Anne Bancroft obituary

When the Zen master Daisetz Suzuki visited London, my mother, Anne Bancroft, who has died aged 97, was delegated by the Buddhist Society to entertain him. The two strolled through Hyde Park and sat on a bench near a woman with a yappy dog. Suzuki turned to Anne and asked: “Can a dog have Buddha-nature?” Stuck for an answer, Anne replied: “Bow-wow”. Suzuki was delighted and told her she had attained sartori, an enlightened one.

Born in Croydon, south London, into a literary home, Anne was the daughter of Arthur Hayward, a chief editor at the publisher Cassell’s, and Margaret (nee Bissett), a nurse in the first world war. Anne grew up in the Quaker village of Jordans, Buckinghamshire. She was a rebellious child; she shot herself in the foot rather than go to convent school.

At 17 she fell passionately in love with a considerably older man and at 18 married his even older brother, Keith England, a teacher. Two children swiftly followed, but after the end of the second world war she fell in love with Hans Lobstein, an American military policeman stationed in the UK, and followed him to the US. She divorced her first husband and in 1949 married Hans, with whom she had two more children.

They returned to the UK in the early 1950s, and Hans started a poultry business in Amersham, Bucks. The marriage was stormy and Anne separated from Hans in 1961 (they later divorced) and trained as a college lecturer specialising in comparative religion.

An artist friend, Denis Lowson, introduced her to the Buddhist Society, where she found herself at home. She became a regular contributor to, and then editor of, its journal, The Middle Way.

In the late 1960s she opened a shop in Covent Garden selling Buddhist books and antiques, and into this shop one day walked Richard Bancroft, the then director of the British Museum Reading Room. Once more, Anne fell in love and they married in 1977, after she had published the first of many books on spirituality, Religions of the East (1974).

Anne produced a succession of popular titles, including The Luminous Vision (1982), The Buddhist World (1984), Origins of the Sacred (1988), A Spiritual Journey (1991) and Zen: Direct Pointing to Reality (1995). Her particular strength lay in understanding women’s spirituality, which she reflected in two widely translated books: Weavers of Wisdom: Women Mystics of the Twentieth Century (1989) and Women in Search of the Sacred (1996).

After Richard’s death in 2003 she moved to Bath, and in later years lived in the Mary Feilding Guild, Highgate, north London, where she ran a meditation group. Anne was not afraid of death. One of her greatest wishes was to meet the 2nd century Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna: “a real toughie” she called him. Buddhists are ambiguous about the afterlife, but perhaps now she can.

She is survived by her four children, Julia, Roger, Tim and Debbie, and 20 grandchildren.