Cox, Laurence and Griffin, Maria
The Wild Irish Girl and the "dalai lama of little Thibet": the long encounter between Ireland and Asian Buddhism.
Ireland's New Religious Movements.
Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle, pp. 53-73.
Ireland lies on the margins of the Buddhist world, far from its homeland in northern India and Nepal and the traditionally Buddhist parts of Asia. It is also in various ways "peripheral" to core capitalist societies, and Irish encounters with Buddhism are structured by both facts. Buddhism, for its part, has been a central feature of major Eurasian societies for over two millennia. During this period, Irish people and Asian Buddhists have repeatedly encountered or heard about each other, in ways structured by many different kinds of global relations – from the Roman Empire and the medieval church via capitalist exploration, imperial expansion and finally contemporary capitalism.
These different relationships have conditioned different kinds of encounters and outcomes. At the same time, as succeeding tides of empire, trade and knowledge have crossed Eurasia, each tide has left its traces. In 1859, Fermanagh-born James Tennent's best-selling History of Ceylon could devote four chapters to what was already known about the island in ancient and medieval times – by Greeks and Romans, by "Moors, Genoese and Venetians", by Indian, Arabic and Persian authors and in China. Similarly, the Catholic missionary D Nugent, speaking in Dublin's Mansion House in 1924, could discuss encounters with China from 1291 via the Jesuits to the present.
The Ireland that was connected with the Buddhist world was not, of course, a separate and coherent entity. Like many or most contemporary states, the majority of what was nineteenth-century "Ireland" has only become a separate state within living memory, and one whose cultural and political boundaries remain contested. If authors discussing the arrival of Buddhism in Britain or America (Almond 1988, Tweed 2000) have written as though Victorian Buddhism there was largely an outgrowth of American or British culture, peripheral societies like Ireland have been in no position to remake Buddhism in their "own" (intensely debated) image.
For most of the last five hundred years, Irish encounters with Buddhism have been mediated through competing international affiliations – most powerfully, the British empire and the Catholic church – through shared Anglophone or European publishing spaces, and (going further back) through languages spoken both here and elsewhere. More recently, they have been structured by Ireland's constant cycle of emigration and immigration: until recently it has been rare for Buddhists to be both Irish and in Ireland.
Thus the history of "Buddhism and Ireland" is not a separate national analysis but a window into global histories (comparable to Rocha's 2006 account of Brazilian Zen), where the effective unit of analysis is whatever "world system" (Wallerstein 1988) connects economic, political and cultural activities, from the Roman empire to global capitalism.
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