Buddhism is New Zealand’s third-largest non-Christian religion, with more than 58,400 followers (1.5% of the population) in 2013. 65% were migrants from the Buddhist cultures of Asia, while almost all of the rest, nearly 20,000, chose to become Buddhists.
What is Buddhism?
Buddhists follow the teachings of the Buddha, who lived in the Indian sub-continent between four and six centuries BC. Through meditation, ethical livelihood and other practices, Buddhists aim to end the cycle of suffering and rebirth and achieve nirvana (a perfectly peaceful state of mind).
In July 2010 a copy of the Dhammapada, a collection of traditional Buddhist teachings, was given to the New Zealand Parliament. The book was presented by Buddhist monks and nuns including Ajahn Tiradhammo, abbot of Bodhinyanarama monastery in Stokes Valley, Tibetan monk Geshe Wangchen and Bhante Jinalankara, abbot at Tawa’s Dhamma Gavesi Meditation Centre. The teachings were translated into English by Ajahn Munindo, a Buddhist abbot born in Te Awamutu. Practising Buddhist Parliamentarians included Labour MP Darien Fenton.
Origins of New Zealand Buddhism
The first Buddhists in New Zealand were Chinese diggers in the Otago goldfields in the 1860s. Their numbers were small, and the 1926 census, the first to include Buddhism, recorded only 169. In the 1970s travel to Asian countries and visits by Buddhist teachers sparked an interest in the religious traditions of Asia, and significant numbers of New Zealanders adopted Buddhist practices and teachings.
Since the 1980s Asian migrants and refugees have established their varied forms of Buddhism in New Zealand. In the 2010s more than 50 groups, mostly in the Auckland region, offered different Buddhist traditions at temples, centres, monasteries and retreat centres. Many migrant communities brought priests or religious specialists from their own countries and their temples and centres have acted as focal points for a particular ethnic community, offering language and religious instruction.
National and international groups
In 2008 the Sixth Global Conference on Buddhism brought leading teachers and scholars to Auckland under the auspices of the New Zealand Buddhist Foundation. The Buddhist Council of New Zealand, established in 2007, comprised 15 Buddhist organisations engaging with local and national government over issues of concern to Buddhist communities. These included trying to make it easier for Buddhist priests and teachers from overseas to live and work in New Zealand.