Home Asia Pacific Oceania Australia
Buddhism is Australia's fastest growing religion
By Walter Jayawardhana, Lankaweb, June 22, 2007
Australia is having per capita buddhists than any other western nation and it is the fastest growing religion in the country
Sydney, Australia -- The Dalai lama’s recently concluded visit to Australia that also included a meeting with Australian Prime minister John Howard has once again drawn the attention not only to the fact that Buddhism is the fastest growing religion in Australia but also that there are more Buddhists in the continent per capita than anywhere else in the Western world.
A Voice of America report said since 1996 the number of Buddhists in the country have gone up almost 80 percent and now there are about 350000 followers of the religions first brought to the country by Asian immigrants not only during recent times but also in the not so recent past like 100 years ago.
The Voice of America report said Buddhism was now moving beyond the Asian immigrant communities and spreading as a mainstream religion. The report said, “Experts who study religious trends in Australia say many converts to Buddhism found the teachings of some Christian churches too rigid and intolerant of questions about the faith.
Converts say Buddhism gives them freedoms they have never had before.
Renate Ogilvie is a German-born teacher at a Buddhist institute here in Sydney.Quoting him the report said, "In Buddhism you are allowed to ask questions and actually you're actively encouraged to doubt and to discuss and so on," Ogilvie said. "The Buddha said don't just believe because I'm very famous, don't just believe because many people believe what I teach. Be like the goldsmith, you know, apply the acid to the gold to test it and the acid being your mind, your intelligence. So in that sense it's a manifesto of intellectual freedom which is very, very appealing."
The Diamond Way retreat facility in Sydney is typical of many small Buddhist centers around the country and it has 140 members and like many other groups here it follows the Vajrayana tradition from Tibet, seen as the third main branch of Buddhism alongside the Theravada and Mahayana, the report said.
The following is the rest of the report Phil Mercer broadcast for the Voice of America:-
Phil Carlisle is the host of the Diamond Way gatherings.
"I think that Buddhism really suits people who have independent thinking and are maybe discouraged or had enough of religions where they're told what to believe rather than being given an opportunity to see how something fits for them. Aussies are notoriously averse to authority figures," Carlisle said.
Anthony Hickson is a recent convert. He was brought up in a strict Catholic family.
The 27-year-old video editor has been attending meetings at the Diamond Way center since the start of the year and believes Buddhism is showing him a new way to live.
"I guess from coming here I don't think there's one truth" Hickson said. "I think there's [are] many truths. My brother's pretty active in the Catholic Church and that works really well for him and I've seen him grow and change a lot. So I think for me it was just a different path and a lot of the teachings made sense to me before I'd come here and coming here it was just being around people. There's a good energy, there's a good vibe. Things make sense."
The nuns offer a prayer asking for long life for the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism's spiritual leader. The Nobel Peace Prize winner lives in India as the head of the community of Tibetans who have fled Chinese rule of their homeland.
His visit to Australia over the past several days created much excitement among Buddhists and non-Buddhists. Large crowds greeted him everywhere he went. Even Prime Minister John Howard met with one of the world's most recognizable religious figures.
For Buddhist nun Robina Caulton, the enthusiasm surrounding the Dalai Lama's visit shows how her faith has developed in Australia.
"The Dalai Lama has an enormous kind of following here. I mean I've observed that traveling around the world - now based in the States, right," Caulton said. "Australia's half the population of California and there're probably more Tibetan Buddhist centers and more flourishing ones than even actually in, say, the United States. … When he's in the States people in one other state wouldn't even know he's there but whenever he's in Australia the whole country knows so it's kind of interesting."
Despite such enthusiasm, Australia remains a very Christian country - with more than 75 percent of the population of 20 million belonging to a Christian church. Some Anglican leaders have said Buddhism has little community spirit but relies heavily on individual happiness. Buddhists disagree. Many Buddhist communities have charitable operations, and they say that a community's happiness depends on the lasting happiness of ndividuals.