History of Buddhist Federation of Norway
Although archaeological evidence shows that Vikings brought a statue of the Buddha to Scandinavia around the 9th century, nothing suggests that Buddhism had any impact in this part of the world until the late 19th century when it became known to people in Europe through the writings of western scholars and philosophers.
During the 20th century various eastern-inspired spiritual movements lead to an interest in Buddhism among a number of Norwegians. Their fascination with the east, particularly with Tibet, also contributed to their attraction to Buddhism.
However, the first steps in organizing Buddhist groups and associations, did not take place until the early 1970s. The interest in Zen and Tibetan Buddhism led to the establishment of organizations devoted to these forms of Buddhism in 1972 and 1975 respectively. The establishment of the Buddhist Federation of Norway (BFN) in 1979 was the result of a joint initiative by these two organizations.
The law encouraged Norwegian Buddhists to register as a religious community in order to receive the support of the state, as the Act relating to religious communities, passed by the Norwegian parliament in 1969, provided for regular government funding of registered religious communities of all faiths, based on the principle of equal per capita support to that given to the established Church of Norway.
The origin of Zen in Norway was mainly due to local interest inspired by writings by scholars such as the D.T.Suzuki from Japan. The development of Tibetan Buddhism was encouraged by visits to Norway of Tibetan lamas, such as the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa and the 14th Dalai Lama.
In addition the traditions of Theravada, Vietnamese Zen, Chinese Zen, Korean Zen as well as a Western movement, Triratna, have found Norwegian followers who have set up organisations devoted to these traditions of Buddhism that have joined the BFN as member associations.
Vietnamese refugees began to arrive in Norway in the late seventies. The Buddhists from this community formed a member association of the BFN in 1982. The arrival of Thai Buddhists in Norway, beginning in the 1980s, was mainly due to intermarriages between Thais and Norwegians. Today there is a community of around 14.000 Thai Buddhists.
The Sri Lankan Buddhist community in Norway consists to a large extent of regular immigrants who have settled in this country over the years. In 1993 they formed their association as a member of the BFN. A Burmese Buddhist Association consisting mainly of refugees from that country has also joined the BFN as has also a Cambodian Buddhist association.
Doctrinal foundation and purpose
The BFN is based on the common foundation of all Buddhist traditions such as the Three Jewels, The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path and is devoted to the welfare of all beings. The purpose of the BFN is to establish a common faith community according to Norwegian law and administer rights and duties connected with that position. In addition the BFN shall organize common celebration of Buddhist festivals, inform the public about Buddhism and express Buddhist points of view on current issues.
The BFN is a registered faith community according to Norwegian law. It is governed by an Executive Council whose members are appointed by the member associations of the BFN. The President of the BFN is appointed by the Executive Council and holds legal responsibility for the affairs of the organization. Individual members of the member association are registered in the BFN and the size of the annual grants from the government is based on the documented number of registered individual members. The money received from the government is allocated to the member associations of the BFN according to their share of the membership of the BFN. The BFN has its own office with a coordinator managing the daily affairs of the organization.
The BFN has currently 13 member association with nearly 13000 individual members registered in the BFN. More than 400 individual members of the BFN are not connected with any member organization. Around 85 % of the members of the BFN are connected to associations with Asian ethnic background.
In accordance with the Act relating to religious communities the BFN keeps a register of Buddhists who have joined the organization as individual members. Every year the BFN requests the government to provide funding to the BFN relative to the number of members registered. This funding is distributed among the member associations of the BFN according to their relative share of its membership.
Another activity of the BFN is the celebration of Buddhist festivals. Although the larger member associations celebrate Buddhist festivals according to their respective traditions, the BFN organizes common celebrations every year of Vesak, as well as the enlightenment day of the Buddha according to the Zen Buddhist calendar.
The BFN speaks on behalf of the whole Buddhist community in Norway to the government, to other faith communities as well as to the society in general. In this connection the BFN has participated in a number of inter-religious dialogues.
In 1996 the BFN co-founded The council of religious and life stance communities in Norway. This institution is a forum for regular dialogue between religions communities organizing various conferences and seminars for this purpose. Through this institution the BFN was instrumental in establishing the Oslo coalition on freedom of religion or belief in 1998. This organisation promotes freedom of religion internationally through dialogue between governments, scholars and religious leaders. In this context the BFN has participated in dialogue with Buddhists in the People’s Republic of China. As part of its international engagement the BFN also took part in a dialogue with Sri Lankan Buddhists on the issue of a non-violent resolution to the ethnic conflict in that country.
After the Tsunami disaster in South Asia in 2004 the BFN engaged in various humanitarian activities in Sri Lanka and is also continuing such activities in other countries.
The BFN also provides information about Buddhism to the public through various means such as the internet as well as the publication of books.
The BFN also take part in interreligious dialogue through a project with leading theologians from the Church of Norway. The BFN is also involved in international Buddhist collaboration through organisations such as The World Fellowship of Buddhists, The International Council of the Day of Vesak and the European Buddhist Union.
Number of Buddhists in Norway
In 2012 15.426 individuals were registered as members of Buddhist faith communities registered with the government (http://www.ssb.no/trosamf/tab-2012-12-06-01.html).
However, according to the official statistics on immigration Norway had by 01.01.12 a population from Myanmar (3527), Cambodia (519), Thailand (14398), Vietnam 20.871), and China(8458) numbering 47773 http://www.ssb.no/emner/02/01/10/innvbef/tab-2012-04-26-04.html. Based on the percentage of Buddhists in these countries an estimate of 31.373 Buddhists with immigrant background can be given.
In addition to these countries there are also other Asian countries with Buddhist populations represented in Norway. With an added estimated 1700 Buddhists with Norwegian ethnic background it gives a total number of 33.073 (33.000) Buddhists in Norway.
The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life http://features.pewforum.org/religious-migration/destination-by-religion.php?sort=Buddhist estimates that the number of Buddhist immigrants in Norway amounts to 30.000. However, a figure of around 33.000 Buddhist appears to be substantiated by available data. This amounts to 0,66% of the total population of Norway.