The first westerners recorded as becoming lay Buddhists on Asian terms were members of the Buddhist Theosophical Society in Ceylon who took pansil (refuges and precepts) between 1880 to 1907 or later, tied to their work with the BTS’ modernising Buddhist schools. This article uses the life of Dr John Bowles Daly as a lens to explore these “conversions” and the BTS’ educational turn. Daly (c. 1844 – c. 1916), an Irish writer and ex-Anglican curate, played an important role in Buddhist schooling in Ceylon in the early 1890s. The article discusses why western BTS members took pansil and how this was understood, as well as the lack of western bhikkhu (monk) ordinations in Ceylon. The new lay-run schools slowly became established as a suitable object of dana (Buddhist donations) in competition with the traditional temple-run schools, leading in time to the formation of a new lay Sinhala Buddhist elite. These histories show the strong predominance of this elite as against the agendas not only of Daly but the international Theosophical Society.