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.
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.
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.
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.
group of Buddhist practitioners at the conclusion of a 10-day
meditation retreat at in the Blue Mountains Insight Meditation
Influence of Buddhism
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.
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
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.
A typical scene in western countries during the construction
of a centre,
which are usually built with the help of volunteer labour.
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
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.
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.
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
of Buddhism to America
Service: volunteers cleaning the Buddha
images in the shrine room.
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.
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
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.
Western Buddhist Centres
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.
practised intensive sitting meditation and meditative walking, with
a daily interview; received personal instruction and listened to
an evening talk.
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.
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.