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Buddhism in the United Kingdom has a small but growing number of adherents which, according to a Buddhist organisation, is mainly the result of conversion. [1][2] In the UK census for 2001, there were about 152,000 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 2001 Census, 144,453 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 56,040, Chinese 34,304, Asian 13,919, Mixed 4,647, Black 1,507 and Other 34,036.[6] In Scotland, people were asked both their current religion and 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:

The earliest Buddhist influences were with the Theravada traditions of Burma, Thailand, and Sri Lanka was primarily scholarly, 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 was pioneered by the Theosophists, Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott, and in 1880 they 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.

Throughout the early twentieth century the Theosophical and Theravadin influences continued, particularly with the foundation in 1924 of London’s Buddhist Society. In 1926 the Theravadin London Buddhist Vihara in Chiswick was founded. The 1950s saw the development of interest in Zen Buddhism. In 1967 Kagyu Samyé Ling Monastery and Tibetan Centre was founded in Eskdalemuir, Scotland, and is the largest Tibetan Buddhist centre in Western Europe. The Manjushri Kadampa Buddhist Centre[9] in Conishead Priory located just outside of Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria is a large New Kadampa Tradition Tibetan Buddhist centre. The priory established by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in 1975 claims to be 'the mother centre from which around 1100 Kadampa Buddhist centres have been set up worldwide'. [10]

A Theravada monastery following the Thai Forest Tradition of Ajahn Chah was established at Chithurst Buddhist Monastery in Sussex, and has established branches elsewhere in the country. A lay meditation tradition of Thai origin is represented by the Samatha Trust, with its headquarters cum retreat centre in Wales. Soto Zen has a priory at Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey in Northumberland.

Also in 1967 the Englishman Sangharakshita (1925-) who had spent time in the east as a Theravadin monk founded the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, the first home-grown Buddhist movement. He was followed by other westerners who had studied in the East, and by Eastern teachers, particularly refugee Tibetan Lamas, and under the influence of these teachers a large and diverse British Buddhist world has emerged. At the 2001 census, 36% of those stating they were Buddhist lived in London [11] and 38% of Buddhists were white. [12].

As well as the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order there are other Buddhism-based new religious movements such as the New Kadampa Tradition and Sōka Gakkai International.

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
  4. ^ Buddhism and Ethnicity in Britain: The 2001 Census Data
  5. ^ Census 2001: National Report for England and Wales, Office for National Statistics, London, TSO, 2003, page 184
  6. ^ Census 2001: 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. ^ Buddhism & meditation in the English Lake District
  10. ^ Conishead Priory, Ulverston
  11. ^ National Statistics Online
  12. ^ National Statistics Online

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