Friday, 9 December 2011

Europe, North America and Australia.

Although Buddhism spread throughout Asia it remained virtually unknown in the West until modern times. The early missions sent by the emperor Ashoka to the West did not bear fruit.
Knowledge of Buddhism has come through three main channels: Western scholars; the work of philosophers, writers and artists; and the arrival of Asian immigrants who have brought various forms of Buddhism with them to Europe, North America and Australia.
The 'come and see for yourself' attitude of Buddhism attracts many Westerners. They are not asked to believe in anything, but to follow the Buddha's advice of testing ideas first.
With the growth of easy travel and communications, the West has been able to find out more about Buddhism in this century than in all the time before. The informality and emphasis on practice of Buddhism appeals to many Westerners.
A group of Buddhist practitioners at the conclusion of a 10-day meditation retreat at in the Blue Mountains Insight Meditation Centre, Australia.

The Influence of Buddhism
Buddhist attitudes of peace, mindfulness and care for all living creatures have come to be the concern of many groups in the West. Buddhist believe that all things should be looked after: the earth, plants, birds, insects and animals. This is close to the feeling among many people in recent years that the human race should stop polluting the atmosphere and destroying the surface of the earth by cutting down forests.
Buddhism Travels West
Although the Buddha's teachings have been known in countries throughout Asia for over 2,500 years, very few people in Europe or America would have known what the word 'Buddhist' meant unless they had been born in the last 50 years.
Over a century ago people from France, the Netherlands, Great Britain, and other European countries began to travel in the Far East. Many of them returned with Eastern ideas, and so Europeans began to hear about Buddhism.
More recently, Buddhist people have moved to the West. Many of them have been refugees from conflict. Many Tibetans, for example, fled from their country after the Chinese takeover in 1959. The wars in Indochina in the 1950s and 1960s led many Vietnamese people to move to and settle in Europe, Australia and America. Other Buddhists from countries such as Thailand have established businesses in the larger Western cities. They have all brought their Buddhist beliefs to their new homes, and helped to set up Buddhist centres.
Introduction of Buddhism to Europe
In the eighteenth century onwards, a number of Buddhist texts were brought to Europe by people who had visited the colonies in the East. These texts aroused the interest of some European scholars who then began to study them.
Around the middle of the nineteenth century, a few Buddhist texts were translated into European languages. Thus Buddhist teaching came to be known to the European scholars. A few of them who were influenced by Buddhism, introduced Buddhist ideas into their own writings. Later, more and better European translations of Buddhist texts were made by the early part of the twentieth century, a large number of Buddhist texts had already been translated into English, French and German. This includes virtually the entire collection of Theravada scriptures as well as a number of important Mahayana texts.
Growth of Buddhism in Europe
Before the beginning of the twentieth century, the study of Buddhism was confined mainly to scholars and there was not much practice of the teachings. Later, this pattern began to change. A number of Europeans felt that merely reading about Buddhism was not enough, so they travelled to the East to acquire firsthand knowledge of the Buddhist practices and to experience the monastic life.
In addition, Buddhist organisations were founded in the major cities of Europe. One of these, the Buddhist Society of London, was established in 1924. It is the oldest and one of the largest Buddhist organisations in Europe. These organisations helped the growth of interest in Buddhism through their meditation sessions, lectures and circulation of Buddhist literature.
By the early part of the twentieth century, a number of the Europeans, who had travelled to the East to study Buddhism, had returned. Some of them had become monks and they inspired and strengthened the Buddhist circles in Europe. They were soon joined by Buddhist monks from Sri Lanka and other Buddhist countries in Asia. In recent years, there has been a marked growth of interest in Buddhism in Europe. The membership of existing Buddhist societies has increased and many new Buddhist centres have been established. Their members include large numbers of professionals and scholars. Today, the major Buddhist traditions of Asia such as Theravada, Pure Land, Ch'an (or Zen), Vajrayana and Nichiren Shoshu, have a sizeable number of followers in Europe.
Introduction of Buddhism to America

As in Europe, scholars in America became acquainted with a number of Buddhist ideas in the nineteenth century. Some of the oldest universities in America had departments of oriental studies where scholars studied Buddhist texts.
During the second half of the nineteenth century, Chinese immigrants settled in Hawaii and California. These immigrants brought a number of Mahayana Buddhist practices with them and built numerous temples. The Japanese Buddhist immigrant who arrived later, not only built temples but also invited over to America, the Japanese monks who belonged to the various Mahayana Buddhist sects. However, Buddhist activities remained largely confined to these immigrant communities.
At the end of the nineteenth century, two outstanding Buddhist spokesmen, Dharmapala from Sri Lanka and Soyen Shaku, a Zen master from Japan, attended the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. Their inspiring speeches on Buddhism impressed their audience and helped to establish a foothold for the Theravada and Zen Buddhist traditions in America. During this period, the Theosophical Society, which teaches the unity of all religions, also helped to spread some elements of Buddhist teachings in America.
Growth of Buddhism in America
It was not until the second half of the twentieth century that Buddhist ideas reached a wider section of the American society. American servicemen returning from East Asia after the Second World War and Korean War, brought with them an interest in Asian culture which included Nichiren Shoshu and Zen Buddhism. The latter gained considerable popularity in the nineteen-sixties among literary and artistic groups in America and this helped to popularise Buddhism. When Tibetan refugees began arriving in America after 1959, they brought with them Vajrayana Buddhism. Soon it gained a substantial following there. During the postwar period, academic interest grew. Many new departments of Buddhist studies were established in the American universities.

At Western Buddhist Centres

The basis of Buddhist practice in the West, as in the East, is meditation, and people may sit on cushions with their legs folded and hands in their laps. The photograph on the left was taken during a ten-day retreat at the Blue Mountains Insight Meditation Centre, Australia, with a western monk as the Teacher.

The students practised intensive sitting meditation and meditative walking, with a daily interview; received personal instruction and listened to an evening talk.
Some groups will also do some chanting, and make offerings to the Buddha image in its shrine. A Theravadin group will be very quiet and peaceful. They may form themselves into lines to give food to the monks in the morning and expect to hear a talk during the day.
A Tibetan group can be more active, chanting, asking questions and ringing bells. Japanese Zen groups are more restrained and spend a lot of time in meditation or zazen. The activities at Buddhist centres allow people to find ways of understanding Buddhism.
Today, there exist numerous Buddhist centres spread across Australia, New Zealand, Europe, North and South America. Virtually all the major Buddhist traditions are represented and continue to attract the interest of Westerners in all walks of life.
Buddhism in Europe
The European Buddhist Union (EBU) is a federation of Buddhist communities and organisations in Europe. Being broad and impartial it is open to Buddhists of all schools and traditions.
Its principal aims are to promote the fellowship of and encourage co-operation between the Buddhists in Europe: To promote Buddhists in Europe to meet and to get acquainted. To promote the development of friendly relations between Buddhist organizations and consequently to promote co-operation on matters that are of interest to all.
As such EBU supports and promotes a natural growth of Buddhism in Europe.
As a result of this practical approach to the spiritual path, Buddhism in Asia has seen the development of a great variety of traditions, which throughout the centuries have mingled with local cultures. Such a variety is also encountered in Europe, because most Buddhist organizations in Europe have spiritual teachers originating in the East. However, recently the number of teachers of western origin has begun to increase, and similarly many organizations have seen their "eastern appearance"evolve into an appearance of a more local brand, i.e. European or western, thus showing that in Europe Buddhism is very much a living tradition.
In present day Europe Buddhism is important not only because of its numbers (between 1 and 4 million) but also because of its impact on spiritual life, culture and the sciences. In a continent opening up to spiritual alternatives Buddhism is attractive to many because of its emphasis on personal effort and the availability of sound spiritual methods and able teachers. As a result, there is a vast interest in the practice of the various forms of Buddhist meditation, classical as well as modern.
At the same time, there continues to be a substantial interest in the academic aspect of Buddhism and Buddhist Studies. All in all, Buddhism in its many aspects undoubtedly has a lot to offer to present-day Europe. Buddhism in the world: Nowadays, Buddhism in its many forms is flourishing in many Asian countries and since the 20th century also in "the western world", i.e. in Europe, USA, Australia etc. The total number of Buddhists world-wide is estimated at 500 to 1000 Million.

Meeting of Buddhist Teachers in Europe

Each year since 2003, there has been a meeting of experienced Buddhist teachers in association with the EBU AGM, meeting either just before or just after the EBU AGM at the same venue.
This meeting is by invitation only. The reason for this is because the group itself wants to be able to build relationships and have a sense of continuity and ongoing contact with the same group of people. New members are invited by the group as a whole, with the consent of the rest of the group. Hence the group does not claim to be representative of European Buddhism, though it does include a diverse membership, from many countries in Europe and from many traditions.
Most years we have a theme for the meeting, though sometimes it is left more open. The topic for 2010, in Hungary, is:
  Our Role as Dharma Teachers in an Endangered World
The meeting is not a 'conference', but an unusually productive sharing of experience between practitioners of the Dharma.

Joining the EBU

European Buddhists and Buddhist organizations who are interested in the "European dynamics", i.e. meeting, getting acquainted, developing friendly relations and working together on matters that are of interest to all, should consider applying for membership of the EBU.
EBU's Constitutional Requirements for Membership
(a) Full membership of the Association shall be open to all such bona-fide Buddhist organizations:
(1) Which have a constitution or statutes that include items (2) and (3) below,
(2) For whom the cause of Buddhism is their main purpose,
(3) Whose prime function is to undertake Buddhist activities,
(4) Whose membership is predominantly Buddhist,
(5) Whose Council or Board is under the control of professed Buddhists,
(6) Whose membership is of reasonable size,
(7) Who carry out Buddhist activities in Europe,
(8) Who are willing to support the objects of the Association,
(9) Which have been in existence as an organization for at least one year,
(10) Which have paid the annual subscription as it is fixed each year by the Association.
(11) Which respect and are willing to work in harmony with other Buddhists.
We would like to know that your organisation meets these criteria, and we ask you to enclose a copy of your constitution, and any other information you think is pertinent.
(b) All applications for membership shall be submitted to the Administrative Council which shall make adequate enquiries as to whether the applicant fulfils the criteria for membership and shall circulate to the members at least one month before the date of the next General Meeting a recommendation with reasons to approve or reject the application.
Annual General Meeting being held in September, please send your constitution and other information at the latest by July 31st.
(c) Approval or rejection of applications for membership shall be decided at General Meetings of the Association.
Organisations applying to join are asked to send a representative to the meeting at which their application is to be considered in order to put forward their case for membership.
(d) Each member organization shall appoint one individual person, who shall be a professed Buddhist, to represent it and vote on its behalf at General Meetings of the Association. In the event of such an individual person resigning or otherwise leaving the organization, he or she shall forthwith cease to be a representative thereof.
In the interests of continuity, we recommend that delegates be changed as infrequently as possible and certainly should stay in office for at least three years at a time (Minutes AGM 2005).
(e) Each member organization may nominate:
(1) A deputy, who shall be a professed Buddhist, to replace its appointed representative to vote at a General Meeting of the Association if the latter is unable to attend any particular meeting of the Association,
(2) Observers who may be invited by the President to attend any such meeting, but who shall not be entitled to vote.
Although there was regular contact between practising Buddhists and Europeans in antiquity the former had little direct impact. In the latter half of the 19th century, Buddhism came to the attention of Western intellectuals and during the course of the following century the number of adherents has grown. There are now between 1 and 4 million Buddhists in Europe, the majority in GermanyItalyFrance and the United Kingdom

Early history

European contact with Buddhism first began after Alexander the Great's conquest of northwestern India in the 3rd century BC. Greek colonists in the region adopted Indian Buddhism and syncretized it with aspects of their own culture to make a sect called Greco-Buddhism which dominated the area of ancient India compromising modern day Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan for several centuries. Emperor Ashoka sent Buddhist missionaries to the Hellenistic world, where they established centers in places such as Alexandria, creating a noted presence in the region.

Modern history

An interest in Buddhism had been circling among academic circles in modern Europe since the 1870s, with philosophers like Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche and esoteric-minded scholars such as Helena Blavatsky. Europe has in recent times been increasingly receptive to Modern Buddhism as an alternative to traditional Buddhist precepts.
Russia and Austria are the only two European states today that recognize Buddhism as an "official", though not necessarily "state religion" in their respective countries. On top of that, Russia also recognizes it, along with IslamJudaism, and Orthodox Christianity, as native to Russian soil in the 1993 Constitution of the Russian Federation – all other religious groups are unrecognized, and must officially register and be subject to rejection by the state. Apart from Siberian Buddhist nations, the Kalmyk people's 17th century migration into Europe has made them today's only traditionally Buddhist nation west of the Ural. They now live in the Republic of Kalmykia, a Russian Republic.

Major Buddhist temples in Europe

Plum Village: In 1982 Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanhand his colleague Sister Chân Không founded Plum Village Buddhist Center (Làng Mai), a monastery and Practice Center in the Dordogne in the south of France. Since the mid 60s he has headed a monastic and lay group, the Order of Inter-Being, teaching the Five and Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings and "Engaged Buddhism." The Unified Buddhist Church is the legally recognized governing body for Plum Village (Làng Mai) in France.
The Four Dhagpo in France: Since its simple beginnings at Dhagpo Kagyu Ling in 1976, the mandala of the Karma Kagyu lineage in Europe has expanded in accordance with specific instructions left behind by His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa.
Placing Gendun Rinpoche in charge and appointing Jigme Rinpoche as his European representative, His Holiness Gyalwa Karmapa said it was necessary to build a center open to the public, a library, a university, a monastic hermitage and a retreat centre, if an authentic transmission and long term preservation of the Dharma were to take place.
Since then Dhagpo Kagyu Ling, Dhagpo Kundreul Ling, Dhagpo Dargye Ling, Dhagpo Dedreul Ling have the role of preserving and transmitting the Buddha's teachings. Together they form a unified whole in which each centre complements the activity of the three others.
Samyé Ling monastery in Scotland, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2007, includes the largest Buddhist temple in western Europe. There is an associated community on Holy Isle which is owned by Samyé Ling who belong to the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. The settlements on the island include the Centre for World Peace and Health and a retreat centre for nuns. Samyé Ling has also established centres in more than 20 countries, including Belgium, Ireland, Poland, South Africa, Spain and Switzerland. The largest temple in eastern Europe is the Golden Temple in Elista, the capital of Kalmykia, which was opened in December 2005.
The Benalmádena Stupa is the largest stupa in Europe,measuring 108 feet or 33 metres high. It was inaugurated on the 5th October 2003, and was the final project of Buddhist Master Lopon Tsechu Rinpoche. It is situated in Benalmádena, Málaga in the Andalusian region of southern Spain, overlooking the Costa del Sol.
Lerab Ling is a Tibetan Buddhist centre founded in 1992 by Sogyal Rinpoche near Lodève in Languedoc-Roussillon, France. It contains perhaps the largest Tibetan Buddhist temple in Europe , which was officially inaugurated by the Dalai Lama in 2008 at a ceremony attended by Carla Bruni-Sarkozy