Buddhism is a term popularly applied to the many and varied schools of thought which grew and developed from the teachings of the Buddha in India more than 2,500 years ago. Its influence has spread throughout the world and it has been an accepted part of British culture for some time. The various branches of the religion all emphasize the Buddha’s teaching that individuals can gain liberation from an ongoing cycle of birth and death and the suffering contained therein. This is achieved by the cultivation of awareness and understanding gained through meditation, the goal of which is to attain nirvana, or enlightenment, a state which transcends this cycle. Perhaps it was the religion’s lack of determinism and an emphasis on individual free will which appealed to the population of 1960s Britain, particularly the ‘hippie’ youth (see hippies), in the prevailing mood of liberation in all areas of life. Freedom from postwar austerity gave people the chance to experiment with different lifestyles and there was a move away from established institutions. Meditation centres began to open around the country, and by the mid-1990s almost three hundred groups and centres were listed in the UK.
   Prior to this, Buddhism already had a foundation in Britain with the Buddhist Society, founded in 1924 by the late Christmas Humphreys QC. The society provides information and instruction in all schools of Buddhism. Over the years the religion has moved away from its place on the fringes of the culture; most of those who now flock to the various centres for retreats and study tend to come from the educated middle class in the ‘thirtysomething’ age group. One of the most popular centres is the Kagyu Samye Ling Tibetan Centre in Dumfries-shire, established in the late 1960s by two young Tibetan monks who had fled to the East in 1959 in the wake of the Chinese invasion of their country. The Centre’s twenty-fifth anniversary celebrations in 1993 were attended by the Dalai Lama, as well as by various British dignitaries including Sir David Steel MP (later Lord Steel). The Buddhapadipa temple in West London, staffed by missionary monks from Thailand, has also become a popular centre for study and traditional Theravada Buddhist practice. Established for many years, its present site was inaugurated in 1982 in the presence of HRH Princess Alexandra. The Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy Organisation and the Buddhist Hospice Trust enable a wider section of the population to have access to the religion.
   See also: Hinduism; Islam; Jainism

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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