Buddhism in Belgium

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Meeting of Belgian Buddhist representatives at Yeunten Ling Tibetan Institute, Huy on 3 September 1997

Buddhism is a small religion in Belgium but despite lack of official recognition by the Belgian government has grown rapidly in recent years. As of the 1997 estimate, 29,497 Belgian people identified their religion as Buddhist (about 0.29% of the total population)[1]

Buddhism in Belgium before official recognition[edit]

Belgium has been comparatively slow in the absorption of Buddhism compared with other countries in Europe because there were no Buddhist countries amongst the territories colonized by Belgium. Alexandra David-Néel introduced the Maha Bodhi Society to the Congress of Free Thinkers in Brussels as early as 1910.[2] There was reportedly a group of those interested in Buddhism who met in Brussels in the period between the Wars.[3] Buddhism had already come to the attention of Belgians academically through the works and translations of the two famous Indologists Louis de La Vallée Poussin at the Ghent University and his disciple Étienne Lamotte at the Catholic University of Louvain, founders of what is internationally known as the Belgian School of Buddhist studies, still now active in Ghent (with the Ghent Centre for Buddhist Studies of the UGent) and Louvain-la-Neuve (at the Institut orientaliste de l'Université catholique de Louvain). There was also for a while in Brussels an Institut Belge des Hautes Etudes Bouddhiques where several Belgian scholars (Jean Dantinne, José Van den Broeck, Charles Willemen) published translations of Buddhist texts between 1969 and 1980.

Belgium has remained wary of new religions (even though in many cases they are historically much older than Christianity) and the general attitude has been illustrated by the Government publication of a blacklist of 189 organizations (including two Buddhist ones) in its ‘witchhunt’ for sects of 1997 and in the ongoing attitudes especially in the French-speaking community of Belgium.[4] Nonetheless, in 1999 there were about thirty active Buddhist organizations and centres in Belgium, representing all traditions of Buddhism.[5] A Buddhist Union of Belgium[6] was set up in 1997 bringing together the various centres of Buddhism in Belgium that had been established through charitable and private organizations. The 2001 census estimated that there were 10,000 Buddhists of Belgian nationality - however, the numbers of Buddhists in the immigrant population alone exceeded 20,000.

Hope for Buddhism attaining official recognition in Belgium[edit]

The government was first approached on 10 June 2005 to grant official recognition for Buddhism [7] - a process which is expected to be completed in 2008.[8] Independent sources now estimate the numbers of Buddhists in Belgium at 29,467.[9]



  1. ^ Religious Intelligence - Country Profile: Belgium Archived January 6, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Jacques Brosse (1991) Alexandra David-Neel (Albin Michel)
  3. ^ A. Peel Shitoku Vroege geschiedenis van het Boeddhisme in België (A Brief History of Buddhism in Belgium) EKO no.s 74 (September 1997), 75 (December 1997) & 76 (March 1998)
  4. ^ ‘Gourou - gare à toi’ Lesoir 6/3/99
  5. ^ Phra Nicholas Thanissaro (1999) Lezing: Religies in Ieper - Buddhism Lakenhalle, Ieper 18-10-1999
  6. ^ "Buddhist Union of Belgium - Home". Archived from the original on 2013-05-11. Retrieved 2023-01-14.
  7. ^ "Belgium". Archived from the original on 2020-05-18. Retrieved 2023-01-14.
  8. ^ "België gaat plat op zijn buik voor China (Belgium bends over backwards for China)", Metro (Belgian newspaper), 2007-05-10, pp. page 2. Retrieved on 2007-05-10. (Dutch) "[Upon the Dalai Lama for the second time in two years canceling a visit to Belgium after being informed by the Belgian government of Peking's diplomatic pressure, quote newspaper:] Uittredend Senaatsvoorzitster Anne-Marie Lizin reageert teleurgesteld: 'Gezien het belang van de vergadering waaraan u wilde deelnemen en gezien de redenen van uw beslissing, betreur ik dat ik u niet kan ontvangen in ons land, een land dat openstaat voor iedereen, ongeacht de religieuze overtuiging, en dat net een eerste stap heeft gezet in de erkenning van het'[sic] 'boeddhistische filosofie'. (Lawfully resigning at the end of the government's legislation, President of the Senat Anne-Marie Lizin reacts disappointed: 'In view of the importance of the meeting you wanted to attend and in view of the reasons of your decision, I regret not being able to receive you in our country, a country open for everyone regardless the religious conviction, and which has just set a first step towards the recognition of the Buddhist philosophy.')
  9. ^ Religious Intelligence - Country Profile: Belgium Archived January 6, 2008, at the Wayback Machine


  • Bouddhismes en Belgique by Bernard De Backer. Courrier hebdomadaire, n°1768-1769, CRISP, Bruxelles, 2002, pp. 5–70

External links[edit]