Buddhism is a small religion in Belgium but despite lack of official recognition by the Belgian government has grown rapidly in recent years. As of the 1997 estimate, 29,497 Belgian people identified their religion as Buddhist (about 0.29% of the total population).
Belgium has been comparatively slow in the absorption of Buddhism compared with other countries in Europe because there were no Buddhist countries amongst the territories colonized by Belgium. Alexandra David-Néel introduced the Maha Bodhi Society to the Congress of Free Thinkers in Brussels as early as 1910. There was reportedly a group of those interested in Buddhism who met in Brussels in the period between the Wars. Buddhism came to the attention of Belgians academically in 1944 through the translations of Indologist Étienne Lamotte at the Catholic University of Leuven.
Belgium has remained wary of new religions (even though in many cases they are historically much older than Christianity) and the general attitude has been illustrated by the Government publication of a blacklist of 189 organizations (including two Buddhist ones) in its ‘witchhunt’ for sects of 1997 and in the ongoing attitudes especially in the French-speaking community of Belgium. Nonetheless, in 1999 there were about thirty active Buddhist organizations and centres in Belgium alone, representing all traditions of Buddhism. A Buddhist Union of Belgium was set up in 1997 bringing together the various centres of Buddhism in Belgium that had been established through charitable and private organizations. The 2001 census estimated that there were 10,000 Buddhists of Belgian nationality - however the numbers of Buddhists, even in the immigrant population exceeded 20,000.
The government was first approached on 10 June 2005 to grant official recognition for Buddhism - a process which is expected to be completed in 2008. Independent sources now estimate the numbers of Buddhists in Belgium at 29,467.
- Jacques Brosse (1991) Alexandra David-Neel (Albin Michel)
- A. Peel Shitoku Vroege geschiedenis van het Boeddhisme in België (A Brief History of Buddhism in Belgium) EKO no.s 74 (September 1997), 75 (December 1997) & 76 (March 1998)