Prospects for the Growth of Buddhism in Germany
and other Western Countries", by Agganyani (Christa Bentenrieder)
The Keynote address delivered by Agganyani, Secretary General, Deutsche Buddhistische Union at the public meeting held on September 21, 2002 at Savsiripaye, Colombo to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the German Dharmaduta Society (1952 -2002).
I feel greatly honoured to be here, to be with you on this meaningful day, on the 50th anniversary of the German Dharmaduta Society. Your kind invitation made it possible for me to come to your country to attend this jubilee and to stand in front of you now. So, let me first express my sincere and deep thanks to you for your generous invitation.
What a magnificent jubilee! For me there are several points to remember and appreciate on this very special anniversary.
Exactly 50 years ago, on 21st September 1952, an outstanding personality succeeded in realising a great deed. It was Asoka Weeraratna, a merchant by profession, but in his heart and mind a deep, sincere dhammaduta worker. He dedicated his life to the Dhamma and for the spread of the Dhamma in Europe. And lastly he himself renounced the lay life to lead the noble life of a Bhikkhu as Venerable Dhammanisanthi. Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu!
Under the great vision of Asoka Weeraratna, the Lanka Dhammaduta Society later renamed the German Dharmaduta Society - was founded on this 21st September, 50 years ago, as a useful vehicle to spread and transmit the Dhamma to the West, to bring the Buddha's noble message of peace, happiness, liberation, and the way to attain them to Europe.
I am extremely thankful that Asoka Weeraratna chose Germany as the main base of his Dhammaduta work in Europe. Perhaps we Germans had this good fortune because of the deep regard the Buddhists in Sri Lanka had for our famous German Maha Thera Nyanatiloka, who became the first patron of the Society, and the sincere interest of some respected persons and leaders of the initial Buddhist Associations and Societies in Germany, who paved the way for Asoka Weeraratna to send the first Buddhist Mission to Germany.
History of Buddhism in Germany
I want to go a little bit further back into the History of Buddhism in Germany. It is about one hundred years ago that Buddhism came to Germany successfully. A fruitful ground was prepared by the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer who had great influence on the first German Buddhists.
Early examples of deeply inspired people were Anton Gueth, the later Ven. Nyanatiloka, Karl Eugen Neumann, the famous Indologist and translator from Austria, Dr. Paul Dahlke, a physician from Berlin, and Georg Grimm. Their influence is still very much alive in present-day Germany. The accurate translations, summaries, Pali-grammer and the Buddhist dictionary of Ven. Nyanatiloka Maha Thera are in use even now - not only in Germany they have become something like an international standard.
Neumann's poetic, artistic and sensitive translations into German are still appreciated and read by many, although his ancient German is sometimes hard to understand for young people. Georg Grimm's school, the "Ancient Buddhist Community" flourished in Bavaria, and his books are still available.
Das Buddhistisches Haus in Berlin - Frohnau
Paul Dahlke, the medical doctor, influenced mostly rational thinking people like scientists. With his exemplary Buddhist life and his publications and interpretations of the Pali texts he inspired many German people. His greatest achievement undoubtedly is the Buddhist House in Berlin-Frohnau. Founded in 1924 it developed into a sacred place of living Dhamma. It was built in an interesting architectural style, a mixture of an upper-middle-class German Villa of the Twenties and an East-Asian Buddhist temple with meaningful symbols found even in the huge forest-like garden.
Whenever I visited the Buddhist House in Berlin, I was again and again amazed to enter this peaceful place on the wooded hill, in the lively and hectic city of Berlin, through the beautiful carved stone-gate, reminiscent of Sanchi stupa's gateways, to climb up the steep staircase leading from the Samsaric world to something higher, nobler, peaceful, Nibbanic.
After Dahlke's death in 1928, the house fell into a long sleep under the non-Buddhist heirs of Dahlke. Only in 1957, when the German Dharmaduta Society purchased the premises, the living Dhamma re-entered the house, which then was converted into a Vihara. Since that time, without interruption these 45 years now, it has remained a true home for the Sangha. The monks, mainly from your country, living there, have inspired many German people who visited this place.
Students using the big library, school children listening to the introduction of Buddhism, meditators following carefully and silently the instructions. All seekers of an alternative way of life, in search of the truth, of real happiness and inner peace. The Buddhist House has become the central place to visit for Theravada-Buddhism in Germany and Central Europe. Thanks to Sri Lanka, thanks to the German Dharmaduta Society, thanks to all of you!
In July 2001, nine years after my first visit, I came to the Buddhist House again. In the meantime Tissa Weeraratna had taken over the management of the Vihara. He had invited the Executive Board of the German Buddhist Union to the Buddhist House for its meeting. Having met him several times before and having heard about his enthusiastic and energetic work for the Vihara, we could assure ourselves of the successful and ongoing renovation works and his selfless engagement in favour of the Dhamma.
Buddhism as the natural law of the mind, the law of cause and effect
I often talked to Tissa Weeraratna about the understanding and presentation of the Dhamma. I share his strict opinion that Buddhism must be based on total purity and morality and should be preferably introduced to Western new-comers as the natural law of the mind, the law of cause and effect, scientific and practical, both, but purely Buddhist - that means not mixed with cultural elements, not with too many rituals, not mixed with other religions and beliefs, not with modern Western psychology, esoteric, new-age, or feminism as we can observe everywhere today.
The Buddha's Dhamma is the Dhamma - the truth - and cannot be adapted or possessed neither by a modernist kind of spirituality nor by Sri Lanka nor Germany nor any other country in the world. The truth is true for everybody - everywhere - any time. What has to be adapted are the outer forms resulting from our daily life and experience in the present-day world.
Examples should be given for understanding the Dhamma, which itself is already complete and perfect. The main problems of mankind and the obstacles for peace and happiness are the same as they were 2500 years ago in ancient India. There has been no fundamental change. And our minds are working in the same way since the beginning of time.
The need for a full Order of the Sangha in the West
There is something I have to confess today: For a long time, like most Westerners, I did not realise that for the successful promotion of Theravada Buddhism we need the full Order of the Sangha. Also in Germany we need: Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis, Upasakas and Upasikas. Monks and nuns represent the life of the Buddha in an authentic way, the noble ideal of renunciation, a life fully and uncompromisingly dedicated to the noble search for the end of suffering, for final liberation and the highest spiritual value: Nibbana.
Striving hard for this aim, they need the support of devoted lay-people. This idea is not very common in Western countries. People still have to learn why and how to support these strict followers of the Buddha. Because there is almost no understanding, respect and support for Buddhist monks and nuns in the West, and in Germany, almost no monks and nuns exist in this part of the world. It is a vicious circle and a great pity! How can we learn about the high value of the monk's or nun's ideal than from our Asian Buddhist friends?
I myself have received my main inspiration in Myanmar (Burma) where hundreds of thousands of monks and nuns live and are well supported. The few Westerners, who ordain and try to lead a proper monk's or nun's life, mostly fail when they return to the West. Why? Because, as I said, there is almost no understanding and support there to maintain the Sangha, as done in traditional Buddhist countries.
Celibacy and renunciation
Celibacy and renunciation are considered as weakness in the West, because here it seems as if the person has failed in the worldly life. It is the opposite in the East, where spirituality and renunciation have a long tradition. So my sincere thought is, we indeed need the active help of the traditional Theravada Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka and of associations like the German Dharmaduta Society. The only Theravada monasteries in Central-Europe which are running well, are a few Thai monasteries, mainly because of the immense support of the Thai people. Fortunately, they do not support only their own Thai monks but also Western monks.
In the Buddhist Vihara in Berlin it is somewhat similar, but also very special. The House and the resident community in the Vihara are dependent to a high degree on Sri Lankan support and your aid. Now, along with Venerable Punnaratana, the abbot and a living example of loving kindness, and other Sri Lankan or Asian monks, there is the German Samanera Santuttho and from time to time other Western monks like Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, Ven. Dhammadipa, Ven. Ashin Ottama and Ven. Analayo who come and stay there for a while. And you and your countrymen welcome them all. Through this welcome, I feel your great generosity, sincerity and credibility. And I think this an extremely important step and deed.
Honest mutual cooperation required
If the Asian monks only stay among themselves in the Diaspora, things will never ever change in these western countries. In spite of all the difficulties that exist in the West because of different temperaments, education, cultural backgrounds and habits, I am sure Buddhism can only be transmitted successfully and flourish by honest mutual cooperation. Germans can learn so much from Sri Lankan people, and I am also sure, that the Germans have some different character strengths, which are also worthy of use in the service of the Dhamma.
As a practical example I would like to again mention Ven. Santuttho. As I know him, he is deeply rooted in the Dhamma, which he learned in Sri Lanka and he is deeply thankful for this highest gift of your people. Day after day he works selflessly in the Buddhist House, humble and mainly in the background of the office in order to write, translate, edit Buddhist texts and books, to create and maintain websites, etc. You support him, give him a place to live in, teach him the Dhamma and Vinaya, and he in return serves to transmit the Dhamma to the people in Germany. But mentioning only his name as an example, I am not in any way overlooking or underestimating the contributions of all the others, without whose mental, spiritual, material or physical support, the Buddhist Vihara cannot flourish and may not even survive.
My deep gratitude and thankfulness to all of them on behalf of the pious Theravada Buddhists of Germany.
German Buddhist Union
I am speaking here today not only in my individual capacity but also as the Secretary - General of the Deutsche Buddhistische Union (German Buddhist Union) (DBU).
This year we commemorate the 47th anniversary of the founding of the German Buddhist Union. This by itself is nothing special. But our organisation is something special within Europe. Without arrogance or pride I can say that our Head -Association has set a good example and serves as a model for other European countries. The German Buddhist Union is an umbrella-organisation under which many Buddhist Associations and Societies are affiliated. All Buddhist traditions are unified and work together. As you may imagine, this cooperation is not always easy. Different traditions, schools, canons and fundamental texts, different interpretations, means and methods of various ways which all are said to lead to the same final goal of Nibbana (Nirvana). But this goal and the great vision of the establishment of Buddhism, though through a variety of traditions, in Germany allow us to work together and overcome all difficulties.
But, I have to come to a special, interesting and problematic point. This German Buddhist Union was founded as a cooperation or network of three Theravada Buddhist associations in 1955. At that time Theravada Buddhism was the dominant school of Buddhism in Germany. The various Mahayana schools were rather unknown and had not yet been introduced. What a change compared to the present!
In the 1960's and 1970's especially the Zen groups boomed, in the 1980s and 1990s Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism began to boom. And more and more of these new Buddhist groups became interested and began to join our German Buddhist Union.
Theravada Buddhism in Germany
So today out of 52 Buddhist associations under our umbrella, there remain only seven pure Theravada associations and five open societies or seminar houses with a great leaning towards Theravada. Two more Theravada associations, including the Buddhist House in Berlin, have applied for membership and hopefully will join soon. Counting the number of individual Buddhists - we guess there is altogether a number of about 100.000 German Buddhists. But one sadly sees that Theravada has become still more rare with less than 10% of followers among the total number of Buddhists. For me that is a warning signal. In order to preserve the original teachings of the Buddha and to make them attractive to the Germans we have to do something actively. Now.
Within the German Buddhist Union, in order to work more effectively, we have organised some working-groups or -teams: Three teams have been formed on the lines of the main Buddhist traditions: a group of Japanese traditions, a Tibetan Buddhist group, and a Theravada group. And in the light of some important duties and aims of our Union other working-groups have been formed, such as Engaged Buddhism, Buddhism in Schools, Inter-religious dialogue, and future of the German Buddhist Union.
And there are teams for preparation of our annual Buddhist Congress. This year our congress will be held in Leipzig at the end of October, the first time in Eastern Germany, where Buddhism is not very well-known, but our strong aim is to present and promote Buddhism there as well.
Buddhism in German Schools
I wish to stress on the theme "Buddhism in Schools" and would like to convey to you the happy news, that from next year - 2004 - onwards, Buddhism will be introduced as a subject in Berlin primary schools. As Buddhism is not recognised as an official religion in Germany, this development i.e.making available Buddhism as a subject in school curricula, is very significant.
We think that it is very important to have the chance to teach and transmit basic Buddhist values, Buddhist ethics, loving kindness, compassion, patience, unselfishness and a responsible way of life, to the young generation. Especially in this very difficult time of materialism, consumerism, environmental crime, pollution and natural disasters, terrorism and war, Buddhism receives an especially important position among the religions.
Loss of confidence in Christianity
Many Western people have lost their confidence in Christianity and are searching for an alternative and rational ways of leading a spiritual life. They are also looking for guidance to lead a meaningful, happy life. More and more Western people have become interested in Buddhism, especially in meditation as a way to mental peace and calmness, and they convert to Buddhism after a critical trial period. Well known Buddhists such as the Dalai Lama or Thich Nhat Hanh are sources of inspiration and have become very popular in the West. They are living examples of mindfulness, compassion, tolerance and peace. Even non Buddhists in the West give them high respect. This is a good development in my eyes as it also prepares a fruitful soil for Theravada Buddhism, which in my opinion enshrines these qualities in greatest purity and perfect clarity.
Theravada Working - Group
I have to come back to the German Buddhist Union and its working-groups. In our Theravada working-group we try to build a network of Theravada groups and individuals and we often discuss how to promote Theravada Buddhism. We are on the way to establishing an informative Theravada Website on the Internet, that will also present the main Theravada events and highlights. A Theravada newsletter is being distributed by e-mail to all interested people.
We are printing German Dhamma-books for free distribution, and costs of printing are met through donations. The next two books have been printed with the kind help of the Buddhist Publication Society (BPS) in Sri Lanka and copies of these new books are expected to be sent to Germany in a few days. These two books are: the new, expanded edition of the Pali-grammer by Ven. Nyanatiloka, and "The Seven Contemplations of Insight" by the late Ven. Matara Nyanarama Maha Nayake Thera (the former Meditation Master at the Mitirigala Forest Hermitage).
Dhamma study tour of Myanmar
Within the Theravada-working-group I have organised a Dhamma-study-tour of Myanmar (Burma) where a free study-course of Satipatthana Sutta, fundamental Abhidhamma and Vipassana meditation is offered at "Sotag International Buddhist Academy" in Sagaing. We are continuously seeking close contact and cooperation with the traditional Buddhist countries and masters. We are convinced that only a close relationship and willingness to learn more from them, will uplift Theravada Buddhism in Germany to say nothing about any personal success in attaining one of the Noble Aryan stages on the way to Arahatship.
We have appointed four internationally famous monks active in Germany namely the Venerables Sayadaw U Nyanissara, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Ashin Ottama, and Dhammadipa as members of the advisory board of our working-group.
Networking has already begun, especially within and between Germany, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Myanmar and Sri Lanka to some extent. We hope that this cooperation will include other European and Asian countries soon, will intensify and bring out noble results in future, the fruit of the Dhamma: Nibbana, the highest bliss - available and attainable for everyone, who is yearning and striving for it.
The German Buddhist Union and especially our Theravada-working-group is keenly following the celebration of today's anniversary of your German Dharmaduta Society.
We German Buddhists will never forget what you have done for us. We all appreciate your contribution to the spread of Buddhism in Germany, and to the Berlin Buddhist Vihara, and we thank you out of the deepest gratitude of our hearts.
May all of you attain Nibbana soon as a reward for your generosity and promotion of Theravada Buddhism in Germany.
Let Sri Lankans and Germans follow the path of the Buddha together, hand-in-hand.
we attain Nibbana together and soon!