BUDDHIST FEDERATION OF NORWAY (BFN)
I. How many Buddhists are there in Norway?
The majority of Buddhists in Norway have their origin in the Buddhist countries in Asia. A conservative estimate based on official statistics of immigrants and their descendants in Norway suggests that there are presently more than 38.000 Buddhists in this category. There are also several thousand Buddhists with a Western background among whom more than 2.000 are members of the Buddhist Federation of Norway or other Buddhist associations.
The total number of Buddhists can be estimated to be at least 40.000. This constitute 0,77 % of the population of Norway which presently stands at 5,2 million.
II. Buddhist Federation of Norway
The Buddhist Federation of Norway was founded in 1979. It is a registered faith community based on the Act relating to Religious Communities, passed by the Norwegian parliament in 1969, which provides for regular government funding of registered religious communities of all faiths.
Through the Buddhist Federation of Norway its member organizations cooperate for their own benefit as well as for the larger purpose of promoting Buddhism nationally and internationally. Presently 16 Buddhist organisations with approximately 15.000 members have joined the Buddhist Federation of Norway. The major traditions of Buddhism are all represented in the Buddhist Federation of Norway which represents the Buddhists in relation to the government as well as in relation to other religions in the country.
III. The member organisations of The Buddhist Federation of Norway
The organisations of the Buddhist Federation of Norway represent both Buddhists of Asian backgrounds as well as “new Buddhists» of Western background. There are also “nondenominational” Buddhists who are directly affiliated with the Buddhist Federation of Norway.
These two categories can be further described as follows:
These Buddhists represent the traditional Buddhism of their countries of origin.
The Vietnamese Buddhists (formally established in 1981) have five temples (two of them purpose built) situated in the major cities of Norway with altogether around twenty monks and nuns. The Thai Buddhists (formally established in 1991) built a temple in 2007 at the outskirts of the capital of Norway (Oslo) with more than five resident monks. There are also a number of smaller Thai temples with resident Thai monks in other parts of Norway. The Burmese Theravada Buddhist Association, The Khmer Buddhist Association as well as the Tisarana Sri Lankan Buddhist Association also have their own temples with resident monks.
These temples serve both as religious centres as well as cultural and social gathering places for their respective expatriate communities where cultural traditions are maintained along with the practice of the Buddhadharma.
This category of organisations represents Western Buddhists who have mostly chose Buddhism individually as adults. Tibetan Buddhism followed by Zen Buddhism has attracted the largest following. Here the focus is more on the practice of meditation as part of an individual spiritual search. The activities conducted by these organisations are therefore mostly courses for learning Buddhism and practicing meditation.
IV. The activities of the Buddhist Federation of Norway
The Buddhist religious activities mostly take place in the member organisations of the Buddhist Federation of Norway. However, administrative tasks such as registering members, applying for grants from the government, allocating funds to the member organisations, managing book-keeping and auditing as well as producing financial reports are all done by the federation. The member organisations are therefore relieved from handling some of the administrative responsibilities that follows from being a registered faith community with funding from the state.
According to established legislation Norwegian citizens may ask for their «church tax» to be allocated to their own faith community on a regular basis. A system set up to fund the established church of Norway has therefore come to benefit the other religions equally as they are supported on the same per capita basis (since 1969). Any individual is free to join the Buddhist Federation of Norway through accepting its credo which states its commitment to the welfare of all beings based on faith in the Three Jewels, the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.
The Buddhist Federation of Norway aims to establish a sense of community of all Buddhists. An important activity of the federation is therefore celebrating the most important festivals, such as Vesak, as common public events.
Information about Buddhism through various media such as books, newsletters and the internet is also an important activity of the Buddhist Federation of Norway.
The public school system in Norway provides general knowledge about religion. Buddhism is therefore included in the curricula of primary and secondary schools. The Buddhist Federation of Norway contributes to the improvement of the education given on Buddhism through such means as providing lecturers as well as facilitating access to temples.
Dialogue with other religions
The Buddhist Federation of Norway emphasise dialogue with other religions. In 1996 the federation together with the other religions in Norway established a national inter-religious council: The Council for Religious and Life Stance Communities in Norway (STL). The federation has also been instrumental in the development of an international institution to promote freedom of religion or belief: The Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief (established 1998).
The Buddhist Federation of Norway is also involved in international humanitarian assistance in connection with natural disasters in countries such as Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand.
International Buddhist cooperation
The Buddhist Federation of Norway is a member of international Buddhist organisations such as World Fellowship of Buddhists (Bangkok), International Council of Day of Vesak (Bangkok) and European Buddhist Union (Berlin).
V. The organisation of the Buddhist Federation of Norway
The Buddhist Federation of Norway is governed by a board with members appointed by the Buddhist organizations that have joined the federation. A president with a council of three vice presidents leads the federation. An office handles the day to day affairs led by a coordinator. Committees set up for the purpose handle areas such as finances, publishing, and celebration of festivals and so on.