Buddhism in the United Kingdom

Buddhism in the United Kingdom has a small but growing number of supporters which, according to a Buddhist organisation, is mainly because of the 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 among Brits 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]

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.[22]

See also


  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. Routlege. 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. ^ "Connecting People Through News". PressReader.com. Retrieved 2017-12-23.


  • Bell, Sandra (1991). Buddhism in Britain - Adaptation and Development, PhD thesis, University of Durham
  • Bluck, Robert (2004). Buddhism and Ethnicity in Britain: The 2001 Census Data, Journal of Global Buddhism 5, 90-96
  • Bluck, Robert (2006). British Buddhism: Teachings, Practice and Development. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-134-15817-1.
  • Kay, David N. (2004). Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain: Transplantation, Development and Adaptation, London; New York: RoutledgeCurzon
  • Munt, Sally; Yip, Andrew (2016). Cosmopolitan Dharma: Race, Sexuality, and Gender in British Buddhism. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-23280-8.

External links

Amaravati Buddhist Monastery

Amaravati is a Theravada Buddhist monastery at the eastern end of the Chiltern Hills in South East England. Established in 1984 by Ajahn Sumedho as an extension of Chithurst Buddhist Monastery, the monastery has its roots in the Thai Forest Tradition. It takes inspiration from the teachings of the community's founder, the late Ajahn Chah. Its chief priorities are the training and support of a resident monastic community, and the facilitation for monastic and lay people alike of the practice of the Buddha's teachings.

Aro gTér

The Aro gTér is a lineage within the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. The pure vision terma on which it is based teaches all Buddhist topics from the point of view of Dzogchen. The Aro gTer terma was received by Western-born Buddhist, Ngakpa Chögyam. The lineage is a ngagpa or non-monastic lineage and emphasizes householder practice and non-celibate ordination. All of its contemporary teachers are ethnically non-Tibetan.

Buddhism in England

Buddhism is quite a recent religion to arrive in England. Despite this, 238,626 peoiple in England declared themselves to be Buddhist at the 2011 Census and 34% of them lived in London.

Buddhism in Scotland

Buddhism in Scotland is a relatively recent phenomenon. In Scotland Buddhists represent 0.2% of the population or 12,795 people.

Buddhism in Wales

Buddhism in Wales has a relatively short history, having only really established a presence in the country in the 20th Century. 9,117 people in Wales declared themselves Buddhist in the 2011 Census, representing a number of Buddhist traditions. Tibetan Buddhism is particularly well represented with branches of several different traditions and lineages, notably Lama Shenpen Hookham's Awakened Heart Sangha, based in North Wales. Zen Buddhism has several groups in Wales and three Soto Zen masters are currently resident and actively teaching. The Samatha Trust, a lay Theravada group, have their headquarters in Wales as does the Tibetan group, Awakened Heart Sangha. The Triratna Buddhist Community have a number of groups and a large Cardiff Buddhist Centre. The Nyingma Aro gTér Lineage has been active in Wales since 1981. The Aro gTér Lineage Holders, Ngak’chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen, are resident in Wales and have written a large number of publications about Vajrayana Buddhist practice (see Aro Books worldwide and Aro Books Inc). Another Welsh author of this lineage is Ngakma Nor’dzin Pamo who is a teacher at Aro Ling Cardiff.

The Buddhist Council of Wales [1] has a growing number of Buddhist organisations and groups listed on their website. The Council is active in representing Buddhism and has two delegates on the National Assembly for Wales Faith Communities Forum and two on the Interfaith Council for Wales.

One notable Welsh person to have converted to Buddhism is former rugby star Ricky Evans.

Buddhism in the West

Buddhism in the West (or more narrowly Western Buddhism) broadly encompasses the knowledge and practice of Buddhism outside of Asia in the Western world. Occasional intersections between Western civilization and the Buddhist world have been occurring for thousands of years. The first Westerners to become Buddhists were Greeks who settled in Bactria and India during the Hellenistic period. They became influential figures during the reigns of the Indo-Greek kings, whose patronage of Buddhism led to the emergence of Greco-Buddhism and Greco-Buddhist art. There was little contact between the Western and Buddhist cultures during most of the Middle Ages but the early modern rise of global trade and mercantilism, improved navigation technology and the European colonization of Asian Buddhist countries led to increased knowledge of Buddhism among Westerners. This increased contact led to various responses from Buddhists and Westerners throughout the modern era. These include religious proselytism, religious polemics and debates (such as the Sri Lankan Panadura debate), Buddhist modernism, Western convert Buddhists and the rise of Buddhist studies in Western academia. During the 20th century there was a growth in Western Buddhism due to various factors such as immigration, globalization, the decline of Christianity and increased interest among Westerners. The various schools of Buddhism are now established in all major Western countries making up a small minority in the United States (1% in 2017), Europe (0.2% in 2010), Australia (2.4% in 2016) and New Zealand (1.5% in 2013).

Buddhist Society

The Buddhist Society is a UK registered charity with the stated aim to:

[...] publish and make known the principles of Buddhism and to encourage the study and practice of those principles.

The Buddhist Society is an inter-denominational and non-sectarian lay organization. It offers talks and classes on the teachings of all the different major mainstream Buddhist schools and traditions, as well as a structured programme of courses on general Buddhism, for both the public and members. It has a publishing programme and in its premises houses one of the main libraries in Britain on Buddhism. It is managed by an elected council and its patron is the 14th Dalai Lama.

Among other publications, it produces The Buddhist Directory, a reference book which lists the vast majority of Buddhist groups, centres and other related organisations in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and The Middle Way, a quarterly journal (referring to the Buddhist concept of a Middle Way).

Dhammakaya Movement UK

The Dhammakaya Movement is one distinct tradition of Thai Buddhism that has had a pioneering role in establing Buddhist practice in England since 1954.

Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery and Tibetan Centre

Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery and Tibetan Centre is a Tibetan Buddhist complex associated with the Karma Kagyu school located at Eskdalemuir, near Langholm, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland.

London Buddhist Vihara

The London Buddhist Vihara (Sinhala:ලන්ඩන් බෞද්ධ විහාරය) is one of the main Theravada Buddhist temples in the United Kingdom. The Vihara was the first Sri Lankan Buddhist monastery to be established outside Asia.

Established in 1926, the Vihara is managed by the Anagarika Dharmapala Trust in Colombo. The current chief bhikkhu of the Vihara is Ven Bogoda Seelawimala Nayaka Thera, who is also the Chief Sangha Nayaka of Great Britain.

Monasticism in the United Kingdom

For details of monasticism in the United Kingdom see:

Abbeys and priories in England

Abbeys and priories in Northern Ireland

Abbeys and priories in Scotland

Abbeys and priories in Wales

New Kadampa Tradition

The New Kadampa Tradition – International Kadampa Buddhist Union (NKT—IKBU) is a global Buddhist new religious movement founded by Kelsang Gyatso in England in 1991. In 2003 the words "International Kadampa Buddhist Union" (IKBU) were added to the original name "New Kadampa Tradition". The NKT-IKBU is an international organisation registered in England as a charitable, or non-profit, company. It currently lists more than 200 centres and around 900 branch classes/study groups in forty countries.The NKT-IKBU describes itself as ‘an entirely independent Buddhist tradition’ inspired and guided by ‘the ancient Kadampa Buddhist Masters and their teachings, as presented by Kelsang Gyatso’. Its founder, Kelsang Gyatso, has sought to make Buddhist meditation and teaching more readily accessible to twenty-first century living. He also wanted to ensure that people did not simply study Tibetan Buddhism from an academic point of view, but learned how to extend this knowledge through meditation and practical Buddhist experience. The NKT-IKBU is described as being "very successful at disseminating its teachings" and Geshe Kelsang's books have been called "very popular".The NKT-IKBU has expanded more rapidly than any other Buddhist tradition in Britain. It has been described as a "controversial organization" and a "controversial" new religious movement, a cult, or a breakaway Buddhist sect.

Outline of the United Kingdom

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; a sovereign state in Europe, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK), or Britain. Lying off the north-western coast of the European mainland, it includes the island of Great Britain—a term also applied loosely to refer to the whole country—the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland and many smaller islands

Pali Text Society

The Pali Text Society is a text publication society founded in 1881 by Thomas William Rhys Davids "to foster and promote the study of Pāli texts".

Pāli is the language in which the texts of the Theravada school of Buddhism is preserved. The Pāli texts are the oldest collection of Buddhist scriptures preserved in the language in which they were written down.

The society first compiled, edited, and published Latin script versions of a large corpus of Pāli literature, including the Pāli Canon, as well as commentarial, exegetical texts, and histories. It publishes translations of many Pāli texts. It also publishes ancillary works including dictionaries, concordances, books for students of Pāli and a journal.

Rimé movement

The Rimé movement is a movement involving the Sakya, Kagyu and Nyingma schools of Tibetan Buddhism, along with some Bon scholars.Having seen how the Gelug institutions pushed the other traditions into the corners of Tibet's cultural life, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820-1892) and Jamgön Kongtrül (1813-1899) compiled together the teachings of the Sakya, Kagyu and Nyingma, including many near-extinct teachings. Without Khyentse and Kongtrul's collecting and printing of rare works, the suppression of Buddhism by the Communists would have been much more final. The Rimé movement is responsible for a number of scriptural compilations, such as the Rinchen Terdzod and the Sheja Dzö.

Shaolin Temple UK

Shaolin Temple UK is a martial arts school and centre for study of Shaolin culture, in particular Gong Fu-Ch'an, Qigong and Ch'an Buddhist Meditation. It was founded in 2000 by Shaolin monk Shifu Shi Yanzi, and is located in North London, England, between the Tufnell Park and Archway Northern Line tube stations.

Shaolin Temple UK is an official emissary of the 1,500-year-old Shaolin Temple in Henan Province in China, by direct mandate from the Abbot Venerable Shi Yong Xin.Classes are taught by Shifu Shi Yanlei and 35th generation disciples: Shi Hengdao, Hengjiu, Hengshang and Hengdi..The school emphasises balanced training both in the external and internal martial arts. Students typically train both in Gong Fu and Qigong.

Tashi Tsering (Jamyang Buddhist Centre)

For Geshe Tashi Tsering of Chenrezig Institute, Australia, see Tashi Tsering

Tashi Tsering (Tibetan: བཀྲ་ཤིས་ཚེ་རིང་, Wylie: Bkra-shis Tse-ring) (born 1958) is abbot of Sera Mey Monastic University in India. From 1994 to 2018, he was the resident Tibetan Buddhist teacher at Jamyang Buddhist Centre, London.

Tsering was born in Purang, Tibet in 1958, and his parents escaped to India in 1959. He entered Sera Mey Monastic University in South India when he was 13 years old, and graduated with a Lharampa Geshe degree 16 years later. Geshe Tashi then entered the Higher Tantric College (Gyuto) for a year of study.Tsering's teaching career began at Sera, after which he taught the monks at Kopan Monastery, Nepal for a year. He went on to the Gandhi Foundation College in Nagpur, India and then moved to Europe, initially to Nalanda Monastery in the South of France.

In the west, Tsering teaches in English and is renowned for his warmth, clarity and humour. Besides Jamyang, he has been a regular guest teacher at other Buddhist centres in the UK and around the world as well as creator and teacher of the Foundation of Buddhist Thought, the two-year FPMT correspondence and campus course on the basics of Tibetan Buddhism.In March 2018 it was announced that Geshe Tashi Tsering had been asked by the Dalai Lama to become abbot of Sera Mey Monastic University in India. He was enthroned as abbot on 17 June 2018.In June 2019 he was awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen's birthday honours list for services to Buddhism in the UK.Geshe-la should not be confused with Geshe Tashi Tsering of Chenrezig Institute, Australia.

Triratna Buddhist Community

The Triratna Buddhist Community (formerly the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO)) is an international fellowship of Buddhists, and others who aspire to its path of mindfulness. It was founded by Sangharakshita in the UK in 1967, and describes itself as "an international network dedicated to communicating Buddhist truths in ways appropriate to the modern world". In keeping with Buddhist traditions, it also pays attention to contemporary ideas, particularly drawn from Western philosophy, psychotherapy, and art.Worldwide, more than 100 groups are affiliated with the community, including in North America, Australasia and Europe. In the UK, it is one of the largest Buddhist movements, with some 30 urban centres and retreat centres. The UK based international headquarters is at Coddington, Herefordshire. Its largest following, however, is in India, where it is known as Triratna Bauddha Mahāsaṅgha (TBM) (formerly the Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha Sahayaka Gana (TBMSG)).The community has been described as "perhaps the most successful attempt to create an ecumenical international Buddhist organization," and "an important contributor to Buddhism on the world stage." It has also been criticised, most notably for lacking "spiritual lineage" and over claims of sexual exploitation and misogyny during the 1970s and 1980s."

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