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THE VENERABLE LOKANATHA :

By
DR. R. L. SONI
(Mandalay)

The great Buddhist missionary, the layan caves and forests. Strictly observing
Right Venerable Lokanatha, popularly the 13 dhutangas, he emerged towards the
known as the Italian Buddhist monk, end of 1932 with a spiritual radiance
passed away in Maymyo (Burma) in the around him. From the year 1928 through-
early hours of the 25th May 1966 in his out his life he observed the self-imposed
69th year. rule of sleeping in the sitting posture:
Born in Italy in 1897 in the celebrated only in his death he lay on his back.
family of Cioffi and given the name of Three Buddhist missionary expeditions
Salvatore, meaning the Saviour, he lived were launched by the Venerable Loka-
up to the glorious name. Brought up in an natha in the years 1933, 1934 and 1935
atmosphere of talented culture, he had his from Burma, Thailand and Ceylon respec-
education in New York (U.S.A.) in tively to Buddha-Gaya in India, where the
Columbia University, wherefrom he had Buddha had attained Enlightenment.
his B.Sc. degree in 1922. He also worked Great was the enthusiasm aroused and
at Cooper Institute and attended to bio- great was the awakening that these Ex-
logical and medical research at the Rock- peditions occasioned. It was towards the
feller. It was the scientific impulse in him end of January 1933, in the course of the
which led him to Buddhism, which he em- First Expedition that the author was con-
braced not long after graduation. Shortly verted to Buddhism by the Ven. Loka-
he was on pilgrimage to the places sacred natha overnight and ever since he has been
to Buddhism and was ordained a Buddhist strenuously engaged in Buddhism, special-
monk in Burma in 1925. Thereafter he was izing in the Dhammaduta activities on a
ardently resolved to propagate the teach- world level.
ings of the Buddha all over the world, for The Ven. Lokanatha wrote extensively
peace and happiness in the human family. and published several Booklets with a view
Returning home after mastering the to use these in his missionary expeditions
precepts and practices of Buddhism in six in the West: he also completed a large
months, he found the general atmosphere volume dealing with his missionary work
not favourable to his new religion in Italy. in the East. Alas! While the plans for a
He returned to India on foot walking missionary tour of Europe and America
across Southern Europe and Asia Minor, were getting finalised, the World War II
reaching back Burma in 1928. The five broke out. And, what a shock! All those
years that followed were spent in deep precious writing were lost. Besides, during
study and meditations, his time being divi- the War he was interned in India. Return-
ded between monasteries and the Hima- ing back to Burma after the War in Octo-
173 THE MA [JULYAUGUST]

ber 1946, he found the Buddhist Foreign shape in the conversion of millions of In-
Mission organized at Mandalay, under the dians to Buddhism. The final decision fori
auspices of which he was sent out in July the Doctor's formal conversion was made
1947 for a Buddhist survey of the contem- in 1954, when the Doctor by then the
porary world, with special reference to the father of the Constitution of free India,
U.S.A. This marks a landmark in the his- was a guest of the author in Mandalay. It
tory of Burma, for, it was the first Mis- was then that he positively decided for
sion of its kind ever launched from the formal entry into the Buddhist fold in
shores of the country. The magnificent 1956. Besides, Dr. Ambedkar showed mark-
outcome of this Mission is detailed in his ed keenness to have the Ven. Lokanatha in
work "Girdling the Globe with Truth'". India to help in the cause of educating
Preaching through Singapore and Malaya, the mass of new converts in the Buddhist
Hongkong, Shanghai and Manila, he sped values.
across the Pacific through Hawaii to the Donations for the world Dhammaduta
U.S.A., and after a very successful tour of work flowed freely to the Ven. Lokanatha
the States and preachings in England and in Burma. He had planned for a World
on the Continent, he arrived in Ceylon in Preaching Tour in 1963-1965, which some-
1950 to attend and address the First Con- how failed to materialize. The Venerable
ference of the World Fellowship of Buddh- was throughout in excellent health, taking
ists. In March 1951 he was back to Burma, due care as much of his body as of his
where right-royal receptions awaited for mind, having trained both to a high grade
him in Rangoon and Mandalay. In Manda- discipline. However, towards the end of
lay he hoisted the World Buddhist Flag 1965 he developed a sore on his forehead,
on 24th March 1951 - for the first time in which turned cancerous. While preparing
Burma. for his visit to the U.S.A. for proper treat-
After 1951 he preached extensively and ment, he succumbed to the temptation of
repeatedly thoroughout Burma, also divid- trying indigenous treatment, against all
ing his time between Burma and India expert advice: certainly, he would have
and Ceylon - mostly staying in Burma. been better off without this interference,
He attended and addressed the World for, the cancer was absolutely localized as
Fellowship of Buddhists' Conference in certified by the experts some ten days be-
Rangoon in 1954. Also, he was elected the fore his death, and as such certainly amen-
Spiritual Patron of the Mahajayanti Cele- able to modern treatment. Apart from his
brations in 1956 in Pakistan, over which death being a tremendous shock to me, it
the author presided. is an irreparable loss to the Buddhist
It was in the early thirties of this cen- world.
tury that the Ven. Lokanatha and Dr. B. The Venerable Lokanatha, a staunch
R. Ambedkar, the great leader of the Un- vegetarian, was a personality superb.
touchables in India, contacted each other. Ever beaming with youthful vigour and
The correspondence between them reveals ever with the spiritual aura of metta about
the wholesome and lasting influence the him, his very presence filled the atmos-
Venerable exercised over the Doctor in phere with peace, infusing all around him
favour of Buddhism. However, it took with the sterling impulses of the Buddhist
2510/1966] THE VENERABLE LOKANATHA

values. Ever ready to help others in dis- tact with the country. Also, he will be
tress, he was verily generosity personi- remembered for popularising Cemetary
fied. Charitable in disposition, he was ever Meditations and the heroic battles he
in quest for opportunities to give. His fought with the British authorities before
generous donation of kyats fifty thousand the War in favour of separate wards for
to the Sunlun Dhammayone in Rangoon monks in the hospitals and for male nurses
testifies to this. Devotees flocked to him to attend on the members of the Sangha.
from all ranks of life ; intellectuals, scien- No wonder, the people of Maymyo took it
tists and people in authority in different as a signal honour that such an unique
lands found themselves spellbound before Buddhist monk passed away in their town,
his arguments ; many were the friends he decidedly the queen of hill stations in
had among the wealthy, the intellectuals Burma. There, his body was taken on the
and the high-ups, and particularly among 29th May in a stately procession to the
those spiritually advanced ; even the poor- Shwezigon Monastery, where it lies in
est found in him a ray of hope and help ; state for all Burma to pay homage. It is
innumerable were the converts he brought indeed a wonderful experience to witness
to Buddhism and more numerous are the the military, the civil and the municipal
people across the world in whose hearts authorities as much as the people doing
seeds of the Dhamma have been sown their devoted best for elaborate arrange-
through his preachings. ments to honour the Right Venerable
Theravada by designation, the Ven. Lokanatha even in his death. While they
Lokanatha was broadminded for all view- earn an abiding merit, the town is expec-
points. E n d o w e d with the missionary ted to become an eternal seat of pilgrimage
spirit of the ancient pioneers and ever radi- for the Buddhists from far and near.
ant with universal friendliness, he was a Born in Italy, educated in America and
Dhammaduta par excellence. ordained in Burma, the Right Venerable
Lokanatha, after preaching the Dhamma
Having served the cause of Buddhism
in the three continents, leaves his earthly
in Burma for over forty years, he is the
remains in Maymyo. Blessed shall ever be
only Buddhist Westerner in history with
the name of Maymyo.
such a long, devoted and continuous con-