Wednesday, January 05, 2011

BATW: Buddhism in Hungary

**In the second part of our series Buddhism Around the World, comes a group blog in Budapest, Hungary, who write for the site BuddhaPest. These folks hold a bit of a special place for me, since both my grandparents immigrated to the United States from the area of Transylvania, which at the time was still part of Hungary. We thank Roni and the other bloggers of the BuddhaPest Blog!

The BuddhaPest Blog was started in 2008 by Yoscha (also posting stories by Milaba) and became a group blog in 2010 when Astus and Roni joined in. All 4 of us have graduated from the The Gate of Dharma Buddhist College/Budapest Buddhist University which offers BA and MA degrees in Buddhism.

The name of the blog comes from a very old pun that was already well known in the 15th century, when Galeotto Marzio, the Italian chronicler of Matthias Corvinus, assumed that the town Buda (now the Western part of the capital Budapest) possibly owns its name to "a certain holy man called Buddha". This assumption has lived on to this very day and has given rise to claims that the Buddha in fact was Hungarian.

Instead of giving a historical overview of the early phases of Buddhism in Hungary myself, I would like share a couple of links (in English). First of all A Short History of Buddhism by Ernest Hetényi (PDF, Bulletin of Tibetology, 1973), and some about the most prominent Buddhists and Orientalists Hetényi refers to: Alexander Csoma de Kőrös from Transylvania (at that time Hungary, now Romania), Tivadar Duka (Csoma’s first biographer), Ferenc Hopp and Zoltán Felvinczi Takács (founders of the first Asian art collection), Aurel Stein archeologist and explorer, who disovered the Cave Temples of the Thousand Buddhas in Dunhuang, Trebitsch-Lincoln adventurer, international spy and Buddhist abbot in Shanghai*, who wanted to found a Buddhist monastery in Hungary in 1937.

The more recent history of Buddhism in Hungary begins with the author of the article above: Ernest/Ernő Hetényi and the founding of the Buddhist Mission** in 1951 (which became part of the Arya Maitreya Mandala founded by the German Lama Anagarika Govinda in 1952 and exists up to now). In the Communist Era the activity of the Buddhist Mission (and its educational project, the Kőrösi Csoma Buddhology Institute) was tolerated by the authorities, but Buddhism (as practising religion in general) was certainly not encouraged. With the political changes of 1989 Hungary became a new market for all kinds of religious, spiritual and New Age ideologies coming from the West. From then on we also can see a (reconstruction and) revival of the Shamanism of the early, nomadic Hungarian tribes.

An example of this revival is one of the largest Buddhist communities (Karma Kagyupa**, in Tar), that emphasises the parallels between Vajrayana Buddhism, Mongolian and Scythian culture, and Hungarian folk tales. The largest Buddhist community with many centers all around the country is that of Diamond Way Buddhism by Lama Ole Nydahl. With many more Tibetan Buddhist sanghas (among others the Sakya Community of Sakya Trizin with a resident lama in Budapest, and the Dzogchen Community** of Namkhai Norbu), Tibetan Buddhism is the most popular form of Buddhist practice in Hungary, probably due to the translation of the Dalai Lama’s books and also his visits (most recently in 2010). Zen/Chan/Seon lineages are also present, partly via the West (Mokusho Zen of Deshimaru Roshi, Kwan Um of Seung Sahn and One Drop Zendo** by Harada Roshi), partly by the presence of Chinese teachers whose communities** consist mostly of Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants. Theravada Buddhism is represented by two Vipassana schools: Goenka’s international "movement" and Mahasi Sayadaw’s Buddhist Vipassana, and also by a monastery in progress in the Forest Sangha lineage: Dhammadipa Sangha**. There is one Buddhist monastery/temple functioning in Hungary: Wong Kwang Sa of the Kwan Um lineage. The most recent group is Hang Truong’s ComPaSS, that combines Ken Wilbers’s teachings, Engaged Buddhism, Integral Tai-Chi, meditation and mindful living. Another fairly new group is Jai Bhim, that integrates roma people in the trail of Ambedkar’s Dalit Movement with the help of the Triratna Buddhist Community (formerly FWBO).

The Gate of Dharma Buddhist College was founded in 1991 by a handful of teachers who had studied (and later lectured) at the above mentioned Kőrösi Csoma Buddhology Institute. During its nearly 20 years of existence it has grown to an internationally acknowledged university accredited by the Hungarian State. The university is not affiliated with any lineage or school, the (core) curriculum gives a rather balanced overview of Buddhism.

Astus has a BA and MA in Buddhism from the Gate of Dharma Buddhist College/Budapest Buddhist University, he has been active on Buddhist online boards and he is currently one of the administrators of Dharma Wheel, a Mahayana Buddhist forum. He does translations of Buddhist texts to Hungarian**, also runs two blogs of which one is in English. His main interests are Chan and East Asian Mahayana.

Roni (who has written this summary) is interested in Theravada (especially the teachings of Ajahn Brahm & Ajahn Sujato) and (together with her fellow bloggers) in making Buddhism more popular(ized) via the BuddhaPest Blog.

* Roni wrote her thesis about him, the abstract can be read here (in English)
** Link in Hungarian

9 comments:

Sabio Lantz said...

Loved that. Great survey with a huge flavor of a sociologist's perspective. Two interesting phenomena stand out.

(1) When times of stress about, religion flourishes (1989) if allowed.

(2) The sects of Buddhism which prosper are, of course, merely the result of the prominent exposures through translations.

Roni said...

Hi, Sabio,

(1) 1989 was a time of enthousiasm, great hopes, not something stressful. I would rather shift your exposure argument here: free press, free publishing, everything pours in from the forbidden West.

(2) You are absolutely right here. The huge popularity of Tibetan Buddhism may have 2 more factors, though: "free tibet" sentiments (that resonates with the 1956 revolution in Hungary) and Vajrayana rituals and iconography being closer to Catholicism (Hungary's No.1. religion) in its "baroque splendour" :), than any other forms of Buddhism.

Metta,

Roni

Sabio Lantz said...

Hey Roni!
(1) I agree, that is huge. I also meant "stress" in a positive way -- change. Stress is the excitement of change.

(2) I loved that analysis. Fun! Thanx

ranjanlekhy said...

The article is in well precise form.What we can call it is the sea in a pot.

With Metta
Ranjan Lekhy
Department of Anthropology, University of Hyderabad, India.

Roni said...

Ranjan,

I looked at the statistics: in 2010 12,064 people offered 1% of their tax to a Buddhist institution. I would interpret it as a minimum for the number of Buddhists. I also know that there were 22,400 tickets sold for the lectures of the Dalai Lama (and there were many more people interested). So I would estimate the number of Buddhists (without the Dalai Lama fans) around 20,000, which is around 0,2% of the population. But there'll be a census next year, so we will know more then.

Metta,

Roni :)

ranjanlekhy said...

Hi Roni,
Would you allow me to correct few things?? Buddhist monks or institutions do not seek tax but just get dana (offerings). Tax cometh is not usual to Buddhism except in Tibet. Any way, your work is great. We need quality and quantity both. Good Luck.

With Metta
Ranjan Lekhy

Roni said...

In the meantime there is a new Buddhist temple in Hungary called 'Liberating Buddha Mother' (where 'liberating' is interpreted as Tara/Drolma. Photos of the opening ceremony last Sunday can be found here.

Sakyasingh said...

Roni, thanks for the link. Happy to see some glimpses of the NEW Buddha Monastery. No comment instead of having confused by the name of the NEW temple as "Liberating Buddha Mother"! Buddha's Mother Tara/Dolma? Ah poor history and anthropology! LOL! Metta!

Roni said...

Hi Sakyasingh,

The name comes from the blending of 3 figures: Tara (Buddhist), the Great Mother (Pagan), Mary (Christian, 'protector of the Hungarian').

Greetings,

Roni