Mrs Irma Rinne, chairperson
Irma Rinne firstname.lastname@example.org
Buddhist Union of Finland
The Buddhist Union of Finland (SBU) was founded in 2009 by six Buddhist organizations. There were 13 member groups in 2019. The SBU is based on the common doctrinal foundation of all Buddhist traditions. It is an umbrella organization for registered Buddhist groups and represents them to the state. It works to make Buddhism visible in Finland and tries to ensure that Buddhists’ religious needs are met by public institutions, especially by schools and health care institutions.
The SBU acts as a co-operation organization. It calls the Buddhists in Finland together for annual Buddhist Day celebration in April and arranges seminars and meetings. It actively promotes tolerance between different religions and worldviews by taking part in interreligious activities and dialogue. The SBU provides information on Buddhism on its website. It is also part of the international Buddhist collaboration, a member of the European Buddhist Union, and attends The United Nations International Day of Vesak.
The SBU is a registered association according to the Finnish law. It is governed by an Executive Council whose members are appointed by the member associations, and the Chairperson is appointed by the General Annual Meeting.
Buddhism in Finland
The first contacts with Buddhism date back to 18th century. It is possible that the ”pagans” who were building roads and fortresses in Finland during the Russian regime were from Mongolia and Buddhists. Real interest in Buddhism started late 19th century, as a part of the European development. The first book on Buddhism by a Finnish writer was published 1886 in Swedish (Buddha den upplyste och hans lära), and an anthology of Buddha’s teachings by Henry S. Olcott was translated into Finnish 1906. The interest in Theosophy made Buddhism known all over Finland, especially among artists and worker’s movements.
The first Buddhist association was established in 1947, ”Buddhismin ystävät – Buddhismens vänner”. It started as a lodge inside the Theosophical Society. They had lectures on Buddhism, translated texts and had a Vesak celebration every year. This association is still active with the name Bodhidharma (1998), and it is now a Chan-buddhayana group, and it has an interbuddhist point of view.
It took some time before the next Buddhist association started, Friends of the Western Buddhist Order FWBO 1973 (now Triratna). It had close relations to the international organization, and had activities like meditation practices, retreats and rituals. This can be seen in connection to the ”second wave” of international Buddhism. Japanese Soka Gakkai International Finland was established in 1975, and the Tibetan Buddhism inspired ”Buddhalainen Dharmakeskus” in 1980. These groups are still active. Tibetan teachers visited Finland already in the 1970’s, and the 14th Dalai Lama payed his first visit to Finland in 1988. The first associations of Asian background were the Finnish-Thai Buddhist Association established in 1996, and a Vietnamese association, ”Suomen vietnamilaisten buddhalaisten yhdyskunta”, in 1998. The Vietnamese refugees arrived in Finland already in the late 1970’s, but the first organization was founded only 20 years later. The Thai population in Finland is based on marriage relationships. These two, the Vietnamese and Thais, are the biggest Buddhist associations in Finland today.
During the 21st century, the number of Buddhist groups has grown up to about 40. This growth can be called a ”third wave” of Buddhism in Finland. The new groups have mainly been from Tibetan and Zen traditions. Some of the groups have been registered as religious communities (9 in 2017 and 13 in 2021). The state gives a small support according to the size of the community, but the amount is quite small and does help only the bigger ones. Almost all different lineages of Buddhism are represented in Finland.
Number of Buddhists in Finland
The exact number of Buddhists in Finland is not known. We know only those who have officially been registered as a religious community. Accordingly, in 2018 there were 1792 officially registered Buddhists in Finland, in 2020 the number was 1826. However, based on the statistics of the people originated from Asian Buddhist countries, it can be estimated that a real amount is over 15 000. This would be 0,18 % of the whole population (5,5 million).
This summary is loosely based on the article by Ville Husgafvel and Mitra Härkönen (Buddhalaisuus Suomessa – Monien uskomusten ja katsomusten Suomi. Kirkon tutkimuskeskuksen verkkojulkaisuja 48. 2017 (p. 170–181).