The Lotus and the Lion

The Lotus and the Lion: Buddhism and the British Empire

J. Jeffrey Franklin
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    The Lotus and the Lion
    Book Description:

    Buddhism is indisputably gaining prominence in the West, as is evidenced by the growth of Buddhist practice within many traditions and keen interest in meditation and mindfulness. In The Lotus and the Lion, J. Jeffrey Franklin traces the historical and cultural origins of Western Buddhism, showing that the British Empire was a primary engine for curiosity about and then engagement with the Buddhisms that the British encountered in India and elsewhere in Asia. As a result, Victorian and Edwardian England witnessed the emergence of comparative religious scholarship with a focus on Buddhism, the appearance of Buddhist characters and concepts in literary works, the publication of hundreds of articles on Buddhism in popular and intellectual periodicals, and the dawning of syncretic religions that incorporated elements derived from Buddhism.

    In this fascinating book, Franklin analyzes responses to and constructions of Buddhism by popular novelists and poets, early scholars of religion, inventors of new religions, social theorists and philosophers, and a host of social and religious commentators. Examining the work of figures ranging from Rudyard Kipling and D. H. Lawrence to H. P. Blavatsky, Thomas Henry Huxley, and F. Max Müller, Franklin provides insight into cultural upheavals that continue to reverberate into our own time. Those include the violent intermixing of cultures brought about by imperialism and colonial occupation, the trauma and self-reflection that occur when a Christian culture comes face-to-face with another religion, and the debate between spiritualism and materialism. The Lotus and the Lion demonstrates that the nineteenth-century encounter with Buddhism subtly but profoundly changed Western civilization forever.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5859-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
    J. Jeffrey Franklin
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    It would not be inaccurate to say that Buddhism did not exist in the West until near the beginning of the Victorian period (1837–1901), despite the fact that it had existed for over 2,400 years and was being practiced at that moment by millions of people throughout Southeast Asia, Tibet, China, and Japan. Prior to the early nineteenth century, few Europeans had heard of Buddhism at all, and the few who had heard of it pictured the Buddha as a minor Hindu deity or a celestial sun god in the pantheon of the “exotic Orient.” Of course, Eastern thought...

  6. Chapter 1 The Life of the Buddha in Victorian Britain
    (pp. 25-49)

    Thousands of late-Victorian Britons went about with images of the Buddha floating in their heads. While this may sound like a statement out of Lewis Carroll—who indeed did allude to Buddhism in the Alice books—it is nonetheless a fact, if for no other reason than that three book-length poems recounting the life of the Buddha were published in London in the 1870s and 1880s: Richard Phillips’s The Story of Gautama Buddha and his Creed: An Epic (1871), Sir Edwin Arnold’s The Light of Asia. Being The Life and Teaching of Gautama, Prince of India and Founder of Büddhism...

  7. Chapter 2 Buddhism and the Emergence of Late-Victorian Hybrid Religions
    (pp. 50-87)

    The last quarter of the nineteenth century witnessed the generation of new, alternative or syncretic religions in Europe at a rate perhaps unprecedented in modern Western history. Examples include The Church of Christ, Scientist; the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn; the Theosophical Society; and Anthroposophy. Some scholars would challenge this broadened use of the term “religion”; I would open the definition even further by including a number of humanist institutions that likewise emerged during that period as surrogates for Christian institutions.¹ For example, the Positivist Political and Social Union, inspired by the writings of Auguste Comte (1798–1857), was...

  8. Chapter 3 Romances of Reincarnation, Karma, and Desire
    (pp. 88-127)

    “No subject claims more earnest attention from religious thinkers in the present day than the doctrine” of reincarnation, according to A. P. Sinnett, a recognized late nineteenth-century authority on the subject (Sinnett, “Preface” v). T. E. Slater, in Transmigration and Karma (1898) argued that no one can deny “that there is such a law as Karma” and that “it is clearly taught in the Bible” (Slater 29, 30). I doubt reincarnation was the subject foremost on the minds of the majority of late-Victorian religious thinkers, and I feel confident that few Christians of any denomination saw the doctrine of karma...

  9. Chapter 4 Buddhism and the Empire of the Self in Kipling’s Kim
    (pp. 128-176)

    Criticism of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim (1901) has a history of polarization that is familiar to Kipling scholars, though not all scholarship has participated in this debate. The divide is between these two camps, oversimplified here for the sake of argument: (1) those who celebrate the novel’s accomplishment in portraying Indian peoples and Eastern religions with an evenhandedness and sympathy that transcends its author’s well-known prejudices, and (2) those who focus on the implicit racism of the novel, its assumption of British superiority, and its polemic to the effect that wise Indians must recognize the God-given rightness of British colonial rule.¹...

  10. Conclusion: The Afterlife of Nirvana
    (pp. 177-208)

    Nirvana is everywhere, and in more senses than one. I recently heard the word used three times within a day: once by a radio DJ to indicate the state induced by a particular group’s music (not the group Nirvana), once in an advertisement for a health-and-beauty spa, and once by my teenage daughter parodying valley-girl-speak on the telephone. How many nirvanas must there be in the air of twenty-first-century Western culture? All of this “nirvana talk” started with the Victorians, and thus began in terms of a more earnest set of debates (Whitlark 17). Indeed, one of the most sustained...

  11. Appendix 1: Selective Chronology of Events in the European Encounter with Buddhism
    (pp. 209-212)
  12. Appendix 2: Summary of Selected Buddhist Tenets
    (pp. 213-218)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 219-244)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 245-264)
  15. Index
    (pp. 265-274)