BUDDHISM IN DENMARK
Ole Felsby and Pia Jeppesen
There are 5,2 million citizens (25,000 from Asia). Denmark has a royal
family, and Queen Margrethe is the head of our monarchy. She is married to prince Henrik
from France, and they have two sons. The youngests, prices Joachin, recently married a
woman from Hong Kong, while the oldest, price Frederik still is unmarried.
Denmark is a democracy with a Social democratic government right now.
We have elections every fourth year from the Parliament, which now have nine different
parties. We have freedom of speech and many independent newspapers.
Our country is among the most richest in Europe. This is due to a big
and traditional export of meat, milk, cheese and other agricultural products but also some
industrial products. We are a member of the European Union (EU). In the beginning of this
century Denmark developed the so called welfare-state, which for example means that every
child has to go to school in at least nine years, that people who loose their job get a
salary from the state and that you dont pay when you go to school, university or
hospitals. All this is paid by taxes. For example I have to give 50% of my salary to the
state in tax.
The capital of Denmark is Copenhagen, where 1 million people live. The
climate in Denmark is very cold. While I write this, white snow is falling outside, and
the temperature is below zero degrees. It is only warm in four months in the summertime
from May to August (15-30 degrees).
Normally both men and women have a job, and it is becoming more normal,
that they share the work at home instead of the woman doing it alone. While they work,
their children go to school or an institution when they are small. Many families get
Eighty seven percent of the population are members of the Danish
Christian Church, while the rest are Muslims, Buddhists or Ateists.
The Introduction of Buddhism in Denmark:
I asked Mr Tim Pallis. He has been studying Buddhism for many years. He
is a Zen-Buddhist and one of the first danes to go abroad to study - in 1969 in the
Daitoku temple in Kyoto, Japan. His first teacher was Sohaku Kobori. Time Pallis says:
- The first Danes to know about Buddhism were scientists and
missionaries. One of them was Mr. Rasmus Rask, who studied languages in India and Sri
Lanka at the beginning of 1800. He found some important Buddhist texts in Pali, which
later were translated in Denmark.
Later on other scientists studied religion, especially Buddhism in
China, where also some Christian missionaries became interested in the religion. But it
took many years before people in Denmark took Buddhism as their religion:
- The first man, who practised Buddhism in Denmark, was a doctor and
psychiatrist, Mr Christian Melbye, who in 1921 established The Buddhist Society in
Denmark". He learned about Buddhism from books from England, Germany and France, says
Mr. Tim Pallis.
The following years Buddhism was only known among very few people in
Denmark. The big change came in the 1960s. The young generation listened to the Beatles
and other rock groups, who were interested in Asian philosophy and religion. Many tried
drugs, and for a few it changed their way of thinking and lead them to Buddhism. Among
these people include a journalist and political commentator, Mr. Erik Meier Carlsen, who
practice under the Tibetan dzog. Chen - tradition. Tim Pallis interest also began
after having tried drugs in the sixties:
-Many young people went to India and Nepal and learned about Eastern
philosophy and religion there. But I went to Japan instead, and after one journey I sold
my belongings in Denmark and bought a single-ticket back to Japan, where the Ven. Sohaku
Kobori became my teacher for one year.
After that Mr. Tim Pallis married a Japanese woman, and they went to
Denmark where he began to practice. He begins every day with 45 minutes of meditation, and
the same in the evening. He has been studying several times since in Japan and is now a
member of a Zen-Buddhist Group, which meet once a week for meditation and discussions.
He estimates, that about 500 Danes practice Buddhism. There is also
people from Thailand, who have two temples in Denmark, and people from Vietnam, who have
one. There are two monks in the Vietnamese temple and about 10-15 monks in the two Thai
One of the Danish Buddhists, Mr. Jorgen Hannibal and his wife Katla has
studied under the Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh in Plum Village in France, and Jorgen Hannibal is
now a Buddhist teacher himself. They arrange meditation twice a week and retreats, that
last for a week. Sometimes they get visitors from Plum Village, who teach and tell about
their way of practising Buddhism.
The most Danish Buddhists belong to the Tibetan tradition, which was
established by Mr. Ole Nydahl in the late sixties, and who has a center in Copenhagen and
in many other countries. Later other Tibetan groups were established, and today all the
groups - both Tibetan and Zen - have an organisation, where they have meetings and
discussions - it is called Buddhist Forum, which publishes a magazine (in Danish,
All in all there are today two Japanese inspired Zen groups, two Zen
groups who belong to the tradition of Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh, nine Tibetan groups and three
Theravada groups: Two Thai and one Burmese group. Earlier I saw a notice from a Pure
Land - group, but I dont think it excits as an organisation any more.
Even though the number of practicing Buddhists in Denmark is very small
(approximately 500 persons), the religion is becoming steadily more important in the
Danish cultural and spiritual life. Especially many artists today are inspired by
Buddhism: One of our most famous writers, Ib Michael, the international acknowledged
painter Per Kirkeby and the designer Ole Palsby. Also among academic people
doctors, scientists and so on there is a growing interest in Buddhism.
Ten years ago a lot of people gradually changed their way of living.
They became interested in healthy food, a more spiritual way of thinking and alternative
ways of curing diseases. Soon it was called the "New Age" - movement, which in
many ways was inspired by American interpretations of many different Asian religions and
philosophy - often in a very strange mixture. None or very few of these people are
Buddhists or Hindu, but Tim Pallis notice a small change:
-After a long period with New Age it seems that more people
are getting interested in the basic and real religions such as Buddhism. We saw it last
time the Ven. Dalai Lama from Tibet visited Denmark. It was in the summer 1996, where more
than thousand people attended each of his two public meetings in Copenhagen.
So many things indicate that Buddhism will play a growing part in
Danish spiritual and cultural life in the years to come.
By Ole Felsby and Pia Jeppesen, (Denmark, 1997).
Computer typing: Lydia Quang
Update : 01-12-2001