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Buddhism in Denmark
Ole Felsby and Pia Jeppesen

There are 5,2 million citizens (25,000 from Asia). Denmark has a royal family, and Queen Margrethe is the head of our monarchy. She is married to prince Henrik from France, and they have two sons. The youngests, prices Joachin, recently married a woman from Hong Kong, while the oldest, price Frederik still is unmarried.

Denmark is a democracy with a Social democratic government right now. We have elections every fourth year from the Parliament, which now have nine different parties. We have freedom of speech and many independent newspapers.

Our country is among the most richest in Europe. This is due to a big and traditional export of meat, milk, cheese and other agricultural products but also some industrial products. We are a member of the European Union (EU). In the beginning of this century Denmark developed the so called welfare-state, which for example means that every child has to go to school in at least nine years, that people who loose their job get a salary from the state and that you don’t pay when you go to school, university or hospitals. All this is paid by taxes. For example I have to give 50% of my salary to the state in tax.

The capital of Denmark is Copenhagen, where 1 million people live. The climate in Denmark is very cold. While I write this, white snow is falling outside, and the temperature is below zero degrees. It is only warm in four months in the summertime – from May to August (15-30 degrees).

Normally both men and women have a job, and it is becoming more normal, that they share the work at home instead of the woman doing it alone. While they work, their children go to school or an institution when they are small. Many families get seperated.

Eighty seven percent of the population are members of the Danish Christian Church, while the rest are Muslims, Buddhists or Ateists. 

The Introduction of Buddhism in Denmark

I asked Mr Tim Pallis. He has been studying Buddhism for many years. He is a Zen-Buddhist and one of the first danes to go abroad to study - in 1969 in the Daitoku temple in Kyoto, Japan. His first teacher was Sohaku Kobori. Time Pallis says:

- The first Danes to know about Buddhism were scientists and missionaries. One of them was Mr. Rasmus Rask, who studied languages in India and Sri Lanka at the beginning of 1800. He found some important Buddhist texts in Pali, which later were translated in Denmark.

Later on other scientists studied religion, especially Buddhism in China, where also some Christian missionaries became interested in the religion. But it took many years before people in Denmark took Buddhism as their religion:

- The first man, who practised Buddhism in Denmark, was a doctor and psychiatrist, Mr Christian Melbye, who in 1921 established ‘The Buddhist Society in Denmark". He learned about Buddhism from books from England, Germany and France, says Mr. Tim Pallis.

The following years Buddhism was only known among very few people in Denmark. The big change came in the 1960s. The young generation listened to the Beatles and other rock groups, who were interested in Asian philosophy and religion. Many tried drugs, and for a few it changed their way of thinking and lead them to Buddhism. Among these people include a journalist and political commentator, Mr. Erik Meier Carlsen, who practice under the Tibetan dzog. Chen - tradition. Tim Pallis’ interest also began after having tried drugs in the sixties:

-Many young people went to India and Nepal and learned about Eastern philosophy and religion there. But I went to Japan instead, and after one journey I sold my belongings in Denmark and bought a single-ticket back to Japan, where the Ven. Sohaku Kobori became my teacher for one year.

After that Mr. Tim Pallis married a Japanese woman, and they went to Denmark where he began to practice. He begins every day with 45 minutes of meditation, and the same in the evening. He has been studying several times since in Japan and is now a member of a Zen-Buddhist Group, which meet once a week for meditation and discussions.

He estimates, that about 500 Danes practice Buddhism. There is also people from Thailand, who have two temples in Denmark, and people from Vietnam, who have one. There are two monks in the Vietnamese temple and about 10-15 monks in the two Thai temples.

One of the Danish Buddhists, Mr. Jorgen Hannibal and his wife Katla has studied under the Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh in Plum Village in France, and Jorgen Hannibal is now a Buddhist teacher himself. They arrange meditation twice a week and retreats, that last for a week. Sometimes they get visitors from Plum Village, who teach and tell about their way of practising Buddhism.

The most Danish Buddhists belong to the Tibetan tradition, which was established by Mr. Ole Nydahl in the late sixties, and who has a center in Copenhagen and in many other countries. Later other Tibetan groups were established, and today all the groups - both Tibetan and Zen - have an organisation, where they have meetings and discussions - it is called Buddhist Forum, which publishes a magazine (in Danish, unfortunately).

All in all there are today two Japanese inspired Zen groups, two Zen groups who belong to the tradition of Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh, nine Tibetan groups and three Theravada groups: Two Thai and one Burmese group. Earlier I saw a notice from a ‘Pure Land’ - group, but I don’t think it excits as an organisation any more.

Even though the number of practicing Buddhists in Denmark is very small (approximately 500 persons), the religion is becoming steadily more important in the Danish cultural and spiritual life. Especially many artists today are inspired by Buddhism: One of our most famous writers, Ib Michael, the international acknowledged painter Per Kirkeby and the designer Ole Palsby. Also among academic people – doctors, scientists and so on – there is a growing interest in Buddhism.

Ten years ago a lot of people gradually changed their way of living. They became interested in healthy food, a more spiritual way of thinking and alternative ways of curing diseases. Soon it was called the "New Age" - movement, which in many ways was inspired by American interpretations of many different Asian religions and philosophy - often in a very strange mixture. None or very few of these people are Buddhists or Hindu, but Tim Pallis notice a small change:

-After a long period with ‘New Age’ it seems that more people are getting interested in the basic and real religions such as Buddhism. We saw it last time the Ven. Dalai Lama from Tibet visited Denmark. It was in the summer 1996, where more than thousand people attended each of his two public meetings in Copenhagen.

So many things indicate that Buddhism will play a growing part in Danish spiritual and cultural life in the years to come.



Updated: 1-12-2000

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