Articles by alphabetic order
 Ā Ī Ñ Ś Ū Ö Ō
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0


From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Sīlācāra Bhikkhu, October 22, 1871, Hull, Yorkshire, UK — January 22, 1952, Bury, West-Sussex, UK), born and died as J.F. McKechnie. He became a Buddhist monk in 1906 and was one of the earliest westerners in modern times to do so.


There are two main sources about Sīlācāra's life. The first is the biography in a Sri Lankan edition of A Young People's Life of the Buddha, by an anonymous author, whose information about McKechnie's early life needs verification; the second is the autobiography of Nyanatiloka Thera, who mentions him several times.

According to the biography, McKechnie's father was the baritone singer Sir Charles Santley and his mother was Caroline Mavis, however, Charles Santley's two wives were called Gertrude Kemble and Elizabeth Mary Rose-Innes, and being a child of Charles Santley would have given him the surname Santley not McKechnie. So, unless he was an extramarital child, this information is incorrect.

According to the same biography, he worked as apprentice stock-cutter in a clothing factory until the age of 21, then he emigrated to America to work for four years on a fruit and dairy farm. Whilst back in Glasgow, he had read about Buddhism in a copy of the magazine Buddhism: An Illustrated Review, which he had found in the public library, and answered the advertisement of the magazine's editor Bhikkhu Ānanda Metteyya (Charles Henry Allan Bennett) who asked for an editorial assistant in Rangoon. After going to Burma, he first taught for a year in the Buddhist boys' school of Mme Hlā Oung, a rich Burmese Buddhist philanthropist. It seems unlikely, however, that McKechnie, having been an apprentice in a clothes factory and a farm worker, was accepted as an editorial assistant for a magazine, taught at a school, and, after having become a Buddhist monk, translated and wrote books on Buddhism. So this information about his earlier employment might also be incorrect, and it seems more probably that he had received some kind of higher education during which he had learnt German. The Buddhist Boy school owned by Commissioner U Hla Aung and his wife Daw Mya May, and an English art teacher called Ward teaching there, is mentioned in other sources.

In 1906 Nyanatiloka accepted McKechnie as novice (samanera) with the name Sāsanavaṃsa. He then stayed with Nyanatiloka and Ānanda Metteya at Kyundaw Kyaung, Kemmendine, Rangoon—a monastic residence in a quiet area that Mrs Hlā Oung had built for Ānanda Metteya and Nyanatiloka.

In 1906 or 1907, he was admitted as bhikkhu into the Sangha by the Sayadaw U Kumāra, who had also ordained Nyanatiloka, and was given the new name Sīlācāra. While a novice, he translated Bhikkhu Ñāṇatiloka’s The Word of the Buddha, from German into English. It was published in Rangoon in 1907.

In 1910 Sīlācāra intended to come to the Buddhist monastery Nyanatiloka planned to found near Novaggio, Lugano, Switzerland.

In 1914 he stayed in Tumlong, Sikkim, near the Tibetan border. Alexandra David-Néel was also staying there when Nyanatiloka visited Tumlong. One report states that Sīlācāra was in Sikkim on the invitation of the Maharaja to teach Buddhism. A picture of Sīlācāra sitting on a yak, next to Sidkeong Tulku (the future Maharaja of Sikkim) and Alexandra David-Néel can be seen on the website of the Alexandra David-Néel Cultural Centre.

During WWI he probably stayed in Burma, as Nyanatiloka wrote a letter to him there in 1917.

When Sīlācāra's health broke down due to asthma complicated with heart trouble, he disrobed on the advice of the German Buddhist Dr. Paul Dahlke and returned to England late in 1925. He assisted Anagarika Dharmapala at the Mahabodhi Society's British branch, lecturing and editing the British Buddhist. Due to health problems, he left London in 1932 for Wisborough Green, Surrey. He continued to write to Buddhist Magazines in the UK, Sri Lanka, Burma, Germany, etc. During World War II his house in Wisborough Green was sold and he entered an old persons' Home at Bury, West Sussex, where he stayed until his death in 1952.


Sīlācāra was a prolific writer and translator, especially as a Buddhist monk, and his books and essays were reprinted in different editions. His articles were published in the Buddhism: An Illustrated Quarterly Review, The British Buddhist, Buddhist Annual of Ceylon, Maha-Bodhi, United Buddhist World, etc. He also translated from German works by Paul Dahlke and Nyanatiloka. At least one of his works was translated into German.

In his writings, Sīlācāra stresses the rational and scientific aspects of Buddhism.