Travers Christmas Humphreys was born In Ealing, Middlesex, England, on this day, the 15th of February, in 1901. The son of a judge.
In his teen years his elder brother died and this opened the doors to that great quest through which many before and since have walked. While at school he was introduced to Theosophy and about the same time Buddhism. It would become a life-long interest. He also followed in the family profession, and after attending Cambridge he became a barrister, and eventually, a judge.
But it’s his spiritual quest that is important for me.
At 21 he met Aileen Faulkner, whose own path included a blending of Theosophy and Buddhism. It was a perfect match, and before long they married. He called her Puck and she called him Toby.
In 1924, the year he began his law practice the couple founded the London Buddhist Lodge as a branch of the Theosophical Society. Two years later they formally separated from Theosophical institutions and renamed the organization the London Buddhist Society. Humphreys would remain its president until his death in 1983.
Humphreys’ early Buddhist education was formed by Ananda Metteya, one of the first Englishmen to become a Theravadan monk, as well as the translators WT and Caroline Augusta Rhys Davids.
The Society is a foundational institution for the development of Buddhism in its various schools within England, and from there throughout the “West.” Over the years the Society would host spiritual leaders of many sorts, many Theosophists and related. But under his leadership the Society also hosted and increasingly focused the work of the Society on Buddhism.
The London Buddhist Society’s official if brief history tells us:
“Over the many years of his presidency the Society flourished and became widely known and respected, both at home and overseas. In 1956 the Society moved to its present address at Eccleston Square and in that same year participated in the Buddha Jayanthi, the celebration of the 2,500th anniversary of the Buddha’s Enlightenment which took place in India. In 1961 His Holiness the Dalai Lama became Patron to the Buddhist Society, the first in the West to be so honoured. During these especially fruitful years the Society received many distinguished visitors, including Her Majesty the Queen of Bhutan (1925) and Their Majesties The King and Queen of Thailand (1966). In 1973 the Society hosted a visit by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, in his capacity of Patron of the Buddhist Society, and a subsequent visit in June 1996, as part of the Society’s extended 70th anniversary celebrations. The Society continues to work with others in helping to enable further visits of His Holiness to this country.
“In the early days much emphasis was placed on pioneering the publishing of Buddhist books in English and some of the books published in that period remain in print today. The tradition of publishing continues, with the Society acting the part of an occasional publisher and as an agent facilitating the publication of relevant books. Especially noteworthy in this connection is the Society’s internationally respected quarterly, ‘The Middle Way’, which began life as ‘Buddhism in England’, and has a publishing history going back to 1926.”
Among the many people Humphreys and the Society supported in various was the scholar and first interpreter of Zen Buddhism to the West, D. T. Suzuki.
And, critically, Humphreys and through him Suzuki, would welcome another young seeker, Alan Watts.
Watts writes, “Humphreys and his wife] ran the Buddhist Lodge from their flat . . . where they had made a hideaway with a bright fire, Persian rugs, incense, golden Buddhas, and a library of magical books which promised me the most arcane secrets of the universe. . . . He is a tall, slender, and limber fellow with big ears, and a clear authoritative voice—always tempered to make it even more so—in which he speaks the best King’s English. . . . He is a man of immense generosity and compassion, and through his taste in Oriental art and literature, radiates an atmosphere of warm mystery.”
In a biographical sketch of Humphreys, David Guy tells us, “Humphreys took the young Watts under his wing and with characteristic magnanimity became his mentor. Watts said later that he ‘gave me an education which no money could possibly buy’ and ‘put me on my whole way of life.’ Humphreys introduced him to the writing of Suzuki and, some years later, to the man himself.”
Christmas Humphreys died at the age of 82 on the 13th of April, 1983.
The ripples of his life will continue to influence Buddhism in the West for some time to come…
Endless bows to one of our eminent ancestors…