Today there are many Buddhists in the West, but for 2000 years the Buddha's teachings were unknown outside Asia. It was not until the late 18th century, when Sir William Oriental Jones, a British judge in India, broke through the Brahmin's prohibition on learning their sacred language. Sanskrit, that clues about the origins of a religion quite distinct from Hinduism began to be deciphered from inscriptions on pillars and rocks.
This study tells the story of the search that followed, as evidence mounted that countries as diverse as Ceylon, Japan and Tibet shared a religion which had its origins in India yet was unknown there. British rule brought to India, Burma and Ceylon a whole band of enthusiastic Orientalist amateurs - soldiers, administrators and adventurers - intent on investigating the subcontinent's lost past. Unwittingly, these men helped lay the foundations for the revival of Buddhism in Asia during the 19th century and its spread to the West in the 20th.
Charles Allen's book is a mixture of detective work and story-telling, as this acknowledged master of British Indian history pieces together early Buddhist history to bring a handful of extraoridinary characters to life.
Few books have so succinctly yet accessibly investigated such a lesser-known yet seminally important corner of Indian history - Martin Booth, Sunday Times
Allen has excelled himself, and this highly cultured and also finely illustrated offering is a thoroughly absorbing distraction - Justin Wintle, Financial Times
In the nineteenth century, a group of enthusiastic Europeans . . . set about unearthing evidence in India of ancient Buddhist teachings. Their fascinating story is told by Allen in an intriguing mixture of part detective work and part evocative storytelling - Daily Express