A History Of Enlightenment- Buddhism In London

Kate Smith, Editor, untoldlondon.org.uk | 29 January 2007
photo shows gold buddhist statue in niche in white wall

A close up of the Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park. Photo: K Smith

Buddhists in London come from dozens of different cultures and traditions - including Thai, Japanese, Tibetan, Chinese, Indian and Western. We've picked out a few places in London where you can explore the history, art and precepts of the faith.

For a complete picture of Buddhist organisations in London, we recommend the Buddhist Directory, produced by the Buddhist Society in Eccleston Square.

photo shows white building with ornate red and gold roof in gardens

The Thai Buddhist Temple at Wimbledon

Perhaps the most remarkable Buddhist temple in London is the Buddhapadipa Temple in Wimbledon, near the common. It's surrounded by four acres of gardens with ponds and trees. Inside the walls are painted with elaborate pictures from the life of Buddha. It was first opened in 1976, but some of the interior statues are much older: the black statue dates back 900 years.

The temple grounds are open all week, the temple itself only at weekends. There's a house nearby where the monks live, with a shrine room where they accept offerings and give blessings. They are also happy to answer any questions you have about Buddhism.

The temple is very happy to see non-Buddhist visitors, and all sorts of people wander around the beautiful gardens. Just remember to remove your shoes if you are going into the temple.

photo shows model of temple

Mahabodhi Temple. Courtesy of the V&A. Part tourist souvenir for those who had visited the place of Buddha's enlightenment, part shrine, this object dates from the 12th century.

For those interested in the development of Buddhist art and design, the Victoria and Albert Museum has examples from the beginnings of Buddhism to the present day. Museum curators have picked out some of the most interesting objects for us - from the pillars made 2,000 years ago to surround the place of Buddha's enlightenment to rare Greek-influenced depictions of Buddha.

The Tibet Foundation has a small shop and gallery in Central London. Almost completely hidden by surrounding buildings, it is only a minute's walk from Piccadilly Circus. It's currently showing an exhibition about the life and culture of Tibetan refugees in India. It also runs films and fairs.

photo shows close up of metal mandala in the centre of the peace garden

The mandala at the centre of the Tibetan Peace Garden. Courtesy of the Tibet Foundation.

The Tibet Foundation maintains the Tibetan Peace Garden which is next to the Imperial War Museum. It was opened by the Dalai Lama in 1999. Since then the Foundation has had the garden blessed by Tibetan spiritual masters whenever they get the opportunity. At the centre of the garden is a mandala - an elaborately decorated circle representing wholeness. These often appear in Buddhist art and are sometimes constructed from different coloured sands. This one, slightly more permanent, is bronze.

photo shows buddhist monks in red robes gazing at bronze carved mandala

Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, a senior Tibetan Lama in the Kagyu tradition, blesses the Tibetan Peace Garden. Courtesy of the Tibet Foundation.

There's also a small Buddhist temple in Battersea Park. This is run by Japanese Buddhists - it's just one of the Peace Pagodas built across the world to commemorate the falling of atomic bombs on Japan.

photo shows elaborate blue and gold suit with hat

Buddhist textiles. Courtesy of the Horniman Museum.

In the last few decades the Horniman Museum has sent its curators collecting in many lands where Buddhism flourishes. Its collections include Tibetan tents purchased with complete contents, though these are not on display at the moment.

You can however see a small exhibition of Khmer Silks - Buddhist arts created in Cambodia, until February 25th 2007. Many of these arts were repressed under Pol Pot, and are now enjoying a renaissance. It includes a cloth telling the story of the Life of Buddha in pictures.

photo shows red and blue wall with statues in niches

Inside the Jamyang Centre. Photo: Shamim Karim.

6. The used to be a courthouse, but is now a place for Buddhist meditation and classes. Page 11 of this edition of Changing London nicely brings out the contrast between its former and current use - the dock evidentally replaced by the statue of Buddha.

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