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F. L. Woodward

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Courtesy: Mahinda Club.org

Frank Lee Woodward

"Frank Lee Woodward was born in Norfolk, England, in 1871, the third son of an Anglican clergyman. At school, and later at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, he was a renowned sportsman. But at around nineteen he went through a period of psychological 'distress', which led him in particular to the stoic philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, whom he described as 'a pillar of strength to those who live inwardly'. From 1898 he served as a schoolmaster at Stamford for five years, receiving a master's degree from Cambridge in 1901. During this period he discovered Theosophy, at first via the ideas of reincarnation in Plato. He joined the society in 1902, and soon developed a boundless faith in Colonel Olcott and his brand of Buddhism. Although already at this time something of an anachronism, as a Theosophical Buddhist Woodward believed implicitly in Madame Blavatsky's Himalayan brotherhood of Mahatmas; he later wrote to a friend: 'Do not repulse T.S. teachings because you cannot grasp them or because one side is prominent i.e. Hinduism ... the Bodhisat (Maitreya) is watching over this world'. A Theosophist of the old school, he offered his services to Olcott, who in 1903 installed him as the principal of Mahinda College, administered by the Buddhist Theosophical Society of Galle, Sri Lanka.

Here he worked indefatigably for sixteen years, assuming a legendary status which approached that of the good Colonel himself. Drawing no salary, he ploughed much of his inheritance into the erection of new buildings — an act of generosity which resulted in his living in dire poverty towards the end of his life. Although he was a strict disciplinarian, the 350 boys of the college dearly idolised him. Woodward conducted the senior classes in Buddhist philosophy, and would personally wash the feet of many of the monks as they came to the school hall for almsgiving. For a time he edited the Buddhist, the leading Buddhist magazine on the island, and each year went to Madras for the annual convention of the Theosophical Society. The tropical climate was beginning to tell on his health, however, and in 1919, armed with literally a ton of books, and 'Buddha relics', courtesy of the monks of the Galle District, he retired to Tasmania to live out the remaining thirty-three years of his life translating the Pali Canon.

Woodward bought a small apple orchard and cottage from a fellow Theosophist. Situated on the Tamar River 40 km from Launceston, his study afforded a magnificent view of Ben Lomond, one of the highest peaks in Tasmania, 65 km away. In this idyllic setting he began his real life's work, at the age of nearly fifty. Apart from contributing the occasional article on Buddhism to Theosophy in Australasia, Woodward's chief preoccupation was his translations for the Pali Text Society, established by Rhys Davids in 1881. From 1916 on, his contribution amounted to no fewer than sixteen volumes, though it is probably for his 1925 anthology, Some Sayings of the Buddha, that he is best remembered. Christmas Humphreys, that other renowned Theosophical Buddhist, writing in 1972, considered it still the finest anthology of the Pali Canon produced. It was also included in the World's Classics series, with an introduction by Sir Francis Young-husband. For many Westerners, including many later prominent Australian Buddhists, this book has been an entree to Buddhism, and although the style seems now somewhat florid, it earned Woodward a place alongside Rhys Davids and Nyanatiloka as a Pali scholar.

F. L. Woodward's life in Tasmania was characteristically unostentatious and rustic. He lived for his translations, and Tasmania afforded him the required isolation. Although he was thought of as a bit of an eccentric by the people of the district, he struck up close friendships with his nearest neighbours and was a favourite among the local children, who invariably received sweets from him on his visits to the store. He also drew up their astrological charts — another Theosophical pastime. A strict vegetarian and animal lover, he astounded his neighbours with his fondness for the snakes of the area, many of which he accorded nicknames. Although in his last years his orchard was neglected and his spartan lifestyle not that much more comfortable than a Buddhist monk's, making do on an annuity of around Ā70 a year, he is said to have been always 'cheery and boisterous'. Each night he practised yoga, and he became so oblivious to his appearance that on the few occasions he left the 'radius' of his 'ashrama', as he put it, he often did so clad only in 'a pair of pyjamas, a paper bag for a shirt and a white turban'. His neighbours relate that on one walk he bumped into Sir Robert Menzies, who was visiting friends in the area, and subsequently had him in for afternoon tea. Woodward only descended on Launceston two or three times a year, usually to take part in some activity of the local branch of the Theosophical Society. He claimed always to be 'confident of the goodness of whatever happens', and perhaps some of this enthusiasm rubbed off on the increasing number of Australian Buddhists with whom he was corresponding in the few years before his death in 1952."

[Croucher, Paul: Buddhism in Australia, 1848-1988. -- Kensington, NSW, Australia : New South Wales University Press, Ō1989. -- 147 S. : Ill. -- ISBN 0-86840-195-1. -- S. 21 - 23]

 

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The Western Contribution to Buddhism

William Peiris
(1973) Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publications.
CHAPTER II BRITAIN

The name of F.L. Woodward scintillates among Pali scholars who edited and translated sacred texts of the Buddhists for the Pali Text Society. But Woodward is remembered in Ceylon more for his great service to the education of Buddhist boys than for his profound Pali scholarship.

It is not generally known that he spent Ā2,000 of his patrimony at the beginning of the present century to erect buildings for a Buddhist school in the south of Ceylon-Mahinda College, Galle- in which he served for sixteen years as Principal without drawing the salary attached to the post. The school funds met his bare expenses. A confirmed bachelor, he lived on a purely vegetable diet. He invariably wore a white suit while in Ceylon. He never went home on a holiday. Simplicity was the keynote of his life, which moved Mrs. Rhys Davids once to describe him as a "recluse."

The third son of the Rev. W. Woodward of Saham, Norfolk, England, Frank Lee Woodward was born on 13 April, 1871. As a boy of eight he mastered the Elementary Latin Course, and began the study of Greek, French and German. In 1879, he joined Christ Hospital, where he won the Latin and French prizes on three occasions. Besides his academic brilliance, he possessed remarkable athletic prowess. At the age of 14 he was a member of the House Fifteen, and two years later was a perfect and one of the First Fifteen. For several years he held the record for Putting the Weight and annexed prizes in most athletic events.

Pupil and teacher became close friends

At eighteen he entered Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge winning the first classical scholarship, and at nineteen was awarded the Gold Medal for Latin verse and an exhibition. He became College organist, won the prize for Latin essay and passed the Classical Tripos examination with honours in the third year of his admission to the University. He also held office as Rugby football Captain, Vice-captain of Boats, Athletic Secretary and full-back in the Association Football Team.

He served the Rugby Preparatory School for a short period as an assistant master. Later, he became classics master at the Royal Grammar School, Worcester, where he taught for three years until 1897. While there he rowed the Worcester City Boat to victory at many a regatta, and won honour for Worcester and the Midland Counties on the football field.

Stamford School, an ancient foundation in Lincolnshire, was where he next served. He taught there for five years from 1895 as second master. E.M. Hare became close friends. During his five-year period at Stamford he devoted a good deal of his time to the study of both Western and Eastern philosophy, Pali and Sanskrit, English literature, and religion. It was he who persuaded Hare to study Pali.

Woodward joined the Theosophical Society in 1902. He described his becoming a member of it as "the most important event" in his life, for it led to his acceptance of the Buddha's teachings.

In a letter to Col. H.S. Olcott, the then President of the Theosophical Society, Woodward offered his service to the East, and Olcott gladly accepted the offer, for at that time the latter had been requested, by Buddhists to find a head for Mahinda College, in Ceylon. On 1 August, 1903, Woodward landed in the town of Galle.

More than the architect of Mahinda

He found Mahinda College housed in an old Dutch building in the busy part of the Fort of Galle. The attendance was only 60. His high academic attainments and long experience as a teacher in public schools in England soon became known all over the country and parents began to remove their sons from other schools and send them to Mahinda College. One of them, now a nonagenarian, Mr. Vincent de Silva, says that he still remembers the Latin that Woodward taught him. He often speaks of his old teacher with affection and gratitude. The numbers on the roll rapidly rose to 300-the maximum that could be accommodated in the building.

Woodward himself selected the present site of Mahinda, some public-spirited residents of the area donating the lands. He was not merely the architect of the school, but its foreman of works as well. He was often seen with a trowel in hand among masons. Sometimes he would be on the scaffoldings taking measurements. His identity is concealed in the name of "Vanapala" (Sinhalese for Woodward) among the names on a brass plate in a set of classrooms.

Woodward was a strict disciplinarian. He set a very high tone in the college and it made rapid progress under his able direction. He, however, sought no publicity. He was revered for his self-sacrifice, his generosity and his erudition. One of his many efforts was directed at establishing Sinhalese as a subject for the Cambridge Local examinations which were then held in Ceylon. He was a pioneer of the Ceylon University movement.

He used to wear the simple garb of a white shirt and white cloth and to observe the Eight Precepts of Buddhism on full moon days, setting a noble example to his pupils and neighbours. Occasionally he would offer alms to Buddhist monks in the school hall, himself serving the meals with great humility, and would himself wash and wipe the feet of the monks as they came in single file for the alms-giving.

He taught various classes for several hours a day, besides attending to administrative matters. He knew every pupil of the school both by name, and by nickname - all given by him and drawn from Shakespearian characters. One of them was Caliban.

Regular donations to Society

Woodward left Galle on 7 October, 1919, for Tasmania, where he grew apples for his livelihood, and edited and translated Pali texts. He made regular donations to the Pali Text Society.

In 1936, upon the publication of 15 volumes of a complete translation of the Digha, Majjhima, Samyutta and Anguttara Nikayas, Mrs. Rhys Davids declared: "More specially our tribute is due to him (Woodward) who has borne the major burden, translating alone six of the fifteen volumes, giving aid in a seventh and now crowning our labours with this last volume. To all this must be added his recently issued translations of two Minor Anthologies in the Sacred Books of the Buddhist series Udana and Iti-vuttaka, and his first edition of the Samyutta Commentary. Very worthily has he stood in the breach left by the untimely death of Richard Morris and Edmund Hardy. That we can look forward in a few years to completing our scheduled programme is largely due to him."

Mrs. Rhys Davids added that Woodward had undertaken all those labours while resting from "agricultural toil", and not looking for any reward save that which good work done brings.


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