Archaeological evidence shows that the Vikings brought a statue of the Buddha to Scandinavia, but nothing suggests that Buddhism had any impact in this part of the world until the late 19th century when it became known to educated people in Western Europe through the writings of scholars and philosophers.
During the 20th century various Eastern-inspired spiritual movements lead to an interest in Buddhism among a number of Norwegians. The fascination with Tibet, created by books on this topic translated into Norwegian, also contributed to the attraction of Buddhism.
However, the first steps in organizing Buddhist groups and associations, did not take place until the early 1970s. The interest in Zen and Tibetan Buddhism led to the establishment of organizations devoted to these forms of Buddhism in 1972 and 1975 respectively. The establishment of the Buddhist Federation of Norway (BFN) in 1979 was the result of a joint initiative by these two organizations.
The law encouraged Norwegian Buddhists to register as a religious community in order to receive the support of the state, as the Act relating to Religious Communities, passed by the Norwegian parliament in 1969, provided for regular government funding of registered religious communities of all faiths, based on the principle of equal per capita support to that given to the established of Norway.
The origin of Zen in Norway was mainly due to local interest inspired by the writings of proponents of Zen in the West such as the Japanese scholar D.T.Suzuki. In the case of Tibetan Buddhism, the visits to Norway of Tibetan lamas, such as the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa as well as the 14th Dalai Lama, have been very important in the development of Tibetan Buddhism in this country.
Vietnamese refugees began to arrive in Norway shortly after the fall of Saigon in 1975. The Buddhists from this community were approached by representatives of the BFN inviting them to form a member association of the BFN. The association thus established has also co-operated closely with Vietnamese Buddhists in other countries.
The arrival of Thai Buddhist in Norway, beginning in the 1980s, was mainly due to intermarriages between Thais and Norwegians. Today there is a sizeable community of Thai Buddhists scattered all over the country.
The Sri Lankan Buddhist community in Norway consists to a large extent of regular immigrants who have settled in this country over the years. In 1993 they formed the Tisarana Educational and Cultural Society devoted to the promotion of Theravada Buddhism.
In addition to Japanese Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, the traditions of Theravada, Vietnamese Zen, Chinese Zen, Korean Buddhism as well as The Friends of the Western Buddhist Order have found Norwegian followers and are now represented by local associations.
The Buddhist population in Norway
The majority of the Norwegian population of 4.5 million are Protestant Christians belonging to the Church of Norway (87%). However, a growing minority belongs to other religions such as Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. The majority of those belonging to these religions are immigrants originating in countries were these religions dominate.
The immigrant Buddhists in Norway come from countries such as Vietnam, Thailand and China and number more than 18.000. The total number of Norwegian converts to Buddhism cannot be estimated accurately, as there are no statistics on religious adherence – only on membership of registered religious communities. The BFN has 990 registered members with a Norwegian ethnic background, although Norwegians with a strong Buddhist orientation probably amount to several thousand. If we add the figure of registered Norwegian Buddhists to the number of immigrant Buddhist, the total number of Buddhists in Norway can be estimated to be about 19.000. This gives a percentage of Buddhists of 0.42 % of the total population.
The Buddhist Federation of Norway – its member associations
The BFN was founded in 1979 and had 8649 members in 2003. These individual members belong to the following member associations (with their number of registered members in the BFN in the right column):
The Vietnamese Buddhist Community, The Thai Buddhist Association, and the Tisarana Cultural and Educational Association represents the Vietnamese, Thai and Sri Lankan Buddhist communities respectively. The other associations have a Norwegian membership and represent a variety of Buddhist traditions such as Theravada, Tibetan Buddhism and Zen.
Buddhist religious activities are primarily organized by these associations. They have temples and meditation centres as well as bookshops. Activities include courses in meditation and Buddhism for children and adults, celebrating Buddhist festivals, publishing magazines, supporting monks and nuns, providing ritual services for the laity, and generally serving the Buddhist population, as well as the public at large.
The Vietnamese, having founded their Buddhist association in 1982, have built a large temple outside Oslo which has become the headquarters of Vietnamese Buddhists in all the Scandinavian countries. Ten monks live here. They serve the Vietnamese Buddhist community in these countries and have also established a number of smaller temples of which two are situated in Norway.
The second largest community, the Thai Buddhist Association, founded in 1991, is presently using a converted residential building near Oslo as its temple, housing two monks.
The largest of the Norwegian associations, Karma Tashi Ling Buddhist Association, founded in 1975, runs a meditation centre in a 22 acres forested area south of Oslo and has a bookshop and meditation centre in Oslo as well a centre outside the city with a residential Tibetan monk.
The oldest Norwegian Buddhist association, Rinzai Zen Centre, founded in 1972, runs a meditation hall in the centre of Oslo, as well as hosting the office of the BFN.
The Buddhist Federation of Norway – its organization
The BFN is governed by a council consisting of sixteen members. The eight member associations, that have been granted full membership status, appoint two members each. The council meets monthly to monitor projects initiated by the BFN as well as to decide on various issues relating to the BFN. All the decisions of the council need to be unanimous.
The council elects the President of the BFN. The President chairs the council meetings and represents the Buddhists of Norway in various circumstances. Recently a coordinator was hired in order to run the office of the BFN. In addition committees led by elected members of the council and staffed by volunteers work on specific projects and issues.
Vietnamese Buddhist Community
The Thai Buddhist Association
Karma Tashi Ling Buddhist Association
Rinzai Zen Centre
Tisarana Cultural and Educational Assoc.
The Dharma Group
Stavanger Buddhist Association
The Hridaya Group
Friends of the Western Buddhist Order
Without assocation to any particular group
The Buddhist Federation of Norway – its activities
In accordance with the Act relating to Religious Communities the BFN keeps a register of Buddhists who have joined the organization as individual members. Based on this register the BFN every year requests the government to provide funding to the BFN according to the provisions of the law. This funding is distributed among the member associations of the BFN according to their relative share of its membership.
Another activity of the BFN is the celebration of Buddhist festivals. Although the larger member associations celebrate Buddhist festivals according to their respective traditions, the BFN organizes common celebrations every year of Vesak, commemorating the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha, as well as of the Festival of Lights, commemorating the enlightenment of the Buddha according to the Japanese Buddhist calendar.
The BFN is also important to Buddhists in Norway as it speaks on behalf of the whole Buddhist community to the government, to other religions and churches as well as to the society in general. More specifically the BFN has participated in a number of projects on dialogue between religions and life stances. In 1996 the BFN co-founded the Council of Religious and Life Stance Communities in Norway.
This institution is a forum for regular dialogue between religions communities organizing various conferences and seminars for this purpose.
The BFN was instrumental in establishing The Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief in 1998. This organisation promotes freedom of religion internationally through dialogue between governments and religious leaders. In this context the BFN has participated in dialogue with Buddhists in the Peoples Republic of China.
As part of its international engagement the BFN has also initiated a dialogue with Sri Lankan Buddhists on the issue of Buddhist approaches to conflict resolution. In this connection the BFN sponsored an international conference in England in 2002.
On a national level the BFN is engaged in the issue of policies relating to religious education in the public school system. The BFN has consistently argued that the subject of religious education must be free from any bias of favouring Protestant Christianity. The BFN is also trying to improve the standard of the teaching of Buddhism in the subject of religious education and has also been represented in the commission revising the curriculum in the subject. The BFN also provides information about Buddhism to the public through various means such as the Internet.
THE BUDDHIST FEDERATION OF NORWAY Post Office Box 9340 Grønland, N-0135 Oslo - Norway
Visiting address: Christian Kroghs gate 32
tel. / fax: +47 22 11 32 96 (office) +47 97 70 41 54 (President)
firstname.lastname@example.org - http: //www.buddhistforbundet .no