Buddhism rising rapidly in Europe, say Germans
by Janaka Perera, The Buddhist Channel, Aug 25, 2007
Colombo, Sri Lanka -- Buddhism is definitely making headway in Germany and the rest of Europe. Expressing this view were prominent German invitees to a very significant event marking the 50th anniversary (1957-2007) of the first Sri Lankan Buddhist Mission to Germany, at the Savsiripaya Auditorium in Colombo 7, Sri Lanka on August 22.
Sri Lanka honoured the mission - sponsored by the German Dharmadutha Society - with the issue of a commemorative postage stamp and a first day cover by the Government Philatelic Bureau.
The picture on the stamp depicts the Sri Lankan Buddhist Mission handing over the gift of the Dhamma in the form of a Sannasa to a delegation of Germans in front of the Das Buddhistische Haus (Berlin Vihara) in Berlin - Frohnau in 1957. Nihal Sangabo Dias designed the stamp. This is the second time that a Sri Lankan Postage Stamp depicting a scene in Germany has been issued here.
Guest of Honour, German Ambassador in Sri Lanka, Juergen Weerth thanked the Sri Lankan Authorities for honouring his country in this manner. Focusing on Buddhism's contribution to the creation of close and sustainable links between the two countries, he said the understanding the teachings of the Buddha had been growing in Germany and the rest of Europe for the past 50 years.
He said: "Germans have always been fascinated by the Buddha's teachings. Arthur Schopenhauer called it the most perfect of world religions. Einstein said that if there was any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism. Why are we fascinated? It is because Buddhism is a philosophy of rationality, realism and ethical purity. The respect for Buddhist approach towards creation in general can lay the foundation of universal social ethics – that are dedicated to ecological well-being and social justice and to world peace."
Delivering the keynote address - 'The German Contributions to Theravada Buddhism and the Reception of Buddhism in Germany and its influence on German Culture' - Professor Karl Heinz-Golzio of the University of Bonn traced the history of Buddhism in Germany from the early 19th Century to the present day and drew attention to the services of many a German thinker and scholar to the cause of Buddhism in Europe. Among them were, Arthur Schopenhauer, Karl Eugen Neumann, Dr. Paul Dahlke, the Venerable Nyanatiloka (the first German to become a bhikku) and the Ven. Nyanaponika.
Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, Prof. Golzio said, was among the thinkers who had recognized the validity of Buddhism before its sources were edited and translated into European languages.
Said Golzio: "To him Buddhism was the best of all religions because it is preferable to Brahminism with its caste system and even more to Christianity with its fallacious ideas about God and its defective code of ethics in which animals were given no consideration."
The professor further noted: "Schopenhauer claimed that his own philosophy agreed with the Buddha's teachings. The affinity between Schopenhauer's philosophy and Buddhism is in many ways striking."
Golzio said that the advent of the Nazis heralded a dark period for Buddhism in Germany. Some Nazi sympathizers had distorted and misinterpreted the Buddha Dhamma, giving it a racial connotation and called it an Aryan religion similar to Hitler's National Socialism.
At the same time true Buddhists suffered under the Hitler regime. Among them was Dr. Paul Dahlke's former Secretary, Dr. Kurt Fischer who published a Buddhist Journal each issue of which the Nazis censored. After Fischer died of a heart attack in 1942 upon hearing that he was to be arrested by the notorious Gestapo, the latter confiscated all his books on Buddhism.
"Today," Golzio noted "More and 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."
He said that Buddhism - although still not an officially recognized religion in Germany - it is now a subject in the school curriculum there. This according to him is very significant.
"It is a chance to teach Buddhist values and Buddhist ethics, loving kindness and compassion and unselfishness to the younger generation of Germans – especially at a time of materialism, consumerism, environmental crime, pollution and natural disasters, terrorism and war. Many western people have lost confidence in Christianity and are searching for rational ways of leading a spiritual life. They are also looking for guidance to lead meaningful and happy lives."
Richard Lang – Director of Geothe Institut, Colombo - observed:
"One of the articles on Buddhism by Golzio has been particularly quoted again and again – because he puts forward a very interesting question: Whether we can expect even a larger number of Europeans turning to Buddhism in the future – probably because of this world in which we are living."
Chief Guest, Public Administration and Home Affairs Minister Karu Jayasuriya said that the German Dharmadutha Society's first mission - Initiated by a young Sri Lankan Businessmen Asoka Weeraratne - was the beginning of a long and deep-rooted relationship between Sri Lanka and Germany.
"It was not a mission for conversion but an undertaking to meet the German people and give them solace in their hour of need. Asoka Weeraratne saw the immense potential for Buddhism in Europe, particularly in post-World War II Germany. I reiterate that this mission was not for conversion but to give the Buddha's message – to give that philosophy. It is the greatest gift Sri Lanka can offer to the West. I cannot think of anything better."
The Minister said that today Buddhism has become part of the Western culture. According to him, in America alone there are over a million people looking at Buddhism.
"Germany and Sri Lanka have had a very long and warm friendly relationship. People of this country have a very special place for Germany. Sri Lankans will never forget names such as Wilhelm Geiger, Paul Dahlke, Ven Nyanatiloka and Ven Nyanaponika. Socially Germans are very fond of this country. When they visit once they visit many times. I thank the good work done by the German Cultural Institute (Goethe Institut)."
Chief Sanghanayaka of Europe and Chief Patron of the Austria Buddhist (Theravada) Society, Sri Lankan bhikku Ven. Dr. Wijayarajapura Seelawansa after speaking briefly in Sinhala gave a lengthy talk in German on Buddhism to the Germans in the audience. He said that many Germans are deriving an immense benefit from the services offered by the Berlin Buddhist Vihara (Das Buddhistische Haus) in Berlin - Frohnau.
Giving the vote of thanks Emeritus Prof J.B. Dissanayake spoke on the Buddhist connection between Sri Lanka and – Greece – the first European country known to people here.
Honorary Secretary of the German Dharmadutha Society Senaka Weeraratne also spoke. Raja Kuruppu was the compere.