Buddhism in Denmark

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Buddhism is the fourth largest religion in Denmark with approximately 20,000 to 25,000 members.[1]


In the 19th century, knowledge about Buddhism was brought back from expeditions that explored the Far East[citation needed] but interest was mainly from authors, Buddhologists and philologists. In 1921, Dr. Christian F. Melbye founded the first Buddhist Society in Denmark, but it was later dissolved in 1950 before his death in 1953.[1][2] In the 1950s, there was a revival in interest towards Buddhism, especially Tibetan Buddhism. Hannah and Ole Nydahl founded the first Karma Kagyu Buddhist centers in Copenhagen.[1][2] The third wave of Buddhism came in the 1980s, when refugees from Vietnam, Sri Lanka and China came to Denmark. Some Buddhist women, especially those from Thailand, came to Denmark seeking Danish husbands.[2]


Accurate figures for the number of Buddhists in Denmark is not known, as it is illegal to record people's faiths in Denmark.[3] However, according to Jørn Borup (Department of the Study of Religion at the University of Aarhus), there are approximately 18,000 to 20,000 Buddhists in Denmark today,[4] of which 80% are Asian immigrants. Of these, 7,000 to 9,000 are from Vietnam and 6,000 are from Thailand.[1] There are about 40 different Buddhist groups in Denmark, but only six of them have the status of recognized religion by the state.[4] Despite Buddhism being a minority religion, the Dalai Lama is the Danes' preferred religious role model.[5]


Accurate figures for the number of adherents of each school are not known. But it has been estimated that of the 20,000 Buddhists in Denmark, 3,000 are Tibetan Buddhists, and 1,000 are part of the Japanese Soka Gakkai.[1]

There are fifteen different schools of Tibetan Buddhism represented in Denmark.[6]


Theravada Buddhism in Denmark is practised primarily by Thais and Sri Lankans and between 90 and 95% of the 7,700 Danish Thais are Buddhists. Thai Buddhist temples include the Watpa in Copenhagen, Wat Thai Denmark Brahmavihara Buddhist Monastery and the Wat Phra Dhammakaya Denmark. 900 of the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees are Buddhist.[1] These Buddhist émigrés seem almost invisible in Denmark, partly because Buddhism is generally not an evangelical religion, and they rarely take part in the larger social debate, partly because they have low unemployment and crime rates and are therefore not particularly newsworthy subjects for the media.[7]

Diamond Way[edit]

Diamond Way Buddhism was founded in Denmark by Hannah and Ole Nydahl. It is a Tibetan Buddhist group within the Karma Kagyu, one of the major Tibetan schools. The very first center was opened in Copenhagen in 1972 and relocated in 1975 to its current location.[1] To this day Diamond Way Buddhism has increased to nearly 600 centers worldwide.[8] This school is the largest Vajrayana school in Denmark, with 1,200 Danish affiliates.[1]


Zen is amongst the smallest schools of Buddhism in Denmark. It has seven groups and no more than 100 practitioners.[1]

Soka Gakkai[edit]

The Soka Gakkai sect was established in Denmark in 1983 and has approximately 800 members in 54 local groups.[1]

Attempts at unity[edit]

In 1991, the Tibetan-born Lakha Lama tried to establish a trans-sectarian Buddhist umbrella organization called the Buddhist Forum and since 1993 it has been a member of the European Buddhist Union despite having only two hundred paying members. Another Lakha Lama project called Phendeling has subsequently taken over its role and now includes some non-Vajrayana Buddhist groups. Two groups, the Diamond Way Buddhism and Sokka Gakkai, have not been invited to join the umbrella organizations. In the early 1990s, there was a split between Ole Nydahl and the rest of the groups during the Karmapa controversy. One of two candidates was about to be chosen as the one new reincarnation of the 16th Karmapa. Ole Nydahl supported Trinley Thaye Dorje whilst Urgyen Trinley Dorje was supported by most other Buddhist groups and the Dalai Lama.[1][9]

Visits by the Dalai Lama[edit]

The exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama has visited Denmark several times. He first visited in 1973 to help inaugurate the first Karma Kagyu center founded by the Nydahls.[10] He came back in 1996 for an official visit, but was not met by the Danish prime minister at that time, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, who said that he was too busy, which he said again the next time the Dalai Lama visited in 2000. However, he did meet him at the airport just before he left.[11]

In 2003, the Dalai Lama returned and was officially welcomed by Rasmussen's successor, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, with the backing of the entire government, despite protests from China.[11][12]

Notable Danish Buddhists[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Article on Avisen.dk (''in Danish'')". Avisen.dk. Retrieved 2009-08-03. 
  2. ^ a b c "DR (Danish state news-agency), article about the History of Buddhism (''In Danish'')". Dr.dk. 2006-08-10. Retrieved 2009-08-03. 
  3. ^ Department of Justice: List of Buddhist faith-societies in Denmark[dead link]
  4. ^ a b "University of Aarhus: Religion i Danmark 2009 - Buddhistiske trossamfund og menigheder". Teo.au.dk. 2009-03-16. Retrieved 2009-08-03. 
  5. ^ Laura Elisabeth Schnabel. "Laura Elisabeth Schnabel ''Dalai-Lama: Lad være med at konvertere til buddhismen (Don't convert to Buddhism)''. Kristeligt Dagblad (danish newspaper) 30-05-2009. ''(In danish)'.' Retrieved 01-06-09". Kristeligt-dagblad.dk. Retrieved 2009-08-03. 
  6. ^ Jørn Borup. "Article by Jørn Borup on religion.dk (''In Danish'')". Religion.dk. Retrieved 2009-08-03. 
  7. ^ "Article: ''Buddhism gains adherents in Denmark'' by LAURITS NANSEN, Jyllands-Posten, 2nd Nov 2004". Jp.dk. Retrieved 2009-08-03. 
  8. ^ BDD e.V., Wuppertal/Germany. "DiamondWay-Buddhism.org". Diamondway-buddhism.org. Retrieved 2009-08-03. 
  9. ^ Curren, Erik D. (2008)Buddha's Not Smiling, Uncovering the Corruption at the Heart of Tibetan Buddhism Today Alaya Press ISBN 0-9772253-0-5
  10. ^ Nydahl, Ole (1992) Riding The Tiger, Twenty Years on the Road - The Risks and Joys of Bringing Tibetan Buddhism to the West, Blue Dolphin Publishing. ISBN 978-0-931892-67-7
  11. ^ a b http://www.information.dk/164021 Article: Louise Wendt Jensen, Dalai Lama kommer til Danmark, Information (Danish Newspaper) 21. august 2008 (In Danish)
  12. ^ http://www.berlingske.dk/article/20080812/politik/808120395/ Article: Dalai Lama til Danmark i maj 2009, Berlingske (Danish Newspaper) 12. august 2008 (In Danish)

External links[edit]