How Buddhism came to Germany
In the 19th century a first interest was developing in Europe. Especially scholarly people began with the study of Buddhist culture and scriptures in British and French colonies in Asia.
One of the first Germans studying Buddhism was the eminent philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860). His philosophic oeuvre is partly based on Buddhist philosophy and ethics. His work influenced other scholars and celebrities in German culture, e.g., the philosopher Friedrich Nitzsche (1844-1900) and the composer Richard Wagner (1813-1873) who are still accepted worldwide.
In 1903 the first German, the violinist Florus Gueth, got ordained thus becoming a Buddhist monk. Under his monk’s name, Nyanatolka, he is still known, especially in Sri Lanka, due to his numerous translations of Buddhist texts, In the same year the first Buddhist society was founded in Leipzig.
Initially the Theravada and then the Zen Buddhism gained a foothold in Germany. The Tibetan Buddhism first came to the west after the occupation of Tibet through China, when His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, and many other Tibetan Buddhist masters had to leave their country.
The Karma Kagyu Tradition: the Foundation and Development of the Karma Kagyu Community in Germany
In the seventies the number of Karma Kagyu supporters increased substantially in Germany. When His Holiness, the XI Karmapa, visited Germany in 1977, there were already more than 20 meditation groups and centres. His Holiness requested the German groups should incorporate. He said as this was the accepted form to unite in the west, we should use it to protect the lineage and become the official representation of the Karma Kagu lineage in Germany.
In 1978 his followers founded the Karma Kagyu Association, initially not registered as a non-profit association. In 1980 the Association was recorded under the name ”Tibetisch-buddhistische Religionsgemeinschaft Karma Kagyu Vereine.V.“ in the list of associations at the local court and registered as non-profit.
Due to the activities of teachers and masters of the Karma Kagyu lineage in Germany the number of seminars and followers was increasing steadily. In 1981 already the Association organised big events with Ayang Rinpoche, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, Shamar Rinpoche and Tenga Rinpoche in Munich, Cologne, Hamburg and at other places. Due to such growing activities the XVI Karmapa proposed in the summer of 1981 to found a bigger establishment of sufficient size in the tradition of Tibetan Buddhist shedras (monastic universities). It was to become the main centre of the Karma Kagyu lineage and seat of the Karmapas in Germany.
A short time later Castle Wachendorf near Mechernich, in the northern spurs of the Eifel near the cities of Cologne and Bonn, was chosen as the seat for the centre. On October 1, 1981, the Kamalashila Institute for Buddhist Studies was founded there. The Association moved its office into the Castle, too. Thus the prophecy of His Holiness, the XVI Karmapa was fulfilled who had said at Rumtek in 1978, ”One day I will have a big dharma centre in Germany. On October 26 His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, visited and blessed the Kamalashila Institute®.
In the following years teaching activities were increasing. From 1986 to 1990 the first traditional three-year retreat took place in the newly founded retreat centre Halscheid in the parish Windeck, east of Cologne, under the guidance of Venerable Gendun Rinpoche.
In the course of years big groups of practitioners gathered around each meditation master who ultimately founded their own associations as a means to support the activities of their respective masters. In this way many different groupings came into existence which are all united through the teachings in the Karma Kagyu tradition and His Holiness, the Karmapa.
In 1999, the Association and the Kamalashila Institute moved to a former Christian monastery in the Eifel at Langenfeld which actually amounted to a new beginning as the Association changed its name to Community, to ”Karma Kagyu Gemeinschaft Deutschland – Tibetisch-Buddhistische Religionsgemeinschaft e.V.“, which developed into an umbrella organisation. Other associations joined it to express their common support of the new head of the Karma Kagyu lineage, the XVII Karmapa, Ogyen Trinly Dorje. The religious Community together with the Kamalashila Institute and the retreat center Karma Tekchen YI Ong Ling at Halscheid as its core grouping became the mandala of the XVII Karmapa’s activities in Germany sending incentives to the work being done at the city centres and groups in Hamburg, Bremen, Münster, Heidelberg, Bad Kreuznach and Munich.
In July 1998 the XVII Karmapa knowing that he would not be able to come to Europe at that time appointed Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche as the spiritual director of the Kamalashila Institute®, and Ringu Tulku Rinpoche as the teacher responsible for the city centres of the Community. In 1997 His Holiness had already asked the Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche to take over the spiritual guidance of the retreat center and to send a resident lama to give instructions to the three-year retreat and shorter retreats.
After years of preparation the temporary highlight of this development was His Holiness, the XVII Karmapa’s first visit of Europe with his traveling to Germany in 2014. The meeting of the XVII Karmapa with the Kagyu sangha in Germany after more than 30 years was a historic event setting new incentives for the future. This development was strengthened by His Holiness’ second visit to Germany in 2015 to be followed by further visits in the future. In this way the German Karma Kagyu sangha is embedded in the XVII Karmapa’s stream of blessings and, as the XVII Karmapa’s mandala, is better able to support His Holiness’ activities.
Our religious Community has not only significantly shaped the development of the Karma Kagyu sangha in Germany but has also supported various projects of the Karma Kagyu lineage in Asia, especially the reconstruction of the shedra and Tsurphu Monastery, the ancestral home of the Karmapas in central Tibet, and large building activities in Rumtek Monastery, the seat of the Karmapas in exile.
May the Karma Kagyu Community Germany support the XVII Karmapa’s activities in the future, too, and spread the dharma as a timeless and universal teaching for the benefit of all sentient beings.