About the EBU
I: European Buddhism before 1975
The precursors of the first European National Buddhist Unions date back to the beginning of the 20th century (the Buddhist Missionsverein für Deutschland in 1903 and the Buddhist Society of Great Britain and Ireland in 1907).
Already in the 1930’s, European Buddhists felt the need to meet and get acquainted.
The first European Buddhist congress took place in Berlin in 1933 (with participants from Germany, France, The United Kingdom, Czechoslovakia, Ceylon [Sri Lanka] and Japan).
The Berlin Theravada temple Das Buddhistische Haus is the oldest Buddhist temple in Western Europe (erected by Dr. Paul Dahlke in 1924 – picture © Das Buddhistische Haus, with thanks to the German Dharmaduta Society)
The first European Buddhist Congress took also place in and near this venue (23-25 September 1933)
The 1934 edition of ‘The Buddhist’ (a Sri Lankan magazine by the YMBA or Young Men’s Buddhist Association) made the following report about the first European Buddhist Congress:
BERLIN BUDDHIST CONGRESS,1933
Amid great public interest a Buddhist Congress has taken place in Berlin, with the participation of leading Buddhists from the entire world.
On Saturday, September 23rd, a solemn ceremony in the Buddhist House in Beilin-Frohnau opened the Congress with the 31. Sutta of the Majjh. Nik.[…]
In a Berlin auditorium on Sunday, afternoon, September 24th, the representatives of the separate countries spoke concerning the status of the Buddhist movement in their native lands. First of all Dr. Schumacher made a short report on Germany. Then Bhikkhu Ananda spoke about England. There followed a message from Miss Grace Lounsbery, president of the French association of the “Amis du Bouddhisme”, and a report concerning its activities in France. Then Dr. Prochazka-Pilsen spoke regarding his efforts to spread ideas and philosophy in Czecho-slovakia. Mr. E. W. Atukorala spoke concerning the revival of Buddhism in Ceylon where after long and terrible repression by the Portuguese, considerable freedom in religious matters has now been won under English rule. Bhikkhu Ananda spoke further concerning the attempts of the deceased Anagarika Dhammapala to re-create Buddhist centers in India and to win the holy places back into Buddhist hands.[…] This interesting afternoon closed with a report by Bev. Sakakibara, the Buddhist Mahayana-priest from Japan […] On Monday evening Dr. Bruno threw light on Buddhism from the philosophic side and earned great applause.
The following may be characterized as the success of the Congress: that on one hand it succeeded in bringing representatives of different trends together for personal discussion and created valuable human connections among the leading Buddhists; and on the other side, that through the public lectures a great circle of men were brought in touch with Buddhism..
The congress in Berlin was followed by two other pre WWII congresses:
- London: 22-23 September 1934, at The London Buddhist Vihara (founded 1926)
- Paris: 16-18 June 1937, organised by Les Amis du Bouddhisme (founded 1929)
WW II made an abrupt end to these initiatives. It would take till the 1970’s before the next European Buddhist Congresses would take place.
II: 1975 – foundation of the European Buddhist Union
Paul Arnold launched the idea to create a European Buddhist Union in the early 70s. He would become the first president of the EBU.
Paul Arnold (1909-1992) was a Judge of the Supreme Court of Paris, writer (he was twice awarded the prize of the Académie Française), as well as an enthusiast traveller (mainly to Japan and India – In 1965 he was given a two hour private audience with HH the Dalai Lama at Dharamsala). In 1973 he opened a Buddhist monastery in the Savoy (France), which was an example of the ecumenical vision that always characterised Arnold’s work: the monastery taught the principles of – and gave hospitality to masters from – the most important Tibetan, Theravada and Zen Buddhist schools.
His dream was to unite all European Buddhists within one non-denominational pan-European organisation. He proposed this idea at an International Buddhist Congress in Neuilly-sur-Seine (Paris, 7-15 November 1973), in the presence of two hundred delegates of ten different countries. On the last day his resolution was approved. Arnold would become the first Secretary General (later President) of the European Buddhist Union.
As mentioned in our constitution, the EBU was founded in 1975 in London, and the language used within the association is English.
London is likely referring to the place (The Buddhist Society) where a final agreement was reached after “lengthy and laborious negotiations” between the Buddhist National Unions of the UK, France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Austria. Some of the pioneers present were the Brit Arthur Burton-Stibbon (who was council member of The Buddhist Society at the time and became the second president of the EBU), the French Paul Arnold (first president of the EBU) and the Italian Vincenzo Piga.
It was decided that the non-profit organisation would be created under French law, which happened in Paris on 13th October 1975.
The venue of the Annual General Meeting changes from year to year and is provided by member organisations of the EBU. Just before the end of the Cold War, a meeting was held on the Communist side of the Iron Curtain (Hungary, 1989).
A list of all EBU AGM’s from 1975 till present
Initially, only National Buddhist Unions could become member of the EBU.
In 1983, the constitution was amended to open up to international and regional European Buddhist organisations. At present, individual membership is still not possible.
meet our members
In 2013 in Churwalden (Switzerland), the AGM adopted a new and present-day ‘Statement of Mission, Vision, Values and Goals’ to fine-tune our goals and the values that guide our actions.
III: European Buddhist Congresses
In the decades after the war, the need was felt to pick up the tradition of the 1930’s again to organise Buddhist meetings on a European level. The first series of new European congresses were organised by the Pali Buddhist Union, but for Theravada traditions only (The Hague – Nov. 1970, Hanover – May 1972 and London – May 1974). The EBU then took over, organising international congresses on Buddhism in Europe for all traditions.
The first EBU congress took place at the UNESCO building in Paris from 15th to 18th June 1979, with the participation of over 250 representatives from 15 European Countries.
Below are the themes of some of the EBU congresses:
- ‘Buddhism for Europe today’ (UNESCO Paris, 1979)
- ‘The teaching and practice of Buddhism in Europe’ (Turin, 1984)
- ‘Buddhism in Western culture today’ (UNESCO Paris, 1988)
- ‘Unity in diversity – Buddhism in Europe’ (Berlin, 1992)
- ‘Unity in diversity – Ethical and spiritual visions for the world’ (UNESCO Paris, 2000)
- ‘Buddhism in Action’ (Berlin, 2016)
- ‘Spreading Wisdom and Compassion in European Societies’ (Málaga, 2018)
Announcement of the 1992 EBU Congress in Berlin. With more than 2000 participants, this congress was the largest EBU event to date.
Emptiness and compassion: a panel discussion at the European Buddhist Union Congress on 27th September 1992 with Sogyal Rimpoche, Thich Nhat Hanh, Dr. Rewata Dhamma and Sangharakshita.
At this unique event four Buddhist teachers from four different traditions discuss such fascinating topics as: the relationship between the monks and the laity, the importance of the Abhidhamma, Buddhist social action, anatta, Theravada and Mahayana, and Tantric sexual imagery.
IV: A Buddhist voice for Europe
Over the years, the EBU placed Buddhism on the European religious and philosophical map. For example:
- Buddhists were represented in the European Committee at the 1978 World Conference on Religion and Peace held in Rome.
- In 1986, the EBU was received at the Vatican by the president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue during which possible topics for meetings between Christianity and Buddhism were discussed.
- Some years later (Nov. 1989), Pope John-Paul II received a delegation from the EBU.
In 2008 the EBU obtained official participatory status with the Conference of International Non-Governmental Organisations at the Council of Europe.
The EBU is not only a Buddhist voice for Europe, but also a European voice for Buddhism. In 1985 for example, the EBU made an eight-day official visit to Mongolia at the invitation of the Asian Buddhist Conference for peace in Ulan Bator. The EBU is a founding member of the International Buddhist Confederation.
Read more: Partnerships
In 2010, Stephen Batchelor addressed the Annual General Meeting with the following talk: ‘A Buddhist Voice for Europe (Budapest, September 25, 2010):
“As Buddhists, we need to have the courage to present Buddhism as something that is in opposition to many of the values that currently govern life in Europe. Yet to do this effectively, we have to give rise to a distinctive and more united Buddhist voice than is currently the case.
As we know, in each European country, Buddhism consists of numerous small groups, representing many different traditions, factions and new religious movements. I often have the impression that each group is more interested in defending its particular turf rather than engaging in dialogue with other Buddhists. Many of the old Asian dogmatic views still divide us. We still unthinkingly use polemical terms like “Hinayāna” and “Mahāyāna,” which is not at all helpful.
As a small and vulnerable community, we urgently need to work together more closely, and not get bogged down in historical, sectarian rivalries. I find it disheartening when I meet different Buddhists in Europe to realize how very little they know about, or are even interested in, other Buddhist traditions than their own.
One of the positive things about organisations such as the European Buddhist Union, is that it provides a place where we can meet and talk to one another. If we are to move towards a Buddhist voice in Europe, we need to know more about each other.”
Read more: A Buddhist Voice for Europe