Wednesday, August 15, 2012

British Buddhism

How many Buddhists are there in Britain?
In 2001, according to the census, there were 151,816 Buddhists in Britain. However, that does not take into account those who regard themselves as Buddhists as well as Christians, or Jews, or Taoists, or anything else.
The census form made no provision for such people to be counted. There are also those who refuse to label themselves as "Buddhists" because it runs counter to the principle of selflessness or egolessness. They prefer to think of themselves as free spirits.
Irrespective of how many Buddhists there are in Britain today, there is unquestionably a growing interest.
How has Buddhism developed in Britain?
A Japanese-style Buddhist garden in Europe
Japanese-style Buddhist garden in Europ
Buddhism first found its way into Britain in the 19th century through translations of scriptures from the various schools in different parts of the east. In 1879 Sir Edwin Arnold compiled an epic poem, The Light of Asia, describing the Buddha's life. This was to become a classic and is still in print today.
The limited number of books available in those early years was enough to inspire a few to begin actually practicing Buddhism as a way of life. One of those, Allan Bennett, went to Sri Lanka in 1898 and returned as Ananda Metteyya, the first Englishman to be ordained as a Buddhist monk (bhikkhu) of the Theravada tradition.
[An Irishman -- Lawrence Carroll a.k.a. Lawrence O'Rourke or William Colvin -- preceded Bennett. He became Venerable Dhammaloka, the first Westerner to become a Buddhist monk, which he did in Southeast Asia years before.]
The Buddha sent the Dharma far and wide
In 1907 a number of people got together and formed The Buddhist Society of Great Britain and Ireland. This was succeeded in 1924 by The London Buddhist Society, founded by Christmas Humphreys. It was the first really successful organization in Britain to provide a platform for all schools and traditions of Buddhism. It stood alone for almost 50 years as the focal point for Buddhists in Britain.
Sixties Britain brought eastern religions into fashion for the first time, including Buddhism. The Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950 eventually led to the exodus of thousands of Tibetans with the Dalai Lama in 1959. This brought lamas to the west. These two factors in particular led to the mushrooming of new Buddhist groups. As a result, today almost every Buddhist tradition is represented in Britain. More

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