Buddhism In Europe, Past and Present (Impressions of Lecture by Zarko Andricevic, Dharma Drum Vancouver Center, 10/23)

Buddhism In Europe, Past and Present (Impressions of Lecture by Zarko Andricevic, Dharma Drum Vancouver Center, 10/23)

Buddhism was introduced to, and developed in, different ways and at different times in parts of Europe and the rest of the world. Mr. Andricevic’s lecture focused on the development of Buddhism in the West, particularly in Europe.

The history of Buddhism in Europe predates the Christian era, reaching all the way back to Alexander the Great, who lived from 356 BC to 323 BC, and whose domination of the region brought Greek civilization into contact with Indian culture in 334 BC.

After Alexander’s death in 323, the Mauryan empire re-conquered areas of India which had been annexed by Alexander. Ashoka, the grandson of Mauryan emperor Chandragupta, embraced Buddhism and sent emissaries from India to regions around the Mediterranean.

At the apex of the Roman Empire, after the Romans had outlawed all religions except Christianity, the spread of Buddhism was deterred. It was later halted by the growth of Islam in the region.

European travelers to East Asia in 13th century, including Marco Polo, returned to Europe with reports of Buddhist practitioners. Later, Jesuits travelling to Asia in the 16th and 17th centuries became curious about Buddhism. They wrote and sent written reports of Buddhism back to Europe.

Throughout a period lasting nearly 2,000 years, from the time of Alexander the Great to the 19th century, Buddhism in Europe progressed little beyond sparse awareness that it existed. However, in the 19th century, European academics and elites became very interested in Buddhism. Many texts were translated and distributed, and this stimulated more interest. At that time, Buddhism was perceived by many to be a Branch of Hinduism. But this was corrected as scholars and the curious realized was a philosophy unto itself.

At turn of century, the main group interested in Buddhism changed from academics who wished to study it to people who wanted to experience Buddhism themselves. Some Europeans became monks Buddhist monks. One of them, Alan Bennett, founded the Buddhism Society in Britain. There was similar interest in Buddhism in Germany and other parts of Europe between the two world wars.

The first European Buddhist conference was held in Berlin on 1933. It was suspended during WWII but was revived after the war.

1950s and 60s saw growing interest in Zen in the West. This helped to stimulate interest in eastern practice in the 60s., and kicked off a new wave of western interest in Buddhist life.

Many centres for Zen were opened in Europe, and increasing travel to Europe by Japanese business people also stimulated the growth of Buddhism.

The Chinese takeover of Tibet in 1950 pushed Tibetan Buddhism into India and other parts of the world including Europe and the USA. Popularity of Tibetan Buddhism was boosted after the Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 and began travelling internationally.

The European Buddhist Union (EBU) was formed in 1975 to bringing all these different Buddhist traditions together. Traces of sectarianism were brought to Europe by different Buddhist sects, and long standing Asian debates were played out in the European context.

In the mid 90s, Chan Buddhism came to Europe. It was established in U.K., Poland, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Croatia.

Buddhism in Croatia.

A meeting of the EBU was held in Croatia, giving rise to the aspiration to gain legal status for Buddhism as in much of the rest of Europe.

Mr. Andricevic is currently building a retreat centre in Zagreb, Croatia. This faces many challenges but the group has succeeded in obtaining a building site, completing a design, and beginning construction. When complete the Centre will be used by Croatians and other practitioners in Europe.

Compiled by Rick Knowlan (DDM Vancouver Center)

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