Buddhism in South Africa

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The Nan Hua Temple Complex, near Johannesburg.

Buddhist traditions are represented in South Africa in many forms. Although the inherently introspective nature of Buddhism does not encourage census, adherents to these traditions are usually outspoken and supported by perhaps an even greater, though hidden number of sympathisers. Temples, centres and groups are common in the metropolitan areas and the country is thought to comprise the largest Buddhist community in Africa.


Apart from various Buddhist groups brought to the Cape Colony from Southeast Asia during the 1680s, and the many indentured labourers brought to Natal from India during the latter part of the 19th century (some of whom were Buddhist, and some of whom were Hindu who later converted to Buddhism once in South Africa), most Buddhists in South Africa are converts, and not Asian. Various Buddhist groups grew up in the major cities from the 1970s, and there has been a proliferation of distinct Buddhist traditions since the mid-1980s. These include Theravada, Zen, Nichiren and Tibetan schools. The Fo Guang Shan Buddhist order has erected Nan Hua Temple, the largest Buddhist temple and monastery in Africa, in the town of Bronkhorstspruit near Pretoria. Another notable Buddhist centre in the country is the Buddhist Retreat Centre in Ixopo, KwaZulu-Natal. The Nichiren Buddhist lay group Soka Gakkai International has a community centre in Parkwood, Johannesburg. Derivatives of Korean Zen have been established in the Western Cape. The Vipassana Association of South Africa founded by S.N. Goenka has been holding meditation retreats in the Western Cape. More recent additions to the collection of schools include Shambala originally conceived by Chögyam Trungpa, Diamond Way Buddhism, a multicultural Lay Buddhist tradition under the guidance of H.H. 17th Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje and the New Kadampa tradition founded by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.

A 2003 study estimated that in the late 1990s there were a total of 6,000 Buddhists in South Africa (3,000 of whom had Asian ancestry) out of a total population of 42 million (or 0.01% of the total population).[1] And according to the 2010's estimates, the Buddhist adherents (may included Taoism and Chinese Folk Religion) is increasing to between 0.2%[2] 0.3%[3] of the South African population, or between 100 to 150 thousand people while the number of practicing Buddhists maybe low.

Dalai Lamas visits[edit]

Buddhist leaders often visit the country in order to bestow teachings and blessings. His Holiness the Dalai Lama attended the Parliament of the World's Religions in 1999, but was denied a visa when he was asked to attend an international peace conference in March 2009. As well when he was invited to South Africa for Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu's 80th birthday party on 7 October 2011. The government's relation with China was the obvious reason that the VISA was denied.[citation needed]

Notable South African Buddhists[edit]

Buddhist Centres and Groups in South Africa[edit]

Western Cape



Other centres countrywide

Further reading[edit]

  • Clasquin, Michel (2002): "Buddhism in South Africa". in: Charles S. Prebish / Martin Baumann (eds.)(2002): Westward dharma: Buddhism beyond Asia. Berkeley, Calif.: Univ. of California Press, pp. 152–162
  • Clasquin, Michel / Krüger, Jacobus S. (eds.) (1999): Buddhism and Africa. Pretoria: University of South Africa.
  • Krüger, Jacobus S.: Along Edges: Religion in South Africa - Bushman, Christian, Buddhist.
  • Osler, Antony: Stoep Zen: A Zen Life in South Africa.


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ "Global Religious Landscape - Religious Composition by Country". The Pew Forum. Retrieved 28 July 2013. 
  3. ^ "Religious Adherents, 2010 – South Africa". World Christian Database. Retrieved 28 July 2013.