Book: Translocal Lives and Religion
Chapter: 7. Charles Pfoundes and the Forgotten First Buddhist Mission to the West, London 1889
Charles J. W. Pfoundes (b. Ireland 1840, d. Japan 1907) arrived in Japan in 1863 aged 23. He learned Japanese and developed a lifelong interest and admiration for Japanese culture. In 1878 he returned to the UK and in 1889 launched, under the aegis of the newly-formed Kaigai Senkyokai (English name ‘Buddhist Propagation Society’) in Kyoto, a Buddhist mission in London. This forgotten but highly active Japanese Buddhist mission to London, then hub of the global British empire, predates by ten years the so-called ‘first’ Buddhist missions to the West which emerged on California in 1899 and by almost two decades the alleged ‘first’ Buddhist mission to London of Ananda Metteyya in 1908. New research into the mission, including its confrontations with Theosophy and links to Spiritualism and progressive reform movements offers new insights into the complex, lively and contested character of global religious connections in the late nineteenth century.