Albert Einstein said “If there’s any religion that could cope with modern science, it’s Buddhism.” Demonstrating the validity of this statement and considering Buddhism as the “religion of intellectuals” approximately 3 Million Europeans have been receptive the teachings of the Supreme Buddha. As documented in the Vinaya Pitakaya (2rd basket of the Pali Canon) Lord Buddha addressed his 60 enlightened followers (Arahath: free from all bonds of desire) and explained them their duties as follows. “Go and wander for the welfare and happiness of many, out of compassion for the world. Two should not go in the same direction. Proclaim my doctrine for the benefit of the mankind.” (Charitha Bikkawe Charikan, Bahu Jana Hithaya, Bahu Jana Sukhaya)” the Buddha advised his deciples.

Living up to this advice Arahath Moggali Puththa was a pioneers in heralding the teachings of Lord Buddha in the 3rd century B.C. During the reign of Emperor Ashoka Buddhism was spread to several neighboring countries of India. Evidence could be found, Inter alia, in the writings on “Milindapañha” (“Questions of Milinda”), a lively dialogue on the Buddhist doctrine between King Milinda (i.e. Menander), a Greek ruler and answered by Venrable Nagasena, a senior monk that Buddhism was even been spread to parts of the Greek Empire in the 2nd century B.C.

The transmission of Buddhism to the boarders of Europe in Central Asia corresponded with the development of the silk routes as channels for intercultural exchanges. The writings of the Italian Franciscan Friar John de Plano Carpini (1185 – 1252) and the famous Italian traveler Marco Polo describe that Mongolia was predominately Buddhist during their expeditions to the country. These are considered as the first historical records on Buddhism in European history.

Germany as “the country of poets and philosophers” played a vital role in the dissemination of the Buddhist doctrine in Europe. As a result of increasing trade relations between Europe and Asia from the 15th century A.D. onwards also a cultural and philosophical exchange was set in motion. August Wilhelm Schlegel (1767 – 1845) and Friedrich Schlegel (1772 – 1829) were the earliest and most vocal proponents in analyzing and translating Indian religious and philosophical texts from Sanskrit to German. The Schlegels were pioneers in introducing the “Indian way of thinking” to European scholars, whose knowledge was restricted to western philosophies up to this era.

The great German Philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1866) was one of the first German Thinkers to incorporate Buddhist teaching in to his writings paving the way to a new era in European Philosophy. His publication in 1815 “The World As Will and Representation” based on a core message of Buddhism “the world is an imaginary creation based on ones desires” led to frequent discussions among the European scholars on the Buddhist philosophy.

Similarly, some of Friedrich Niltzsche’s (1844-1900) works were in accordance with the teachings of Buddha on human qualities such as benevolence, kindness, selflessness, and non-violence. In his publication “Gott ist tot”, Schopenhauer rejected creationism and substantiated the Buddhist view of Dependent Origination of the universe and all beings. Continuing this trend Hermann Oldenburg (1854 – 1920) was engaged in explaining Buddhist teachings to an interested section of the European society in an simple and pragmatic manner. His work “Buddha, His Life, His Doctrine and His Order” made a significant contribution for beginners to understand Buddhism.

In addition, the German scholars Friedrich M. Müller, Loma Govinda (Born: Ernst Hoffmann) and the Austrian Dr. Karl Eugen Neumann (1865 – 1915) have made major contributions to the dissemination of Buddhist teachings in Europe. DR. Neumann was the first authoritative translator of Buddhist scriptures into a European language. With his translation of large parts of the Pali Canon into German and he is considered as a pioneer of Buddhism in the West and especially in German-speaking countries. This period also saw his eager correspondence and friendship with the kindred spirit Giuseppe De Lorenzo (1871-1957) from Bari, who also published Italian translations of Neumann’s work and became a pioneer of Italian Buddhism. Dr. Neumann was also the first European to confer a doctorate in Buddhism.

In a retrospective on the first Buddhist monks in Europe, records could be found of Walther Florus Gueth (1878 – 1957) who is considered as the first ordinated Buddhist monk of the Theravada order in Europe. He, who was ordinated as Nyānatiloka Thera did a great service to Buddhism in Europe amid all the difficulties he faced during the 2nd world war. In 1937, he ordained the German Siegmund Feniger as Nyanaponika Thera (1901 – 1994), who also did a respectable service to the order as his successor.

Dr. Paul Dahlke (1865 – 1928) who was the founder of the first and major Theravada Buddhist Center in Europe (Das Buddhistische Haus Berlin) deserves an adequate mentioning in this context. By translating substantial parts of the Pali Canon (Tripitaka), authoring nearly 25 works on Buddhism and maintaining a printing press for the publication of Buddhist literature, Dr. Dahlke did a tremendous contribution in spreading Buddhist teachings among European scholars.

Similarly, Rhys Devid (founder of PTS- Pali Text Society in 1881), who performed a great service to Buddhism in Britain during the 1880s, made a commendable contribution in establishing the doctrine of Lord Buddha in Britain.

Taking the contributions of Sri Lankans for the Buddhist missionary work in Europe in to account, the first name to be mentioned is that of Sir Anagarika Dharmapala (1864 – 1933). Beside his endeavors to safeguard Bodhi Gaya (Buddha attained enlightenment beneath this Bo Tree) and founding the London Buddhist Vihara in 1926, Anagarika Dharmapala has done an unforgettable service for the dissemination of Dhamma in Europe. During his participation at the World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893 the Buddhist reformer Anagarika Dharmapala pointed to the “universal” teachings of the Buddha emphasizing the Buddhist ideals of tolerance and gentleness as crucial for the world’s religions in modern times. Many in the audience and others reading reports of the event were apparently very impressed with Anagarika Dharmapala.

The successful work of Anagarika Dharmapala was continued inter alia by great monks like Ven. Narada Thera of Vajiraramaya, Ven. Prof. Hammalawa Saddhatissa Thera, Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maitreya Mahathero and Ven. Prof. Walpola Rahula whose reputations as great scholars are widely unmatched up to date.

Following all these great characters today the teachings of Buddha are thought at 25 Buddhist Centers in Italy, at 6 France, at 5 centers in Germany, at 3 in Switzerland and at one each in Denmark, Norway, Cyprus, Greece, Neverlands and Austria. These centers are also dedicated to provide several services such as spiritual care to the society.

The Tibetan Buddhist Temple in St. Petersburg is considered as the first Buddhist Center in Europe. According to Dr. Hans Much (1880 – 1932) the institution in St. Petersburg has maintained a close rapport with the Buddhist Center in Hamburg.

The Russian Republic of Kalmykia is the first and only predominantly Buddhist region in Europe. The consideration of Buddhism as a legally recognized religion in Austria as well as the inclusion of Buddhist Ethics as a part of the subject Ethics to the curriculum of the schools in Berlin-Brandenburg is an important milestone in making Buddhist teachings available to the European public.

While a vast number of European universities offer opportunities to study Pali, Sanskrit and Buddhist Philosophy, some universities in Germany, Austria and Scotland have inaugurated faculties affiliated to the Sri Lankan Buddhist and Pali University. A large number of students visit these lectures and complete their examinations obtaining a substantial knowledge on Buddhist Theory.

Finally, the widest spread Buddhist tradition in Europe is that of the charismatic Venerable Dalai Lama. Zen Buddhism, population wise the largest Buddhist order in the world, has also obtained a high degree of acceptance in Europe. Altogether, a large number Buddhist Centers located in a vast number of European countries, representing all the major Buddhist Traditions disseminate the teachings of the Supreme Buddha to all interested Europeans.

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