Buddhism in Germany

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Meditating Buddha

The Buddhism in Germany can look back on a development history of about 150 years. Around 270,000 active followers live in Germany.

The beginnings of German Buddhism

First impulses

In its beginnings, Buddhism in Germany is closely linked to the name Arthur Schopenhauer , who, while studying Indian philosophy ( Vedanta ), was one of the first in Europe to come into contact with the few existing sources of Buddhism and to deal with it seriously. He drew his knowledge from English and French language sources and had knowledge of reports from all three vehicles. Above all, the German Kalmuck researcher Isaac Jacob Schmidt (1779–1847) and his writings are considered an important source of Schopenhauer's astonishingly extensive knowledge of Buddhism. It was Schopenhauer's influence that produced a number of pioneers in the next generation who helped Buddhism make its breakthrough in Germany. These included u. a. Karl Eugen Neumann , Paul Dahlke , Georg Grimm , Friedrich Zimmermann (Subhadra Bhikschu), the first German monk Nyanatiloka and Ernst Lothar Hoffman, who became an Indian citizen and Tibetan Lama under the name Lama Anagarika Govinda .

Friedrich Nietzsche and Richard Wagner were also encouraged by Schopenhauer and had a considerable influence on further development . The latter had even planned a Buddha opera under the title "The Victors" for some time. But also Indologists such as Hermann Oldenberg (1854–1920) and his standard work Buddha, his life, his teaching, his community, which was published in 1881 and which was reprinted in the second half of the 20th century, had a lasting influence on the further development of Buddhism in Germany.

Development around the turn of the century 1888–1918

Lecture cycle on Buddhism by Karl Seidenstücker in Leipzig 1903

With the first edition of the Buddhist Catechism (1888) by Subhadra Bickshu ( Friedrich Zimmermann ) the first important step on the way of the German Buddhism was taken. It was modeled on the Buddhist Catechism by Henry Steel Olcott (published in English and Sinhala in 1881) and wanted to overcome its shortcomings (it was originally intended as a textbook for Sinhalese children) by using an adult-friendly language and footnotes. In addition, the first German translation of Olcott's work entitled Buddhist Catechism (1887) only appeared in a very small edition and was quickly sold out. Zimmermann's Catechism had its third edition as early as 1892 and with the 1908 edition reached a total of 11,000 copies.

It was the Indologist Karl Seidenstücker who founded the first Buddhist organization in the German Empire , the “Buddhist Mission Association for Germany” on August 15, 1903 in Leipzig (in 1906 the association was renamed “Buddhist Society for Germany”, followed in 1909 by “Mahâbodhi -Central "). With a cycle of lectures between October 17, 1903 and March 26, 1904, Seidenstücker wrote a new chapter in the history of German Buddhism. It was the same year in which Florus Anton Gueth to Theravada - Monk Nyanatiloka was.

Karl Eugen Neumann (1865–1915) had already translated large parts of the canon of Buddhist writings from Pali into German by this time . In 1918, in addition to the Middle Collection , the complete Longer Collection was also available in translation. As early as 1907, the first volume of the Anreihte Sammlung appeared in the German translation by Nyanatiloka. This work did not appear in full until after the war. The book The Teaching of the Buddha: The Religion of Reason, which was first published by Georg Grimm in 1915 , also saw some editions .

Buddhism during the Weimar Republic (1918–1933)

The Buddhist House in Berlin-Frohnau

In 1921 Georg Grimm founded the old Buddhist community in Utting am Ammersee together with Karl Seidenstücker .

In 1922 Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha , a literary-artistic examination of Buddhism, was published, a work that was received with great interest not only in the German-speaking area, especially by young people. In the same year, Leopold Ziegler's religious-philosophical treatise The Eternal Buddho: A Temple Scripture in 4 Instructions was published . Also in 1922, Martin Steinke founded the community around Buddha eV in Berlin. Hans Much published his book Die Welt des Buddha: Ein Hochgesang , a later source of inspiration for Paul Debes .

In 1923 Rudolf Otto published his book Essays concerning the numinous , including a chapter on "About zazen as the extreme of the numinous irrational".

In 1924 the oldest Buddhist monastery in Germany (and Europe), the " The Buddhist House " in Berlin-Frohnau, was moved into. It was built by Paul Dahlke and is in the Theravada tradition.

In 1925 the Munich film company Emelka filmed the life story of the historical Buddha under the direction of Franz Osten in India under the title The Lamp of Asia .

In the interwar period, Buddhist texts from the Grouped Collection were translated by the Munich-based Indologist Wilhelm Geiger . The German Buddhist monk Nyanaponika Mahathera (d. I. Siegmund Feniger, born 1901 in Hanau, ordained in 1937 in Polgasduwa) translated further important texts from the grouped collection in the Diyatalawa internment camp on Ceylon (today: Sri Lanka ), which, however, did not appear until 1967. It was not until 1993 that the translation of the Grouped Collection was completed through the work of the international lawyer Hellmuth Hecker , a student of Paul Debes .

Buddhism in the Third Reich (1933–1945)

The era of National Socialism is standstill for its development in spite of the interest of isolated rulers in Buddhism a time the German Empire from 1933 to 1945 have been.

The National Socialists took a liking to the Indian swastika , which they made their swastika, and researched in this direction also into the origins of the so-called Aryan race (cf. Forschungsgemeinschaft Deutsches Ahnenerbe eV ). Heinrich Himmler was known for his penchant for the occult , but also for his interest in Buddhism. On the one hand he suspected the origin of the Aryan race in today's Tibet , on the other hand he was impressed by the Japanese ( Zen ) culture with its warrior caste. In 1938 the Reichsführer SS sent an expedition to Tibet under the zoologist Ernst Schäfer to investigate, among other things, whether traces of an Aryan ancient religion could be found in the Tibetan Buddhist scriptures. The propaganda film “Mystery Tibet” , which was made in connection with this expedition, was not shown until 1943, however.

Development in divided Germany (1945–1989)

The division of Germany after the Second World War , with the completely separate social developments, requires a separate description of the development of Buddhism in the two German states, although the facts about the development of Buddhism in the GDR currently appear extremely thin.

Buddhism in the Federal Republic of Germany

Vietnamese pagoda Viên Giác in Hanover (built 1987–93).

In 1948 the Buddhist Seminary was founded by Paul Debes . The seminar has set itself the task of making the teachings and teachings of the Buddha, the Awakened, accessible to today's Western people. The journal Wissen und Wandel has been published as a double issue every two months since 1955.

In the same year (1948), Eugen Herrigel's Zen in the art of archery appeared , which in its translation into English (and 1956 even into Japanese), which was published in 1953, helped shape the popular image of Zen beyond the German-speaking world .

In 1952, a branch of the Arya Maitreya Mandala was opened as the first Mahayana community in Germany .

In 1955 the "German Buddhist Society" (DBG) was founded. This was in 1958 in the umbrella organization German Buddhist Union e. V. (DBU), who headed Max Glashoff until 1984 , who was then appointed honorary president of the Union. The DBU holds a congress every year. The creation of the Buddhist Community of the DBU (BG) made it possible for individual members to participate in the DBU, which was originally an umbrella organization for member groups. The DBU publishes a quarterly magazine under the name Buddhismus Aktuell (formerly lotus leaves ).

Inspired by the breakthrough of the Austrian Buddhists , who received full recognition as a religious community in 1983, the establishment of a Buddhist religious community in Germany (BRG) was decided in Hamburg in 1985 in order to achieve state recognition as a public corporation in accordance with the Basic Law . The objection from Bavaria in particular to the Conference of Ministers of Education thwarted this initiative for decades, but brought an agreement on the "Buddhist Confession". This creation of a common platform for the most diverse Buddhist groups is a universally recognized novelty in Western Buddhism .

Buddhism in the GDR

There are only a few reports of Buddhist groups in the GDR from the time before the fall of the Wall. Baumann and Hecker mention small Buddhist groups in Dresden, Leipzig and Halle in their works for the post-war period. The Indologie in Leipzig, which has existed since 1841, also brought out publications on Buddhism and Tibetology in these years. The numerous GDR contract workers from Vietnam lived their religion (insofar as they still saw themselves as Buddhists) only in living rooms with their families and friends.

Buddhism in a united Germany

The Dalai Lama in the Berlin Waldbühne in 2003

With the organization of the Congress of the European Buddhist Union (EBU) by the German Buddhist Union (DBU) in Berlin in 1992 on the subject of “Unity in Diversity”, a new milestone was set in the development of German Buddhism.

There are currently around 600 Buddhist groups and communities in Germany, compared to around 30 in the mid-1970s. Baumann estimates that around 170,000 Buddhists lived in Germany at the end of the 1990s, 120,000 of them Buddhists of Asian origin. The German Buddhist Union assumes a number of 250,000 active Buddhists in Germany, half of them immigrant Asians. The currently most popular schools of Buddhism in Germany are Theravada , Tibetan Buddhism , Nichiren Buddhism and Zen Buddhism.

Buddha statue on the Heidefriedhof Dresden

Some groups of these schools are also represented as members of the German Buddhist Union (DBU).

On September 27, 2015, the first Buddhist burial site in all of Eastern Europe was built on the Heidefriedhof in Dresden on a total area of ​​around 2000 m² and inaugurated according to the great ceremonial ritual of Buddhist grave consecration . The facility was built by the Vietnamese Buddhist Cultural Center in Saxony eV and financed from its own funds, from funds from the city of Dresden, from donations and other support. The state capital Dresden is responsible for the system. The facility is open to all religious schools and nationalities.

On March 1, 2019, the first Buddhist burial in Saxony took place in the presence of many monks and nuns and 150 believers according to the traditional burial rituals. The solemn ceremony was celebrated by Bhiksu Thich Hanh Tan, Abbot of the Buddhist Amitayus Retreat Monastery Schönfeld.

Buddhists of Asian origin

Around 300,000 citizens from Asian countries with a high proportion of Buddhist populations live in Germany (December 31, 2014), including:

  • from Thailand , approx. 55,000 inhabitants, approx. 95% are Buddhists
  • from Japan , approx. 31,000 inhabitants, approx. 75% are Buddhists
  • from China , approx. 79,000 inhabitants, approx. 30% are Buddhists
  • from South Korea , approx. 24,000 inhabitants, approx. 24% are Buddhists
  • from Myanmar , Cambodia , Laos , approx. 3,000 inhabitants, approx. 90% are Buddhists

The Thais follow the Theravada schooling and with a total of 48 Thai temples ( Wat ) in Germany are the largest Buddhist community of Asian origin. (December 31, 2015)

See also


  • Ulrich Schnabel: A religion without God . In: Die Zeit , No. 12 from March 2007, p. 13.
  • Frank Usarski: Buddhism in Germany . In: Michael Klöcker and Udo Tworuschka (Hrsg.): Handbuch der Religionen. Churches and other religious communities in Germany . Olzog Verlag, Landsberg / Lech 1997 ff, ISBN 3-7892-9900-6 (loose-leaf work with 4 additional deliveries per year; Chapter VII Buddhism is constantly updated, currently EL 31: April 2012).
  • Martin Baumann, Culture Contact and Valuation: Early German Buddhists and the Creation of a 'Buddhism in Protestant Shape' , Numen 44 (3), 270–295 (1997)
  • Martin Baumann, Buddhism in Germany - past and present. Tibet und Buddhismus, Issue 47, pp. 22–28 (1998) digitized version (PDF; 560 kB) accessed on August 13, 2013.
  • Martin Baumann, The Transplantation of Buddhism to Germany, Processive Modes and Strategies of Adaptation, Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 6/1 (1994), 35-61.
  • Martin Baumann: German Buddhists. 2nd ext. Ed., Marburg 1995.
  • Hellmuth Hecker: Chronicle of Buddhism in Germany. (Series of publications of the DBU; 5). 3rd edition German Buddhist Union, Plochingen 1985 (former title Buddhismus in Deutschland ).
  • Hellmuth Hecker: Life Pictures of German Buddhists. A bio-bibliographical handbook. University of Konstanz, research project “Buddhist Modernism”, Konstanz 1990/92.
  1. The founders. 1990, ISBN 3-930959-09-7 .
  2. The successors. 1992, ISBN 3-930959-10-0 .
  • Klaus-Josef Notz: Buddhism in Germany in its self-portrayals. A religious studies study on the problem of religious acculturation. Lang, Frankfurt / M. 1984, ISBN 3-8204-7948-1 (also dissertation, University of Munich 1982).
  • Jürgen Offermanns: The long way of Zen Buddhism to Germany. From the 16th century to Rudolf Otto . (Lund studies in history of religions; 16). Lunds Univ., Lund 2002, ISBN 91-22-01953-7 (also dissertation, University of Lund 2002).
  • Andrea Rübenacker: Buddha is booming. A content-analytical study of the contributions on German television on the subject of "Buddhism in Germany". With special consideration of a material consideration of Buddhism. Dissertation, University of Dortmund 2000.
  • Eva S. Saalfrank: Spiritual home in Buddhism from Tibet. An empirical study using the example of the Kagyupas in Germany. Fabri-Verlag, Ulm 1997, ISBN 3-931997-05-7 .
  • Volker Zotz : On the blissful islands. Buddhism in German culture. Edition Theseus, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-89620-151-4 .
  • Volker Zotz: On the reception, interpretation and criticism of Buddhism in the German-speaking area from the fin-de-siècle to 1930. Historical sketch and main motifs. Dissertation, University of Vienna 1986.

Web links

Commons : Buddhism in Germany  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Membership numbers : Buddhism , in: Religious Studies Media and Information Service , accessed on February 4, 2016
  2. Anja Kirsch: Religions in Real Socialism - Contradiction or Fact? (PDF; 405 kB), Journal for Young Religious Studies 3, 2008.
  3. Thilo Götze Regenbogen : Buddhism in the GDR. A search for traces, journal of the SED State Research Association (ZdF) at the Free University of Berlin, issue No. 31/2012, Halle / Saale 2012, pp. 133–147.
  4. Martin Baumann (2001), Global Buddhism, Developmental Periods, Regional Histories and a New Analytical Perspective ( Memento of February 7, 2014 in the Internet Archive ), Journal of Global Buddhism 2, 21
  5. Die Zeit 12/07, p. 13
  6. Eastern Europe's first Buddhist burial place on the Heidefriedhof Dresden. In: Dresdner Latest News . September 27, 2015, accessed March 3, 2019 .
  7. Vietnamese Buddhist Cultural Center in Saxony eV