be performed, and the new church if one likes to call it so, can look after its own internal interests. Buddhism, once a great proselytizing religion, but since them for many centuries inactive, now threatens to resume its old character, if it's first Scottish preacher can inspire others with the zeal which he manifests himself.
Not only Scotchman.
It may be mentioned that although Anantha Matteyya is the first European monk in Buddhist orders, he is not the only one, for there is another Scotsman associated with him in Burma, and also a German, who is very anxious to found a monastery, probably near Lake Lugano, Switzerland, as soon as he has the necessary 10 years' standing to enable him to admit others to the priesthood. There are other European postulant's in Ceylon but so far no American has joined the order.
With regard to the future prospects in America the Bhikkhu is sanguine.
"If we can do even as much as we seem likely to do in the short time in conservative England, why should we not be more successful still in America, where there are far more receptive? Look at the welcome given to the Vendantists.
A regular Pot Pourri.
"The difficulty in starting a monastery in a new country, apart from the necessity of having a monk of 10 years' standing at its head, lies in the rule that the food must be collected--given by the laity, not bought by the monks. So no monastery can continue in existence except in the neighborhood of lay householders. Even in a Buddhist country like Burma we call only at the house of known Buddhists."
"Do you not get rather a miscellaneous collection of food in your bowls, at times?"
"Fortunately, in Burma the pious laity only put rice in the monk's bowls. The pickles, sweets, etc. they put in the bowls of the monks attendance, who follow. In Ceylon they put all into the monks bowl, so that you may imagine that at the end of the begging round the contents are often a little mixed--rice, pickles, sweet cakes, all piled on top of one another."
Philip Tenier.
Deseret Evening News
(Salt Lake City, Utah)
13 Jun 1908, Sat • First Edition • Page 19

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Ananda Metteyya-Coming to Teach us 272 Rules of Life-13 Jun 1908.pdf


Tenier, Philip, “Coming To Teach Us 272 Rules of Life,” John L. Crow's Akashic Archive, accessed September 18, 2019,


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