Buddhism in the Netherlands
Friday 13 November 2015, by
The first awareness of Buddhism in the Netherlands can be traced back to early books, with references to Buddhism reappearing in 1651, 1843 and 1878, with the first book on Buddhism being written in the Dutch language in 1879. The turn of the century saw more popular books on Buddhism published in Dutch.
Academic study of Buddhism in the Netherlands
The scientific study of Buddhism began in the Netherlands with the appointment of Hendrik Kern as the first professor for the chair for Sanskrit at Leiden University. He published two histories and a manual of Buddhism. Kern, like Émile Senart, portrayed the Buddha as a legendary being or a hero representing the sun. Kern was succeeded by Jacob Speyer (1849-1913), who translated several Mahayana texts and the Jatakamala for the series ‘The Sacred Books of the Buddhists’. The subsequent chair, Jean Philippe Vogel (1871-1958), became famous as an archaeologist by proving that Kasia in India must have been Kusinara, the place of the Parinirvana of the Buddha. He also conducted investigations on the Borobudur, the great Buddhist monument on the Isle of Java.
After the Second World War, a strong ally for Buddhism came in the form of the Theosophists. The Dutch secretary of the Theosophical Society Adyar, Mrs. Spruitenburg, returned from India and started ‘gatherings’ in her home in Huizen that attracted dozens of people from all over the country. Among them was Ernst Verwaal, who founded the ‘Buddhistische Vriendenkring Den Haag’ (Circle of Friends of Buddhism The Hague), later renamed as ‘Nederlandse Buddhistische Vriendenkring’ (Dutch Circle of Friends of Buddhism). He issued a simple journal. The centre of the ‘Circle’ was in The Hague, where in 1966 the wife of the Thai Ambassador, Mrs. Bhakdi, started receiving on Saturdays its members in the Thai Embassy. Later the group was presided by Ronald Poelmeijer, also being influenced by Peter van der Beek, who in 1953 became a member of The Western Buddhist Order, represented in Europe by the British Buddhist Jack Austin.
National Buddhist Organisation
In 1966 the Dutch Circle of Friends of Buddhism Circle changed its name to the ‘Buddhist Society in the Netherlands’. The new Society held activities that were calculated liberal to all the schools of Buddhism. This ecumenical policy led to some dissension, and later the organization was revamped as the ‘Stichting Nederlands Buddhistisch Centrum’ (Dutch Buddhist Centre Foundation) on 8 November 1967, with the aim ‘to study of the principles of Buddhism in all its diversity and to encourage the practical application of these principles. From 1968 to the present, the Centre has issued a journal. The centre changed its name in 1978 to ‘Stichting Vrienden van het Boeddhisme’ (Friends of Buddhism Foundation), in the same year as there was revival of the ‘Boeddhistische Unie van Nederland’ (Buddhist Union of the Netherlands) consisting only of representatives of Buddhist groups, with Tony Kurpershoek-Scherft as its first President. It was this second organization which became the Dutch member of the European Buddhist Union. From that time onwards, the history of Buddhism in the Netherlands is mostly the story of individual Buddhist traditions.
In 1968 Leo Boer and Janwillem van de Wetering founded a Zen group, and through two books made Zen popular in the Netherlands. The guidance of the group was taken over by Erik Bruijn who is still in charge of a flourishing community. The largest Zen group at this moment is the Kanzeon Sangha, led by Nico Tydeman under the supervision of the American Zen master Dennis Genpo Merzel, Roshi, a former student of Maezumi Roshi in Los Angeles. This group is planning to found a centre in the near future where a teacher and some students will live permanently. Nico Tydeman also organizes many lectures by Buddhist teachers from all over the world in the ‘Kosmos’ — a general centre for meditation and all kinds of spirituality. Besides, the ‘Nederlands Boeddhistisch Studiecentrum’ (Dutch Buddhist Study Centre), under the direction of Nico Tydeman and R.H.C. Jannsen, offers courses on Buddhist topics and instruction in meditation.
In 1971 the Dutch merchant Monshouwer gathered some people in order to discuss the possibility of founding a Theravada temple with the support of Thai ambassador Sompong Sucharitkul. In 1973 the temple was officially founded in Waalwijk. Originally the temple was named Wat Dhammasucaritanucharee, but two years later renamed as Buddharama Temple with its own supporting foundation called ‘Young Buddhists Netherlands’. This foundation had its own journal. Later the founding abbot Ven. Mettavihari moved to Amsterdam and started a separate community of vipassana practitioners there. The foundation supporting the Thai temple in Waalwijk was renamed the ‘Nederlandse Buddha Dhamma Stichting’ (Dutch Buddha Dhamma Foundation).
In 1977 Han de Wit, an authorized pupil of the Kargu lama Chogyarn Trungpa, founded a centre in Amsterdam which is engaged in teaching the Dharma and meditation according to Tibetan tradition. The building of this centre is probably the largest in the Netherlands. There is a smaller centre in Oegstgeest, also founded by de Wit, and groups in two other towns (Utrecht and Nijmegen). The Tibetan Nyingma tradition is represented by several groups. They have a centre (Nyingma Centrum, Nederland) and a bookshop in Amsterdam. These groups belong to the organization of Tarthang Tulku who resides in California. The Gelugpas own an estate in the woods around Emst. On this piece of land the Maitreya Institute has been erected, based on the initiative of Paula Koolkin in 1976. In August 1979 lama Thubten Yeshe and lama Zopa Rinpoche came to teach. By 1990 lama Geshe Konchog Lhundup was the teacher in permanent residence. The Sakya tradition of Tibetan Buddhism took a foothold in 1976 as Geshe Lama Sherab Gyaltsen Amipa established the ‘Sakya Thegchen Ling’ in The Hague.
Finally two smaller groups should be mentioned. In the first place the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order connected with the large movement of Ven. Sangharakshita in England and secondly the Arya Maitreya Mandala, a group of pupils of Lama Anagarika Govinda. This group had separated itself from the larger group in Germany after the death of Lama Govinda.
In 1971 there were 900 Buddhists in the Netherlands. Since 1971 the number of Buddhists has increased considerably, probably in connection with the rise of ‘alternative’ views in society and the decline of Christianity. The increased interest in Buddhism is evident from the growth in number of Buddhist centres. In 1990 there were twelve general Buddhist centres belonging to no specific denomination, seven centres belonging to the Theravada tradition, twelve belonging to the Vajrayana, and eleven belonging to the Zen tradition. In total there were forty-two groups.. A Buddhist broadcasting channel (Boeddhistische Omroep Stichting) has also offers programming on the national network. In 2004 there were 169,000 Buddhists in The Netherlands - about 1% of the population.
Philip van Utenbroeke (c.13) Barlaam en Joasaph – a translation of the Greek manuscript by c.7 patriarch John of Damascus
Rogerius (1651) notes of missionary work on the Coromandel Coast of India mentioning the Buddha as the ninth Avatar of Visnu
J.H. Halbertsma (1789-1869) Het Buddhisme en zijn Stichter (Buddhism and its Founder) based on Brian Houghton Hodgson’s illustrations of the literature and religion of the Buddhists, published in 1841
C.P.Tiele (1878) review on W. T. Rhys Davids’ book Buddhism: Being a sketch of the Life and Teaching of Gautama, the Buddha
J.P. van der Vegte (1879) Het Buddhisme en zijn Stichter (Buddhism and its founder) 330pp (translation of Rhys Davids’ book)
Felix Ortt (1905) The Gospel of Buddha translation of the work by Paul Carus
H.U. Meyboom (1902) Het Licht van Azie translation of Paul Arnold’s The Light of Asia
C. J. Wijnaendts Francken (1897) Het boeddhisme en zijn wereldbeschouwing (Buddhism and its world-view)
H. Bouwman (1906) Boeddhisme en Christendom (Buddhism and Christianity)
S. van Houten (1889) De leer van de Boeddha naar de heilige boeken van het zuidelijke Boeddhisnie voor Europeanen bewerk (The Teaching of the Buddha according to the holy books of Southern Buddhism, adapted for Europeans)
Hendrik Kern (1882) ‘Geschiedenis van het Buddhisme in Indie’(History of Buddhism in India) Vol. 1
Hendrik Kern (1884) ‘Geschiedenis van het Buddhisme in Indie’ Vol. 2
Hendrik Kern (1896) Manual of Indian Buddhism
‘De Samenspraak’ (The Dialogue)
Janwillem van de Wetering (1973) Het dagende niets (The Dawning of Nothingness)
Janwillem van de Wetering (1973) The Empty Mirror (Routledge & Kegan Paul)