Development of the Buddhism in Canada

Development of the Buddhism in Canada
Buddhism was established in Canada following the immigration of Asian
Buddhists into the Western countries and it is currently one of the
fastest growing religions in the region. Buddhism was considered to be
an alien religion in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth
century, but it is now becoming one of the mainstreams in Canada and
different parts of the United States (Jayawardena, 2004). The high rate
of increase in the number of Buddhists in Canada within the last one
century has made significant contribution towards the diversity of a
multicultural society living in the country. The present study will
provide a discussion of factors that has contributed to the growth of
Buddhism in Canada with a focus on the Act of Multiculturalism.
Immigration of the Buddhists communities into Canada coupled with the
increase in the number of converts is the major contributing factor
towards the growth of Buddhist practices in Canada.
Principles and history of Buddhists arrival in Canada
Buddhism is considered to be one of transformational teachings that are
classified as a major religion in the world. Buddhism is based on
several systems of philosophies, but the main ones include medication,
ethics, discussion groups, sutra studies, and chanting sutras (Barber,
2013). Interdependence is the basic principle upheld by Buddhism, which
holds that all things are impermanent and will eventually become
dissatisfying. The teaching of Buddhism focus on the middle path, which
means that all Buddhists should observe the middle path since all
things, apart from their souls has a changing essence. This
transformational teaching penetrated into Canada in the early twentieth
century through two main channels. First, the Asian immigrants spread
Buddhism through individual, institutions, and group efforts. Secondly,
the Asian immigrants established educational institutions that were
based on Buddhism principles, implying that people who studied in these
institutions learned the basic principles of Buddhism such as
meditation, group work, and ethics.
Although Buddhism became popular in 1905 following the establishment of
the first Buddhist temple, Buddhists had arrived in Canada in the early
nineteenth century. According to Barber (2013) the first group of
Buddhists to arrive in Canada was the Chinese and the Japanese workers
who came to take part in railway construction, but they did not
establish traceable Buddhist activity in the region until 1905. In 1905,
the Japanese Buddhists established the first temple in the British
Columbia. However, this form of Buddhism failed to be integrated into
the Canadian society because it was associated with a particular ethnic
group of the Jodo Shinshu School from Japan. Despite the limited
acceptance of Buddhism in Canada, this religion continued to grow
steadily following the increase in the number of Asian immigrants,
especially the Japanese. This resulted in the construction more temples
in the British Columbia, Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec, and Alberta. Most of
these temples have closed, but retains their historical fame.
The strategic location of Raymond, a small town located in the south of
Alberta, had significant contribution towards the shaping of Buddhism as
a religion in Canada. According to Katie (2013) the residents of Raymond
and Alberta in general accepted the Japanese culture in the early
twentieth century, thus making Raymond a regional hub of Buddhism to
grow. The first Buddhist movement was established in Raymond soon after
the Second World War, with the objective of promoting the basic
principles of Buddhism in the region. In addition, the increase in the
Japanese immigrants during the Second World War coupled with enactment
of new rules by Canadian jurisdiction resulted in forced relocation.
During this period, hundreds of Japanese moved to Raymond and
strengthened the Buddhist movement. The Raymond Buddhist church was then
made the headquarters for the federation of Buddhists known as the
Buddhist Federation of Canada from 1946 until 2006 (Katie, 2013). The
headquarters served as the center for making important decisions (such
as the amalgamation of Buddhist communities and establishment of new
temples) and addressing major issues affecting Buddhists in Canada.
Transformation of Buddhism from ethnic to an open organization
Although the initial organization of Canadian Buddhism took ethnic form,
it later transformed to an open membership organization. However,
Buddhism expects total commitment to the Buddha, the Sangha, and the
Dharma as well the basic principles that makes Buddhism a distinct form
of religion (Barber, 2013). This implies that the modern Buddhism holds
the structure of a cultural and spiritual organization, which has
contributed to its capacity to accommodate both the Buddhist immigrants
and the converts of Canadian origin who adopts the Buddhist way of life.
The spread of Buddhism from Alberta to other regions of Canada resulted
in decentralization of Buddhism where each society referred to their
leaders in different names such as bhikshu (monk), sensei (teacher),
roshi (spiritual adviser), and tulku (manifestation) among others. In
addition, the support of the Buddhist residing in Canada by foreign
jurisdiction contributed to spread of Buddhism. For example, the
government of Sri Lanka provided support for the development of Buddhist
center known as Toronto Mahavihara in 1978 and continued to give
financial donations through its High Commission based in Ottawa (Barber,
The basic principles upheld by Buddhist support peaceful coexistence,
social justice, and human understanding. These principles were
reinforced in 1979 following the establishment of Ambedkar Mission
(Barber, 2013). These values increased the tolerance of Buddhism, which
was perceived to be a religion of foreigners. Ambedkar was followed by
establishment of a second tradition known as Mahayana, which promoted
the idea that Buddha was an expression of awakened state. This was
accomplished through the development of Bodhisattva, which is a doctrine
that was designed for Canadians undergoing the training to become
Buddha. In addition, most of the temples adopted English as the primary
language of communication in order to accommodate the converts who were
not proficient in Japanese. The Buddhist Church of Canada (BCC) formed
in 1955 is one of the Buddhist centers that accommodated non-Asian
delegates. This created a smooth transition for Canadian converts and
formed the basis of the modern Canadian Buddhist structure that consists
of the non-Japanese, Japanese, and the Japanese-Canadian members.
Effect of multiculturalism policy in the development of Buddhism in
Enactment of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act of 1988 was a significant
boost for the development of Buddhism in Canada. The Canadian
Multiculturalism Act was a legislative measure put in place to tackle
the emerging challenges of ever increasing ethnic diversity in Canada.
According to Biles, Ibrahim & Tolley (2012) Canada was the first country
to sanction a multiculturalism policy, which helped the originals in
accommodating the heterogeneous aboriginal immigrant population and
maintained a peaceful coexistence between the two major and official
communication languages in Canada. In addition, the policy created an
appropriate platform for all Canadians to negotiate and adapt to the
increase in ethnic, linguistic, racial, and religious diversity. The
Canadian Multiculturalism Act requires the government of Canada to
demonstrate commitment to full support of participation of all people
irrespective of their racial, national origin, color, ethnic, or
religious backgrounds in cultural, social, political, and economic
facets. This was perceived to be a two-way street approach that would an
understanding between immigrants and the native Canadians (Biles,
Ibrahim, & Tolley, 2012). This implies that the newcomers were expected
to adapt to Canadian norms and its society while local institutions were
expected to accept population diversity.
The Canadian government puts more emphasis on immigration based on its
social importance. Although the government focus on social benefits of
multi-ethnicity and diversity of religion, the increasing number of
Buddhists and other religions that were previously perceived to be minor
creates new challenges of discrimination. However, the integration of
religious tolerance in the Canadian legal system reduces the intensity
of discrimination of Buddhists and members of other religious groups
(such as Sikh, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim) by the majority Catholics and
protestants (Makarenko, 2010). The legal protection of the minor
religious groups that is provided in the Canadian Multiculturalism Act
provides an appropriate opportunity for these Buddhism to flourish
through the increase in the number of converts and new immigrants
especially from the Asian countries such as Japan. Research shows that
Buddhism is the fastest growing religion in Canada, especially in the
period following the embracement of the multiculturalism policy.
According to Jayawardena (2004) Buddhists outnumbered other minority
religious groups (such as Hindus and Sikhs) as depicted in the 2001
census report. This increase was attributed to the increase in the
number of immigrants from different countries (such as India, China, Sri
Lanka, and Vietnam) following the increased tolerance of the minority in
The development of Buddhism in Canada through education
The dynamics of Buddhist environment in Alberta, especially after the
World War II made the Southern Alberta the center for Buddhist studies.
This environment was created by activities of the Jodo Shinshu, high
concentration of Buddhist immigrants, and the large number (about 13) of
temples constructed in the region. This resulted in the emergence of
popular scholars (such as Shinjo Nagatomi at the University of British
Columbia, Warder, A. at the University of Toronto, and Herbert Guenther
at the University of Saskatchewan) with Buddhist background (Barber,
2013). These professorship positions were offered to Buddhist scholars
in the second half of the twentieth century. This depicts the increase
in acceptance of Buddhism in Canadian institutions and creates a
favorable environment for its development.
The high rate of immigration of the Buddhists communities from Asian
countries into Canada coupled with the increase in the number of
converts is the major contributing factor towards the growth of Buddhist
practices in Canada. The basic principles upheld by Buddhists (including
ethics, meditation, and group discussion) make Buddhism a
transformational and distinguish it from other religions. These
principles have helped Buddhists to encourage peaceful coexistence with
the local people, thus enhancing the tolerance of the formally perceived
to be foreign. In addition, the transformation of Buddhism from an
ethnic based to an open religion resulted in the increase in number of
converts, which enhanced the growth of Buddhism in Canada. The
probability of growth of discrimination against the minority groups
(including Buddhism) was reduced by enactment of the Canadian
Multiculturalism Act in 1988.
Barber, A. (2013). Buddhism. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved
November 24, 2013, from HYPERLINK
Biles, J. Ibrahim, H. & Tolley, E. (2012). Does Canada have a
multicultural future? Alberta: Metropolis Project Team.
Jayawardena, L. (2004, October 23). Buddhism-fastest growing religion in
Canada. The Buddhist Channel. Retrieved November 24, 2013, from
Katie, M. (2013). Raymond was centre of Buddhism movement in Canada.
Alberta: The Lethbridge Herald.
Makarenko, J. (2010). Multiculturalism policy in Canada. Alberta:
University of Lethbridge.

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