Frank Lee Woodward (1871-1952) was an English educator, Pali scholar, author and theosophist. Woodward studied and researched Theravada Buddhism and wrote numerous works based on them.
He is admired among Pali scholars for compiling the great concordance of the Pali canon by translating eighteen of the forty-two volumes of the Pali texts into English. He also served as director of the Buddhist school Mahinda College, Galle in Ceylon for 16 years from 1903 to 1919. Woodward lived his last stage of life in Rowella, Tasmania., Mainly dedicating his time to studies and translation work.
Frank Lee Woodward was born on April 13, 1871 at Saham Toney in Norfolk, England, as the third son of William Woodward, an Anglican vicar, and his wife Elizabeth Mary Ann. Woodward had an archetypal Victorian childhood and began studying the Latin, Greek, French and German languages at the age of eight. He joined the traditional English public school Christ’s Hospital (the Bluecoat School), London in 1879, where he later won prizes in Latin and French on three occasions. Woodward also did well in athletics at his school and won awards for many sporting events. He did especially well at Putting the weight, where he held records for several years.
Woodward won a scholarship to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge at the age of eighteen and won the distinction of classical scholar, sportsman and organist there. He was also captain of the football rugby team, vice-captain of Boats and was a side of the football team of Sidney Sussex College.
He received BA in 1893 and MA in 1902 and later devoted himself to teaching and teaching in several English public schools, which assured him a deputy director. Woodward began his teaching career at Rugby Preparatory School, where he served for a short period as a teacher’s assistant. Later, he taught for three years at the Royal Grammar School, Worcester until 1897 as a teacher of classics. Woodward then joined Stamford School, Lincolnshire, where he served for five years as the second teacher. During his five-year stint at Stamford, he spent much of his time studying Western and Eastern philosophy, Pali and Sanskrit, English literature and religion.
Woodward joined the Theosophical Society of London in 1902, and became a friend and follower of Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, co-founder and first president of the Theosophical Society. In 1903 Colonel Olcott offered to be a director at Mahinda College, Galle, Ceylon, which was then administered by the Buddhist Theosophical Society of Galle, Ceylon. Woodward accepted the direction of Mahinda College that he cared for the next 16 years of his life.
Frank Lee Woodward was the director of Mahinda College from 1903 to 1919. His work at Mahinda College included taking classes in English, Latin, Pali, Buddhism and art, in addition to the administrative duties related to the school’s master’s degree. With the help of Mudaliyar Gunaratne, Muhandiram Thomas Amarasuriya, Muhandiram Wickremasinghe and the Buddhist charitable public of Galle, Woodward moved to Mahinda College to his current site, which is more suitable for a school.
His participation went much further since he was the designer and architect of his buildings, personally supervised its construction and, often, worked alongside the masons. During Woodward’s term, the school had grown rapidly and had become one of the leading universities in southern Sri Lanka. Although he was a strict disciplinarian, his students idolized him greatly.
While working in Sri Lanka, he edited the Buddhist, the main Buddhist magazine on the island at the time, and went to Madras every year to attend the annual convention of the Adyar Theosophical Society.Woodward advised the director of education in Ceylon often during his work and actively participated in the movement to establish a University in Ceylon. The Sinhalese language was accepted as a subject for Cambridge local exams due to their efforts.
He decided to leave Mahinda College in 1919 due to the tropical climate, which was having a bad impact on his health. He emigrated to Tasmania to live the rest of his life with the intention of translating the Pali Canon into English.
Woodward settled in Tasmania, and bought a small apple orchard and a cabin from a fellow Theosophist, located on the Tamar River 40 km from Launceston, from where you can see Ben Lomond, one of the highest peaks in Tasmania. In this peaceful environment, he resumed his studies on Buddhism and translations for the Pali Text Society, established by Thomas Rhys Davids in 1881. He lived alone, surrounded by Buddhist scriptures on thousands of sheets of wave and practiced yoga and meditation.
Although he preferred isolation, he developed friendships with his closest neighbors and the local children liked them, to whom Woodward gave them sweets during his visits to the store. A vegetarian and animal lover, he surprised his neighbors with his love for snakes in the area.
In his last years, his garden was neglected and reduced to poverty.Woodward only left his hometown two or three times a year, usually to take part in some activity of the local branch of the Theosophical Society. His work Some Sayings of the Buddha , has contributed to a broader understanding of Buddhism in the Western world. Scholar and translator of Pali, he translated into English eighteen of the forty-two volumes of Pali’s texts and compiled the vast concordance of the Pali canon.
In 1936, after the publication of 15 volumes of a complete translation of Digha, Majjhima, Saṁyutta and Anguttara Nikaya, Caroline Rhys Davids greatly admired Woodward for his indefatigable work for which he never expected any reward. Woodward died on May 27, 1952 at Beaconsfield Hospital, West Tamar, at the age of 81. He was buried in the cemetery of Carr Villa, Launceston.