I came across a black and white British news article from the 1950’s, of three ‘British’ men travelling to Thailand to be ‘ordained’ as Theravada Buddhist monks, on a DVD covering the life of the Venerable Pannavaddho (1925-2004).
George Blake may well have been the first ‘African-Caribbean’ man to have ordained as a Buddhist monk, and perhaps was the first ever ‘Black’ Buddhist monk. Due to British imperialism, Jamaica was a British Colony until its independence in 1962. This meant that George Blake (b.1922) was a ‘British Citizen’ with the legal right to visit and/or settle on the UK Mainland. Indeed, during WWII, he volunteered for the Royal Air Force (RAF) and defended the British Isles against Nazi German aggression. As a reward for his service, (and 3 years prior to the Labour Party bringing in free higher education in the UK, in 1948), he was offered a full scholarship to a university of his choice at the end of hostilities in 1945. This man of obvious intelligence would eventually become an esteemed psychologist, but whilst in the UK, he came in contact with the Theravada (Thai) tradition of Buddhism, and was immediately drawn to its ‘scientific’analysis of mind. Interestingly, when he asked about ‘ordaining’ as a Buddhist monk, he was always advised by the Theravada monks to first acquire a very good secular education, as Buddhism extolled the development of the mind in all its aspects. Eventually, George Blake became a ‘Samanera’ or ‘novice’ monk in the UK, before travelling to Thailand in 1956 to take the full ordination and acceptance of the Vinaya Discipline. George Blake sets an extraordinary example for all people in the world. This was a man from an oppressed British Colony in the imperial era, who fought bravely during WWII for the British people, then he became not only a Buddhist monk, but also a respected academic in the UK and Canada – doing much good pioneering work with alcoholism. His presence in the UK as a Buddhist monk who travelled to Thailand on an equal footing with two ‘White’ British men is extraordinary, even more so due to the positive media coverage it received.
In the above article (written in 2015) George Blake was 93 years old!