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Buddhism in Brazil

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Zu Lai Temple in São Paulo state is the largest Buddhist temple in Latin America
The Zu Lai Temple in São Paulo state is the largest Buddhist temple in Latin America

With nearly 250,000 Buddhists,[1] Brazil is home to the third-largest Buddhist population in the Americas, after the United States and Canada. Buddhism in Brazil consists of practitioners from various Buddhist traditions and schools. A number of Buddhist organisations and groups are also active in Brazil, with nearly 150 temples spread across the states.

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Initial introduction to Brazil

Buddhism was first practiced in Brazil on a very limited scale by small groups of Chinese migrants in the early 19th century.[2] At the start of the 20th century, Buddhism was introduced to Brazil on a larger scale with the mass immigration of Japanese agricultural workers.[3][4] Typically, early immigrants were not firstborn sons, who in Japan have primary responsibility for religious rituals, and monks were forbidden from migrating by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Thus, religion had a very small role in the lives of these first immigrants with the exception of funerary rites.[5] They mainly practiced the Shin Buddhism, which focuses on group veneration of Amida, that was common in agricultural regions of Japan where most immigrants came from.[6] Religious syncretism was normal and incorporated Buddhism, Shintoism, Roman Catholicism and even elements of Afro-Brazilian religions.[7]

Initially immigrants intended to stay in Brazil for a brief period to earn money and then return to Japan.[8] There was little impetus to create Buddhist institutions, and the lack of temples and monks meant that ceremonies were undertaken informally within the community.[9] The first Buddhist institution in Brazil, the Taissenji temple, was founded by Reverend Tomojiro Ibaragi in Guaiçara in 1936. This was followed by temples in Presidente Prudente and Moji das Cruzes in the 1940s.[10]


Following Japan's defeat in World War II many immigrants gave up the idea of returning to Japan and stayed in Brazil.[8] With this came an increase in the promulgation of Shintoism and Buddhism among Japanese Brazilians.[11] While Shinto practices had often coexisted with Buddhist ones, the end of State Shintoism and the associated Cult of the Emperor caused the religion to lose its status among Japanese people.[12][13] Buddhism, however, preserved its status particularly due to its capacity to deal with death and the afterlife for practitioners.[14] From the late 1940s through to the 1960s a number of Buddhist institutions, missions and temples were founded from the Shin, Honmon Butsuryū-shū, Nichiren-shū and Soto Zen schools. The Federation of Buddhist Sects in Brazil (Federação das Seitas Budistas no Brasil) was established as an overarching organisation in 1958.[15] However, many Japanese Brazilians began converting to Catholicism as part their assimilation into wider Brazilian culture.[11] The majority of those born in Japan identified as Buddhist, but a 1958 survey showed that only a minority of the subsequent Brazilian-born generations identified as such.[15]

Murillo Nunes de Azevedo was one of the first prominent non-Japanese Brazilians to study Buddhism. Azevedo was an engineer who had published and taught on Asian philosophy at the Pontifical Catholic University in Rio de Janeiro among other institutions[16][17] In 1955 he founded the Buddhist Society of Brazil (Sociedade Budista do Brasil) which arranged film screenings and lectures with materials provided by the Sri Lankan and Indian embassies.[17] He translated a copy of D. T. Suzuki's Introduction to Zen Buddhism to Portuguese in 1961.[17] Azevedo later became a Shin Buddhist leader and held a prominent position at the Honpa Hongwanji temple in Brasília.[16]

Soto Zen and dissemination to non-Japanese population

Busshinji, Sōtō Zen Buddhist temple in Liberdade, São Paulo, is the headquarters for the school's mission in South America.
Busshinji, Sōtō Zen Buddhist temple in Liberdade, São Paulo, is the headquarters for the school's mission in South America.

The 1955 founding of the Soto Zen Busshinji temple in São Paulo was particularly important for both its service to the Japanese Brazilian community and outreach to non-Brazilians.[16][18] Built with fund from the local Japanese community and the Soto Zen school, of which it was the head quarters, the temple assisted in proselytising 3,000 families.[19] The temple was led by Master Rosen Takashina Roshi until 1985.[20] Beginning in the 1960s, Takashina started Zen meditation workshops which in the 1970s opened up to non-Japanese attendees including public figures such as Nise da Silveira and Orides Fontela.[20][17] The first Zen monastery was established in 1976 in Espírito Santo by Ryotan Tokuda, a monk from the Busshinji Temple, along with new non-Japanese practitioners. In 1984, a second Zen monastery was founded in Minas Gerais and the Zen Society of Brazil (Sociedade Soto Zen do Brasil).[21]

Mahayana Buddhism

Japanese Buddhist denominations

Japanese schools and sects of Buddhism, such as Soto Zen, Nichiren Honmon Butsuryu Shu, Jodo Shinshu (which district of the Nishi Hongan-ji is known as South America Hongwanji Mission) and Soka Gakkai have a strong presence in Brazil. Despite being the most expressive in Brazil, these schools face a number of challenges which limit their influence and outreach. One of those challenges is the mismatch of goals and expectations between the more traditional, Japanese-born people and the native Brazilians alongside those of Japanese descent.

Although the Japanese contributed to the introduction of Buddhism to Brazil, adherence to Buddhism is not particularly widespread among the descendants of Japanese immigrants, who were largely converted to Roman Catholicism due to assimilation. Those who practice and identify with Buddhism tend to display a wide variety of stances regarding their relationships to the ethnicity and the religious tradition. To various degrees most of them attempt to simultaneously meld with local Brazilian culture according to their personal preferences. Most such schools are attempting to reach out to Brazilians not of Japanese descent, however often facing considerable internal resistance in the process.

Other Japanese traditions present in Brazil include Shingon, Tendai, Nichiren-shū and Nichiren Shōshū schools, albeit in somewhat modest numbers. Recent years also saw a growth of interest in the practice Zen variants from Korea and Vietnam in Brazil.

Other Mahayana schools

The Chinese Chan tradition of Mahayana Buddhism is centered on the city of Cotia's Zu Lai Temple and its companion Buddhist University in São Paulo State, both of which were opened in 2003 by Fo Guang Shan Order from Taiwan. The temple, near the city of São Paulo, is the largest temple in Latin America, and was built using funds raised from American Buddhist organisations and donors.[22]

The Fo Guang Shan Temple in the city of Olinda, in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, also belongs to the Mahayana tradition.[23]

The Vietnamese Zen school of Thich Nhat Hanh maintains temples and sangha in the cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.[24]

Theravada Buddhism

The Theravada tradition's presence in Brazil was started by those who created the Brazil Buddhist Society.[25] It was initially presented with a generalist non-sectarian approach to Buddhism, it evolved into a more Theravada-aligned society drawing teachings from the Pāli Canon of the Tripitaka and to other teachings and practices of the Theravada tradition. Since the 1970s it has maintained simple installations built with voluntary work which have hosted visiting monks from Sri Lanka and other Theravada countries. In 1989, the Nalanda Buddhist Centre was established. It maintains affiliated groups in Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, São Paulo and Curitiba, and has invited many international teachers through the years. Today, there's a monastery affiliated to Ajahn Chah lineage, under guidance of Ajahn Mudito, whose name is Suddhavāri monastery, located in São Lourenço, Minas Gerais.

Vajrayana Buddhism

All four major schools of Vajrayana Buddhism, Nyingma, Gelug, Sakya and Kagyu schools, maintain active centers in Brazil. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche relocated the headquarters of his international organization to Três Coroas in Rio Grande do Sul State where he spent the last few years of his life. The 14th Dalai Lama visited Brazil in 2006.[26]

Contemporary Buddhism

Although Brazil remains a largely Christian country, Buddhism has a growing presence in Brazil. There is considerable online activity and dialogue amongst Brazilian Buddhists, with a number of websites and online groups; there are, for example, Facebook groups dedicated for discussion and clarifying doubts about Buddhism and Buddhist teachings.

The activities of Buddhist groups are however a bit restricted due to the linguistic geography of Brazil - since it is a non-Spanish speaking country in Latin America. This limits the cross-boundary activities typical of the Buddhist organisations active in other countries.[27]

Sleeping Buddha statue that stands at the Buddhist temple in Itarana in the state of Espirito Santo
Sleeping Buddha statue that stands at the Buddhist temple in Itarana in the state of Espirito Santo

The State government of Espírito Santo has implemented a special training programme for military police to attend zen courses at the Mosteiro Zen Morro da Vargem.[28]


  1. ^ Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine[bare URL PDF]
  2. ^ Usarski 2017, p. 71-72.
  3. ^ Rocha 2000, p. 31.
  4. ^ Usarski 2017, p. 72.
  5. ^ Rocha 2000, p. 31-32.
  6. ^ Usarski 2017, p. 73.
  7. ^ Carvalho 2003, p. 16.
  8. ^ a b Rocha 2000, p. 32-33.
  9. ^ Usarski 2017, p. 73-74.
  10. ^ Usarski 2017, p. 74.
  11. ^ a b Rocha 2000, p. 33.
  12. ^ Usarski 2017, p. 74-76.
  13. ^ Rocha 2000, p. 33-35.
  14. ^ Usarski 2017, p. 75.
  15. ^ a b Usarski 2017, p. 76.
  16. ^ a b c Usarski 2017, p. 77.
  17. ^ a b c d Rocha 2000, p. 36.
  18. ^ Rocha 2000, p. 35-36.
  19. ^ Rocha 2000, p. 35.
  20. ^ a b Usarski 2017, p. 78.
  21. ^ Rocha 2000, p. 36-37.
  22. ^ "Brazil in pictures: Zu Lai temple". Archived from the original on 2009-06-05. Retrieved 2010-08-24.
  23. ^ "Fo Guang Shan". Archived from the original on 2012-04-26. Retrieved 2011-12-27.
  24. ^ "International Sangha Directory". Archived from the original on 2009-05-31. Retrieved 2009-05-17.
  25. ^ "Sociedade Budista do Brasil". Archived from the original on 2007-01-27. Retrieved 2019-06-17.
  26. ^ "News | The Office of His Holiness The Dalai Lama". Archived from the original on 2010-10-30. Retrieved 2010-08-24.
  27. ^ "Buddhism in Latin America - Mandala Publications". Archived from the original on 2012-11-26. Retrieved 2010-08-24.
  28. ^ "Military Police Meets Zen Buddhism – PSFK". Archived from the original on 2023-01-14. Retrieved 2010-08-24.


External links

This page was last edited on 23 May 2023, at 00:22
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