Buddhism Enjoys Boom in Germany
June 9, 2004
Hamburg, Germany --
numbers of Germans are switching off their worries along with their
mobile phones and immersing themselves in Buddha's teachings.
It's a tranquil scene repeated every evening at Hamburg's Buddhist
Center, one of the largest in the Germany.
hundred Germans, among them doctors, architects and harried advertising
executives, arrive at the building, take off their shoes, switch off their
mobile phones and settle down on cushions arranged on the floor of a large
light-filled room to meditate.
The atmosphere is relaxed, some hold rosaries in their hands, others look
expectantly at pictures of the Buddha on the wall. "We're reflecting about
cause and effect, about the fact that we decide ourselves what happens in
our lives," 43-year-old Juliane, who leads the meditation, told the news
Juliane said that many who came to the center were disappointed by
Christianity but were still looking for a sense in life. "They realize
that making money and consuming things isn't everything," she said.
"We tend to link our happiness to conditions, to outer things. Buddhism
teaches us that those things don't make us happy, rather it's our attitude
to them that does," she added.
"An alternative to materialism"
center, which follows the teachings of 63-year-old Danish Buddhist leader
and former boxer Ole Nydahl, is just one among several Buddhism centers
that have cropped up in the country in recent years.
Books both by the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism's spiritual leader, and by
other Buddhists on topics ranging from healthy living to making money are
turning up on bestseller lists. Even the country's sensationalistic
tabloid Bild recently featured sayings by the Dalai Lama in its
headlines. The eastern religion is enjoying an unprecedented boom in
German celebrities who have embraced Buddhism, such as singer Nina Hagen,
actor Ralf Bauer and soccer player Mehmet Scholl, have increased the
2,500-year-old religion's visibility. Its emphasis on inner peace is all
the more relevant in a country made unsure of itself as its economy
falters, unemployment rises and questions hover over the future of its
pension and social security systems.
"Buddhism is becoming increasingly attractive as an alternative to
materialism," Hamburg-based German indologist Hans Gruber said recently.
"It's the subtle unease about a culture, about a progressive economic and
lifestyle system that has conclusive answers to everything, but can't do
anything about inner turmoil."
Germany on the rise
German government doesn't keep any statistics on the religion, no one
knows the exact number of Buddhists in country. The German Buddhist Union
(DBU), an umbrella organization of 52 groups, estimates there are around
100,000 Buddhists of German origin in the country.
In addition, a further 120,000 foreigners -- mainly Vietnamese and Thai --
living in the country are practicing Buddhists.
What is clear however is that the number of Buddhist communities in the
country are steadily rising: from 15 groups at the beginning of the 1970s
to over 600 today.
From intellectuals to hippies
however, is hardly a new phenomenon in Germany.
The eastern religion first surfaced when Karl Seidenstücker founded the
world's first "white" Buddhist congregation in Leipzig in 1903. Shortly
after, for the first time a German man became a Buddhist monk.
In 1924, German doctor Paul Dahlke founded the first Buddhist center in a
villa north of Berlin. The religion, however, stayed the preserve of elite
intellectual circles until the late 1960s.
Then hippies and other spiritual-seekers attracted by eastern wisdom
transformed it into a more accessible religion practised in incense-filled
rooms in German suburbs.
A feel-good religion?
changed since then.
Today Buddhist communities in Germany are buying up former monasteries and
building new meditation halls. In Hamburg's famous red-light St. Pauli
district, a group of 40 young Buddhists are turning an old shipyard into a
The Tibetan Center in Hamburg now offers a seven-year study of Buddhism
and the religion is now an official subject in some schools in Berlin.
Resorts in Allgäu and Eifel offer stressed-out urbanites Buddhism seminars
and a peaceful getaway; a group of former corporate managers have set up a
European Zen Academy for company managers in Münster; and a city park in
Taucha in Saxony is being transformed into a Buddhist monastery.
Christoph Bochinger, Professor for religious social studies in Bayreuth is
clear that the religion's emphasis on empathy, wisdom and the "love your
neighbor" credo has an enduring appeal for Germans. In an interview with
news magazine Stern he said, "even traditional church goers are
looking for a spirituality that makes them feel good. Buddhism comes very
close to this mentality."