Buddhism in the United Kingdom

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Buddhism in the United Kingdom has a small but growing number of adherents which, according to a Buddhist organisation, is mainly a result of conversion.[1][2] In the UK census for 2011, there were about 178,000 people who registered their religion as Buddhism, and about 174,000 who cited religions other than Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Jainism and Sikhism.[3][4] This latter figure is likely to include some people who follow the traditional Chinese mixture of religions including Buddhism.


At the 2011 Census, 178,453 people in England and Wales ticked the Buddhist box. Of these, the main places of birth were UK 66,522, Far East 59,931 and South Asia 9,847,[5] and the main ethnic groups were White 59,040, Chinese 34,354, Asian 13,919, Mixed 4,647, Black 1,507 and Other 34,036.[6] In Scotland, people were asked both their current religion and the one that they were brought up in. 6,830 people gave Buddhism as their current religion, and 4,704 said they were brought up in it, with an overlap of 3,146.[7] In Northern Ireland, the published report[8] which listed religions and philosophies in order of size reported 'Buddhist' at 533. For details of Buddhism in the individual countries of the United Kingdom, see:


In Britain, the earliest Buddhist influences came from the Theravada traditions of Burma, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. Interest in them was primarily scholarly to begin with, and a tradition of study grew up that eventually resulted in the foundation of the Pali Text Society, which undertook the huge task of translating the Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhist texts into English. The start of interest in Buddhism as a path of practice had been pioneered by the original Theosophists, the Russian Madame Blavatsky and the American Colonel Olcott, who in 1880 became the first Westerners to receive the refuges and precepts, the ceremony by which one traditionally becomes a Buddhist. They were also later received into the Hindu religion.

The Buddhist Society, London (originally known as the Buddhist Lodge) was founded in 1924 by Christmas Humphreys, another Theosophist who converted to Buddhism.[9] In 1925, the Sri Lankan Buddhist missionary Anagarika Dharmapala brought to England the Maha Bodhi Society,[10] which he had founded with the collaboration of the British journalist and poet Edwin Arnold.[11]

Theosophical and Theravadin influences continued throughout the early twentieth century, though the 1950s saw the development of interest in Zen Buddhism. In 1966, Freda Bedi, a British woman, became the first Western woman to take ordination in Tibetan Buddhism.[12] In 1967, Kagyu Samyé Ling Monastery and Tibetan Centre was founded in Eskdalemuir, Scotland; it is the largest Tibetan Buddhist centre in Western Europe. It has many affiliated centres in major UK cities, including Kagyu Samye Dzong London.

Jamyang Buddhist Centre (JBC) in London is affiliated to the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, an international network of Gelugpa Tibetan Buddhist centres. There is also a branch centre in Leeds and affiliated groups around across England. The resident teacher is Geshe Tashi Tsering.[13]

The Manjushri Institute, a large Buddhist college at Conishead Priory in Cumbria, was founded in 1976 under the guidance of Thubten Yeshe, a Tibetan Gelugpa monk.[14] Buddhist organisations in the UK from the Tibetan tradition that have been founded by Western lamas include Dechen, Diamond Way Buddhism and Aro gTér. Dechen is an association of Buddhist centres of the Sakya and Karma Kagyu traditions, founded by Lama Jampa Thaye and under the spiritual authority of Karma Thinley Rinpoche. 'Diamond Way Buddhism' is a network of lay Buddhist centres in the Karma Kagyu tradition, founded by Lama Ole Nydahl and under the spiritual authority of the 17th Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje.

A Theravada monastery following the Thai Forest Tradition of Ajahn Chah was established at Chithurst Buddhist Monastery in Sussex in 1979, giving rise to branches elsewhere in the country, including the Amaravati Buddhist Monastery in the Chiltern Hills. A lay meditation tradition of Thai origin is represented by the Samatha Trust, with its headquarters retreat centre in Wales. Sōtō Zen has a priory at Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey in Northumberland. The Community of Interbeing, part of the Order of Interbeing, founded by Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh (who currently resides in Plum Village, France), had about 90 sanghas meeting across the UK as of 2012.[15] The Order of Interbeing (Tiep Hien) was founded within the Linji School of Dhyana Buddhism (Zen (Rinzai)).

New religious movements in Britain include the Triratna Buddhist Community founded by the British teacher and writer Sangharakshita (Dennis Lingwood) in 1967,[16] which has been associated with many allegations of abuse.[17] The New Kadampa Tradition was founded by the Tibetan monk (formerly a Gelugpa) Kelsang Gyatso in 1991 when it took over the Manjushri Institute (Conishead Priory);[16] its practices have sparked much controversy, including official rebukes by the Dalai Lama.[18] There is also a UK section of the Soka Gakkai International, a worldwide organization which promotes a disputed, modernized version of the ancient Japanese Nichiren school of Mahayana Buddhism.[19]

Interest in secular Buddhism, stripped of supernatural elements and doctrines that are deemed insufficiently rational (including ancient, shared Indian religious beliefs in rebirth and karma), has developed from the writings of the British author and teacher Stephen Batchelor.[20][21]

Vidyamala Burch and her organization Breathworks have helped to popularize mindfulness-based pain management (MBPM), a mindfulness-based intervention (MBI) providing applications for people suffering from chronic pain and illness.[22][23]

The British Association of Mindfulness-Based Approaches (BAMBA) is a network of 25 mindfulness teacher-training organizations that aims to support and develop good practice and integrity in the delivery of mindfulness-based approaches in the UK.[24]

Regarding umbrella organizations, in addition to The Buddhist Society (active since 1924, with an office in London), The Network of Buddhist Organisations was established in 1993.

In 2012 Emma Slade, a British woman, became the first Western woman to be ordained as a Buddhist nun in Bhutan.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ BuddhistChannel - Allure of Buddhism growing in the UK
  2. ^ Buddhist Channel - Seed of Buddhism now growing in UK
  3. ^ National Statistics Online Archived March 12, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ "Buddhism and Ethnicity in Britain: The 2001 Census Data". Archived from the original on 2007-07-17. Retrieved 2008-04-03.
  5. ^ Census 2011: National Report for England and Wales, Office for National Statistics, London, TSO, 2003, page 184
  6. ^ Census 2011: National Report for England and Wales, part 2, Office for National Statistics, London, TSO, 2004, page 33
  7. ^ Scotland's Census 2001: the Registrar-General's Report to the Scottish Parliament, General Register Office for Scotland, 2003, page 31
  8. ^ Northern Ireland Census 2001: Standard Tables, National Statistics, 2003, page 43
  9. ^ Bluck (2006), pp. 7–9
  10. ^ Coleman, James William (2002). The New Buddhism: The Western Transformation of an Ancient Tradition. Oxford University Press, USA. p. 60. ISBN 978-0-19-515241-8.
  11. ^ Blackburn, Anne M. (2010). Locations of Buddhism: Colonialism and Modernity in Sri Lanka. University of Chicago Press. p. 120. ISBN 978-0-226-05509-1.
  12. ^ "Nonfiction Book Review: The Revolutionary Life of Freda Bedi: British Feminist, Indian Nationalist, Buddhist Nun by Vicki Mackenzie. Shambhala, $16.95 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-61180-425-6". Publishersweekly.com. Retrieved 2017-06-10.
  13. ^ Jamyang Buddhist Centre
  14. ^ Bluck (2006), p. 129
  15. ^ Community of Interbeing > Groups Archived 2010-11-16 at the Wayback Machine Accessed 14 April 2012.
  16. ^ a b Oliver, Paul (2012). New Religious Movements: A Guide for the Perplexed. A&C Black. pp. 77–80, 84–88. ISBN 978-1-4411-2553-8.
  17. ^ Doward, Jamie (21 July 2019). "Buddhist, teacher, predator: dark secrets of the Triratna guru". The Observer. Archived from the original on 22 July 2019.
  18. ^ Kay, David N. (1997). "The New Kadampa Tradition and the Continuity of Tibetan Buddhism in Transition" (PDF). Journal of Contemporary Religion. Routledge. 12 (3): 277–293. doi:10.1080/13537909708580806.
  19. ^ Bluck (2006), p.89
  20. ^ Secular Buddhism UK Archived 2012-04-07 at the Wayback Machine Accessed 14 April 2012.
  21. ^ Vernon, Mark (10 March 2010). "The new Buddhist atheism". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 22 July 2019.
  22. ^ Tracey, Emma (2015-01-06). "Managing pain with the power of the mind". BBC News. Retrieved 2020-06-07.
  23. ^ "Vidyamala Burch". Shaw Trust Disability Power 100 List. Retrieved 2020-06-07.
  24. ^ "Promoting and maintaining standards in mindfulness-based teaching and training: BAMBA". Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. Retrieved 2020-06-11.
  25. ^ "Connecting People Through News". PressReader.com. Retrieved 2017-12-23.


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