I have been looking into the long history of Buddhism in Germany and was wondering whether there was anyone out there that could point me in the direction of any good English literature on German lay Buddhism and its history, in particular the trio of Hellmuth Hecker, Fritz Schäfer and Paul Debes? Most of it seems to be in German which is rather out of my reach. Any other interesting tidbits about Buddhism in Germany in English would also be appreciated (I have read Nyanatiloka’s biography which was very interesting and of course I know of Ayya Khema). Many thanks in advance!
I am impressed, Venerable!
Thanks very much, Venerable!
Hi Ven. Sabbamitta, did you have any suggestions as well? Letze Woche war ich im Dicken und da habe ich gehört dass Sie früher in diesem Kreis war. Aber ich weiß, dass es sehr schwierig diesen Ressourcen auf Englisch zu finden. Vielen Dank im Voraus!
No, I am sorry, I don’t know any literature about Buddhism in Germany in English language. That’s why I am so impressed about Ven. Khemarato’s post.
Oh, really! Yes, I have very fond memories of that place. But it’s long since I haven’t been there any more.
Okay thanks for confirming! A bit of a shame that not much is known in English-speaking circles about the German Buddhist world and its long history.
I don’t think much has changed based on old photos I’ve seen of the place. Much history there and a very beautiful spot
Some interesting tidbits that don’t have much to do with Hecker, Schäfer or Debes …
Although the entrance of Buddhism into German culture was prepared by philosophers such as Schopenhauer, it was only popularized at the turn of the 20 th century by the proliferation of a wider lifestyle reform movement. Proponents of Buddhism tried to appeal to a changing religious landscape by presenting a reformed, rational, and modern version of their faith. The first Buddhist association on European soil was founded in Leipzig in 1903. Until about 1914, Leipzig remained the center of organized Buddhism in Europe. However, the first Buddhist adherents in Germany, a small group of dedicated men, met with numerous obstacles. Continuous disagreement and infighting must be considered the gravest of their problems. It ultimately weakened these first attempts at institutionalizing and proselytizing Buddhism in Germany to the point that they crumbled under the impact of the First World War.
And lastly, a fascinating book that covers a much neglected aspect of early Buddhism in Germany…
Sebastian Musch, Jewish Encounters with Buddhism in German Culture: Between Moses and Buddha, 1890–1940
In Germany at the turn of the century, Buddhism transformed from an obscure topic, of interest to only a few misfit scholars, into a cultural phenomenon. Many of the foremost authors of the period were profoundly influenced by this rapid rise of Buddhism―among them, some of the best-known names in the German-Jewish canon. Sebastian Musch excavates this neglected dimension of German-Jewish identity, drawing on philosophical treatises, novels, essays, diaries, and letters to trace the history of Jewish-Buddhist encounters up to the start of the Second World War. Franz Rosenzweig, Martin Buber, Leo Baeck, Theodor Lessing, Jakob Wassermann, Walter Hasenclever, and Lion Feuchtwanger are featured alongside other, lesser known figures like Paul Cohen-Portheim and Walter Tausk. As Musch shows, when these thinkers wrote about Buddhism, they were also negotiating their own Jewishness.
I would suggest reading about the Buddhistische Haus in Frohnau, a well-to-do neighbourhood of Berlin. It is the second-oldest Buddhist temple in Europe after the Tibetan one in St. Petersburg. It is definitely the oldest Theravada temple in Europe. Accidentally, it is the temple where I took refuge un the Three Jewels.
I think the biographies of Paul Dahlke and Asoka Weeraratna who later became Ven. Dhammanisanthi and founded the famous Mitirigala Forest Monastery. Mr. Weeraratna was also the one who helped Friedrich Möller get to Sri Lanka and receive ordination as Ven. Ñaṇāvimala, i.e. one of the most famous Western monks in that country. Mr. Weeraratna’s biography was composed by his nephew, Tissa Weeraratna, who is still running things at the Buddhistische Haus despite his advanced age. He is quite a character, I must say, but at the same time quite lovely to chat and talk about about the Dhamma with.
Should you have further interest in the Buddhistische Haus, you may try to reach out to Tissa via the contact information on the Buddhistische Haus website. I am sure Tissa will be very happy to tell you about his uncle’s adventures in Germany as well as Dr. Paul Dahlke.