The Early History of Buddhism in Finland Parts I & II By Alpo Ratia

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In northernmost Europe Buddhism as a lived religion is historically a recent phenomenon.

Only since World War II have Buddhist world-views, ways of life and spirituality been increasingly adopted by some of the people in Finland.

Centuries of sporadic contacts, curiosity, studies and even engagement succeeded one another in unique ways and led to the Buddhist ‘landscape’ found in Finland today.

I intend to compile a more comprehensive History of Buddhism in Finland in the near future.

A quadripartite time frame seems most useful for illustrating those developments.

It would naturally include four parts:

1. ‘Prehistory’ of Buddhist contacts (from late Antiquity till circa 1690),
2. Growing interest for Siberia and the East Indies (circa 1690 onward),
3. Awakening of Buddhist studies (circa 1890 onward), and
4. Geometrical expansion of Buddhist activities (circa 1945 onward).

Due to time constraints this paper however will focus on historical developments one through three, and will leave the question of Buddhist activities aside for later.


Part 1. ‘Prehistory’ of Buddhist contacts (from late Antiquity till circa 1690)

The earliest Finnish and eastern Baltic contacts with Buddhist culture lie in obscurity, but most probably began over a thousand years ago.

The Finnish and Sami (formerly called: Lapp) peoples who inhabited the forestlands and waterways of Finland in early times were predominantly fishers, hunters, reindeer herders and small-scale farmers.

In religious terms they were animists and polytheists, and included a sprinkling of shamans and seers.

Some features of their world-view such as the three-tier world conception[1] and swastika symbol were held in common with peoples lying to the east, Buddhists included.

Because Finland lay at the northeast end of the Baltic Sea, the land formed a crossroad between East and West.

Fleeting contacts through traders must have occurred even before the Viking age. Early on cowry shells (Cyprea moneta) from the Maldive Islands Sri Lanka (Ceylon) in the Indian Ocean had gained currency as a medium of exchange in many lands.

Cowry shells have reportedly[2] been found in gravesites in both Latvia and Finnmark, Norway’s northernmost province.


They are dated to approximately the fifth century. To the west in Sweden’s Stockholm region excavations on Helgö (Holy Island) of Lake Mälaren have revealed a small bronze Buddha talisman dated to the sixth or seventh century.

Soon thereafter the eastern Vikings (i.e. Varangians) from Sweden began to settle in the Åland Islands and along the Finnish coastline.

Possibilities for contacts were particularly favourable in two periods of the Mediaeval age.

During their heyday in the 9th to 10th centuries Varangians sailed along Finland’s coastal waters and Russia’s waterways to the Black and Caspian Seas where these routes connected with the Silk Road.

Again in the 13th century trade between Europe and Asia was promoted by the Mongols throughout their world empire. Intangibles, like tales from the Panchatantra, Jatakas, etc., must have accompanied many person-to-person contacts.

In particular Gautama Buddha’s fascinating life history was transmitted from Central Asia to Europe and adapted time and again to fit different languages and people in different cultural spheres.

A Georgian monk in the 11th century refashioned Buddha’s biography into the Christian legend of “Barlaam and Josaphat”.

[3] Various versions spread widely in Europe. In 1442 Sweden’s Catholic Church donated a copy of the Vadstena version of the legend to the newly founded Nådendal Convent of the St. Bridget order on Finland’s southwest coast.

This abbreviated version of the legend of “Barlaam and Josaphat” is drawn from mid-13th century materials in Vincent of Beauvais’ Speculum Historiale and the Old Norse text Barlaams Saga ok Jósafats.

[4] It was probably compiled at the St. Bridget order’s mother convent of Vadstena.

To this day Eastern Orthodox churches Bodhisattva Siddhartha as Josaphat on November 27th.

Developments around the 16th to 17th century in Sweden and its eastern province Finland presaged the nature of later encounters with Buddhists in Kalmykia and southern Siberia.

On the one hand the institution of universal education and the re-establishment of Uppsala University and its library in Sweden and the founding of the Åbo Academy and its library in Turku, Finland promoted literacy and the creation of a class of educated clergy and officials.

On the other hand the Protestant Reformation together with re-imposition of press censorship and the law of Lutheran orthodoxy since 1686 had a marked impact upon state ideology.


Persistent folk beliefs and practices associated with ‘pagan’ Finnish gods, mythical heroes, guardian spirits and nature spirits were suppressed.

Because Church membership was obligatory under pain of death, the Eastern Orthodox population in newly conquered Karelia largely fled to Russia.

Buddhist Oirat-Mongol tribes in turn migrated circa 1630 – 40 from Central Asia and settled in the lower Volga delta and adjoining steppes known today as Kalmykia.


Part 2. Growing interest for Siberia and the East Indies (circa 1690 onward)[5]

During the 17th century Sweden emerged as a great European power, and Russian Cossack troops fought their way eastward.

By 1640 much of Siberia had been conquered and Russian territory extended all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Rivalry between Sweden and Russia for supremacy of the Baltic eventually led to the Great Northern War (1700 – 1721).

Once the fortunes of war changed, Russia took many Carolinians prisoner and sent them into exile especially in the Omsk region of Siberia.

Some of the Carolinian prisoners were employed to survey Russia’s newly acquired territories to the south and east. In this connection two Finns contributed to early Russian and European knowledge of Mongol culture. Upon the urging of German philosopher Leibniz, the Finnish philologist Henrik Brenner (1669 – 1732) had carried out fieldwork on the Kalmyk and other languages spoken north of the Caucasus. Brenner happened to be in Moscow on his homeward journey when the Great Northern War broke out in 1700.

Russians promptly interned him under suspicion of being a spy. Brenner was held for the entire length of the war and most of his manuscripts and ethnographic materials were lost.

Lesser parts were copied and published by fellow prisoners such as Strahlenberg. Some ethnographic information also survives in correspondence.

According to a letter[6] sent 1698 to his cousin Elias Brenner in Finland, the Kalmyks under Ajuka Khan were a force to be reckoned with and present everywhere in the Volga delta region.

They ought not to be confused with Tatars, for “They have their own writing and books … and I have inquired from their priests about their pagan services. It seems that this people is excessively devoted to astrology from which most of their wisdom derives.”

They claim that “the top Kalmyk nobles are obligated once in their lifetime to go on pilgrimage to the Great Temple[7] and their most high Lama[8]”.

Another Finn, military lawyer Simon Lindheim (1686 – 1760) was taken prisoner of war at Poltava in 1709, but unlike Brenner was encouraged by his captors to gather Kalmyk materials.

Lindheim’s study on the origin of the Finnish peoples, together with specimens of the Kalmyk language was published posthumously in Uppsala and St. Petersburg.

In the meantime wide swathes of Finnish territory were laid waste during periods of the Greater and Lesser Wrath (1714 – 21, 1742 – 43).

Further parts of eastern Finland were annexed to Russia, and people in Finland for the first time attestedly came into contact with Cossack and Kalmyk troops. Starting in the 1740s Kalmyk troops in Russian service were stationed on the Karelian Isthmus.

Church records cite the presence there of foreigners following the “Kalmyk religion”, i.e. Tibeto-Mongol Buddhism.

According to the Sakkola commune’s local lore Kalmyks had their own sanctuary and graveyard in a copse by the hamlet of Petäjärvi.

Partly due to their different appearance, nomadic customs and association with hostilities, dialect names for Kalmyks such as Kalmukki, Kalmunkki, etc. became for a time mocking names applied also to vagrants.

During the latter half of the 18th century the Imperial Russian Government became increasingly conscious of the need to learn about prevailing conditions and resources available in its distant Siberian territories. Several Finns living in ‘Old Finland’ entered Russian service and contributed to knowledge about Mongol lands.

Naturalist Erik Laxman (1738 – 96) from Savonlinna, in the employ first of the Barnaul mines and later of the Imperial Cabinet, carried out extensive minerological explorations in southern Siberia.

During a long sojourn in Mongolia he also acquainted himself with Lamaism and the Tibetan language.

Alexander Thesleff (1778 – 1847), an illustrious Finnish officer and cartographer in Russian service, mapped the entire Russo-Chinese border area between 1805 – 1807 and compiled an atlas of southern Siberia and Chinese Mongolia.

Thesleff also executed handsome drawings of the Mongolian capital Urga.

Sweden proper was not affected as sorely by vicissitudes on its Russo-Finnish frontier.

The Swedish East India Company founded in 1731 became Sweden’s largest trading company of the 18th century.

Commerce brought with it wealth accumulation and new perspectives. Israel Reinius (born 1727 in Laihia, Finland, died 1797) entered the Swedish East India Company’s service as a youthful cadet. Between 1746 and 48 he sailed to Canton, China on the H.M.S .Adolph Friedrich.

During this journey Reinius kept a combined logbook and travelogue recording manifold observations, also of temples, customs and practices in harbor towns en route.

Upon his return, Reinius continued Theological studies at the Åbo Academy in Turku, and was awarded a doctorate for his dissertation in Latin that analyzed findings from his erstwhile journey.

Israel Reinius became a chaplain, but to his credit – and unlike many contemporary missionaries – he observed that statues of Buddhas, etc. served as symbols for Chinese devotees and not as mere idols. Reinius’ Journal Kept on a Journey to Canton in China (Journal hållen på resan till Canton i China) has recently been reprinted.[9]


In Europe the Russo-Swedish War of 1808 – 1809 led to the dissolution of the union of Sweden-Finland.

To overcome Finnish resistance Finland was granted autonomy as a Grand Duchy joined to Russia through the person of the Czar.

Although the Evangelical Lutheran Church was joined by a second state church – the Finnish Orthodox Church, Age of reason philosophy spread to Finland and gradually promoted overall secularization of society.

Interest began to stir towards Finnish national romantic traditions as well as towards foreign, Ural-Altaic and Indo-European traditions.


In 1822, while Turku (Swedish: Åbo) was still the capital, Buddhism gained first notice in Finland in the form of two newspaper articles on Kalmyk Buddhism.

These were published in the Finnish-language Turku Weekly (Turun Wiikkosanomat).

The May 4th issue reported with Christian overtones: “These pagan Kalmyks have their own Pope i.e. Lama, who is authorized by H.M. the Czar of Russia, and besides numerous lay priests, who according to their Teaching pardon sins, bless people, recite prayers and officiate at burials.

They have many male and female idols, whose likenesses are made of gold, silver, copper, clay or wood. These idols have separate tents or yurts.

In front of the likenesses stand bowls filled with rice, nuts and milk.” Furthermore, “Their creed and prayer is this: I believe in and honour the highest Lama.

I believe in and honour innumerable Gods.

I bow before the high spiritual Estate. I honour the Holy Law. These four I dare address in the hope that they be merciful toward people and commoners, and toward the animals, snakes and birds of the forest, and thefishes.” [10]

After a great fire destroyed most of Turku, Åbo Academy was transferred in 1828 to the new capital and renamed the Imperial Alexander Helsinki University.

Oriental studies developed there, initially with Ural-Altaic, Indo-European and East Indian Imperial Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg. Under the latter’s auspices Matthias Alexander Castrén (1813 – 1852) carried out extensive linguistic and ethnological researches among Siberian peoples in the 1840s.

He was the first western scholar to thoroughly study Buryat Mongolian dialects.

During a visit at a Lama temple in the Baikal region Castrén was intrigued to learn of a word that phonetically and in meaning resembles Sampo, the ‘wealth-bringer’ talisman in Kalevala mythology.

That Tibetan word sangpo (written bzang-po) means ‘auspicious, all-good’.

Castrén was appointed the first professor of Finnish language at Helsinki University. His 12-volume Nordische Reisen und Forschungen including an Introduction to Buryat grammar[11] was published posthumously[12] under the editorship of the Estonian Balt, Anton Schiefner.


Indo-European and Indological studies developed slowly but surely in Finland, and they incidentally dealt with Buddhist topics. Herman Kellgren (1822 – 1856) had studied under Burnouf and served as the first docent for Sanskrit at Helsinki University.

One Swedish scholar, Nils Ignell (1806 – 1864) published in Helsinki in 1856 the article “Buddhaismen”[13] sketching Gautama Buddha’s biography and life-philosophy.

It was based on the findings of Orientalists Burnouf and Isaak Schmidt. In 1875 Otto Donner (1835 – 1909), scion of a wealthy family from Kokkola, was appointed the first professor of Sanskrit and comparative Indo-European philology at Helsinki University.

His doctoral dissertation[14] compared ancient Indian and Finnish cosmogonic ideas concerning the creation of the world. Donner had broad interests and a special talent for administration.

This enabled him to play an important role in founding the Finnish National Museum, the Finno-Ugrian Society, and in helping organize scientific expeditions to the East.


Around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries numerous Finnish geographic, archaeological and ethnographic expeditions went to Siberia and Central Asia.

Expedition reports from Johannes Gabriel Granö, Sakari Pälsi, Otto Donner Jr., Carl Munck, Johan Aspelin, Axel Olai Heikel, etc. all contain at least cursory references to Buddhism.


Finnish missionaries also went to Asia to spread the Gospel. To increase interest for their activities abroad, partly also to spread knowledge about their target populations and to solicit needed funds, missionaries sent back reports and ethnographic items to Finland.

Ms. Hilja Heiskanen (1866 - 1939) was dispatched by Finland’s Alliance Mission (later renamed Finland’s Free Church) to serve as a missionary to Tibetans in British India and Sikkim.

She was stationed in the Himalayan foothills of Kalimpong, West Bengal from 1899 to 1914 and learned the Tibetan language fluently.

Near the end of her stay Hilja Heiskanen sent some 200 predominantly Tibetan artifacts to the Finnish National Museum. Today they are housed at the Museum of Cultures in Helsinki.

The Museum’s Education curator Pilvi Vainonen is preparing a study on Hilja Heiskanen’s work.[15]


Mongolian and Altaic studies advanced to a new level thanks to the contributions of Gustaf John Ramstedt (1873 – 1950). With support from the Finno-Ugrian Society, Ramstedt conducted half a dozen expeditions to Mongolia and Eastern Turkestan between 1892 and 1912, and additionally spent five months in Kalmykia at a lamasery in Sarepta.

Such onsite researches enabled him to make recordings and acquire a wealth of ethnographic, religious and linguistic materials, as well as master different Mongol dialects. Afterwards he produced a doctoral dissertation on Khalka-Mongolian grammar, and published Kalmückische Märchen in two volumes and the scholarly classic, Kalmückisches Wörterbuch[16].


Through his work and correspondence Ramstedt inspired a new generation of leading Altaists, such as A.D. Rudnev and Nicholas Poppe.

Ramstedt held the first chair of Altaistic linguistics at Helsinki University from 1917 to 1941, but during the 1920s had to divide his time to serving as Chargé d`affaires in Tokyo.

While in Japan he studied the Korean language and discovered its apparent affinity with the Altaic language family.

After producing the first descriptive Korean Grammar[17] and after Korea regained its independence, the ever-modest Ramstedt became for Koreans an international celebrity.

Also worth mentioning is Ramstedt’s acquisition of a rare set of 63 Buddhist scroll paintings (thang-ka-s)[18] stemming from craftsmen on Mount Wutai Shan.

These Sino-Mongolian thangkas are now housed at the Museum of Cultures in Helsinki.


Carl Gustaf Mannerheim (1867 – 1951) is better known as the greatest Finnish statesman and military commander of the 20th century.

In the course of his eventful life Mannerheim also helped further knowledge and appreciation for Central Asia and China. While still in Imperial Russian service he was commissioned by the Russian General Staff to undertake a military intelligence-gathering mission through China’s Northern provinces.

Partly to disguise the mission and partly in order to promote science, Mannerheim secured funds for acquiring ethnographic and archaeological items for Finland’s National Museum. During the two years (1906 – 1908) of his Central Asian expedition Mannerheim traversed 14 000 kilometers mainly on horseback.

At the western end Mannerheim acquired Buddhist antiquities, coins and text fragments from the archaeologically rich Khotan region.

Midway on his journey, in the Labrang Monastery area Mannerheim purchased Tibetan thangkas, statues and instruments.

Further on Mannerheim paid a visit to a largely unknown tribe of Lamaist Uigurs and documented his enjoyable sojourn and interesting findings in the article, “A Visit to the Sarö and Shera Yögurs”[19]. On Mount Wutai Shan at the eastern end of the expedition Mannerheim was the second westerner ever to be granted an audience with the 13th Dalai Lama.


The Russian General Staff received a secret report of Mannerheim’s findings on China’s northern provinces, but he also kept a detailed scientific diary of interest for international scholarship.

The largest collection of ethnographic items gathered from Central Asia by any Finn is the Mannerheim collection[20] held today by the Museum of Cultures.

Mannerheim’s many photographs and Buddhist text fragments in turn are property of the Finno-Ugrian Society.

In Helsinki the Mannerheim Museum’s tasteful furnishings witness to his predilection for the Orient, a partiality shared by many educated or wealthy Finns near the turn of the century.


Part 3. Awakening of Buddhist studies (circa 1890 onward)

Finland had already witnessed a remarkable growth in capital accumulation, while contacts with the Orient had markedly increased via Russia. Both circumstances favoured the setting up of scientific institutions dealing also with Oriental culture.


Part of the country’s officialdom and educated class nourished interest for the Orient and even for alternatives to Christian doctrine.

Avidly interested intellectuals read relevant publications coming from the “Continent”[21] and Russia.

Original Finnish reports to date had been sporadic and oftentimes superficial. Studies on Buddhism could not develop normally before major bottlenecks were removed.

Lack of religious freedom was an important restrictive factor, though not the only one.

Until late in the 19th century membership in either the Lutheran or Orthodox Church was mandatory for Finnish nationals. The Religion Act of 1889 loosened restrictions on Protestant Christians, but press censorship continued until 1905.


Finland’s association with the Russian Empire did bring new impulses and sometimes opened career opportunities for talented individuals.

Lieutenant-General Carl Sederholm (1818 – 1903) became interested in Oriental religions during his military service in Russia and post-Crimean War imprisonment in Turkey.

There he had unlikely access to a wide range of religious literature. Upon retirement in Finland, Sederholm studied and wrote on Indian religions and gnostic traditions.

He sought to harmonize Hindu and Buddhist teachings with Christian ones

The first book on Buddhism to appear in Finland was Buddha the Enlightened and His Teaching (Buddha den upplyste och hans lära) published by Sederholm already in 1886.

One century later René Gothóni published a study on this pioneer entitled Carl Robert Sederholm – Life, works and intellectuality (Carl Robert Sederholm, liv, verk och intellektuella individ)[22].


The Russian Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Henry S. Olcott had founded the International Theosophical Society in 1875 in New York City. A Theosophical library was opened in Helsinki in 1897, followed ten years later by the founding of Finland’s Theosophical Society.

Theosophical lodges sprang up in most of Finland’s larger towns (Turku, Tampere, Vaasa, etc.) and they operated as largely independent study circles.

At their meetings members gave presentations on topics of especial interest and these were discussed afterwards.

In this way Theosophical teachings combining Vedantic, Buddhist and other elements spread widely in Finland. Part of the educated class accepted the novel concepts of karma, reincarnation and nirvana.

Moreover, a section of Finland’s Labour movement saw in Theosophy an opportunity to acquire a more scientific worldview and metaphysical legitimization to counter those of the bourgeoisie and the Church.

In 1906 the Theosophist leader and author Pekka Ervast (1875 – 1934) published his Finnish translation of A Buddhist Catechism[23] by H.S. Olcott. It gained great popularity among Theosophists. In 1925 Ervast published his translation of the Dhammapada.

Although only a secondary version[24], this was the first Buddhist scripture to appear completely in Finnish.

This short compendium of edifying verse on the “Dhamma Path” is one of the most famous, early Buddhist scriptures.


During the years preceding World War I interest for foreign religions and their founders grew in Finland. Witness here the publication of a number of historical and comparative studies.

Original works by Finns included Pagan Religions (Pakanalliset uskonnot, 1891) by Juuso Hedberg and the book Zarathustra, Buddha, Kristus (1911) by Antti J. Pietilä, while foreign works translated into Finnish included Rudolf Handman’s study Christentum und Buddhismus in ihrem gegenseitigen Verhältnis (1905) and Alan Menzies’ extensive survey, World Religions (1910).


At Helsinki University Julio Reuter (1863 – 1937) succeeded Otto Donner as extraordinary professor of Sanskrit and comparative Indo-European philology in 1906. Due to his training and temperament Reuter focused more than his predecessor on Indo-Asian linguistics and cultural history.

Reuter participated actively in international scholarly exchange, and two of his linguistic articles contributed to the decoding of the ancient Tocharian syllabary and its Buddhist literature from Eastern Turkestan. Reuter’s academic teaching from the 1890s to 1920s covered courses in Pali, Sanskrit, Buddhist Sanskrit, history of Indian literature and philosophy, including Buddhist philosophy and selected Buddhist texts[25].


Buddhist studies largely languished in Finland during the interwar period.

The Bolshevik Revolution had swept across Russia and cut off access to Mongol lands. Following the combined Finnish Civil War and War for Independence, Finland became a sovereign, free-market state in 1917.

The tense domestic and international situation together with an economic downturn was too taxing for new initiatives.

The nationalistic and religiously narrow-minded atmosphere in Finnish society at the time did not favour Buddhist studies.

These paradoxically flourished only 380 kilometers to the east of Helsinki.

The Leningrad schools of Buddhology and Tibetology with outstanding scholars like Stcherbatsky, Obermiller and Vostrikov stayed in the vanguard of international research during the first third of the 20th century, but direct Finnish contacts were apparently few.


In Finland the Freedom of Religion Act of 1923 removed major restrictions that directly inhibited Buddhist activities.

This held promise for the future, although officeholders at universities, etc. were expected to remain members of the state Church.

In addition to Ervast’s Dhammapada translation two other Finnish books from the interwar period are worth mentioning.

They come from the pen of author Antti J. Aho (1900 – 1960), scion of a famous avant-garde literary family. Mr. Aho took a Ph.D. at Helsinki University, was interested in Theosophy, and decades later became one of the founding members of Friends of Buddhism in Finland.

In the meanwhile he published his study Reincarnation as Religious and Philosophical Teaching (Jälleensyntyminen uskonnollisena ja filosofisena oppina) in 1922 and a new biography of Gautama Buddha (Gautama Buddha ihmisenä ja opettajana) in 1931.


At the outset of World War II Field Marshall C.G. Mannerheim helped revive international interest in Finnish contributions to Orientalistics. Mannerheim’s diary and materials from his Central Asian expedition of 1906 – 08 formed the basis of the massive monograph Across Asia from West to East, published in 1940.

Volume I is an edited version of his scientific diary, while volume II is a compilation of technical articles by scholars on materials acquired during the expedition.

The first article by A.M. Tallgren (1885 – 1945) professor of archaeology at Helsinki University identified and described antiquities from the Khotan and Turfan areas.

A lesser part of these consisted of representations of Buddha, bodhisattvas, the Dharma wheel, Indian motifs and minor deities in stucco, terracotta, stone or metals.

The monograph also reproduced Reuter’s study on “Some Buddhist Fragments from Chinese Turkestan in Sanskrit and ‘Khotanese’” as well as Ramstedt’s study of “A Fragment of Mongolian ‘Quadratic’ Script”.


Discovery of that fragment conclusively proved that the script, which Tibetan Sakyapa hierarch Phagpa (1235 – 1280) had invented for the Mongolian language, did in fact come into use.

A new, second edition, revised and supplemented of Across Asia from West to East has recently been published.[26] Moreover, a Finnish translation of Mannerheim’s secret report (circa 1908) to the Russian General Staff on China’s northern provinces has also reportedly been published in Dr. Harry Halén’s serial publication Unholan aitta.[27]


The losses, suffering and uncertainty entailed by World War II led to a strong revival of interest for Buddhism among some Finns.

A number of people formerly associated with the Theosophical Society started to meet regularly in Helsinki during the winter of 1943 – 44 to discuss existential questions and Buddhist answers especially in connection with two new books by Messieurs Kallinen and Nordberg.

Mauno Nordberg (1884 – 1956) had served as Finnish consul-general in Paris from 1919 to 1939, and there acquainted himself with the French Buddhist organization Amis du Bouddhisme.

In the course of his travels in Europe and Asia he also collected a sizable private library on Buddhism.

Now in 1944 Nordberg published his Finnish translation of The Message of Buddhism[28] by Subhadra Bhiksu[29].


The second influential book published in Finnish in 1944 was Zen – The Message of Enlightenment from the East[30] compiled by honorary Counsellor of education Yrjö Kallinen (1886 – 1976).

Interested since his youth in comparative religion and practical mysticism, Kallinen was a charismatic leader of Finland’s cooperative movement. Two decades earlier in the aftermath of the Finnish Civil War he had been sentenced four times to death.

Now Kallinen gave an impetus to the formation of Helsinki’s Buddhist study group before himself being appointed in 1946 Finnish Minister of Defence and deputy Prime Minister.

In his ripe old age Yrjö Kallinen distilled the results of his studies and understanding regarding spiritual awakening in his fascinating book Here and Now (Tässä ja nyt, 1965).


Helsinki’s informal Buddhist study group developed into the Friends of Buddhism (Finnish: Buddhismin ystävät; Swedish: Buddhismens vänner).[31] Established and registered in 1947, this was Finland’s and Norden’s first Buddhist association.

According to its rules[32] the association’s purpose was to study Buddha’s Teaching, support those living accordingly, and to promote studies in comparative religion.

The rules moreover prescribed the modus operandi – it was to hold meetings and to promote the publishing of writings and books on both Buddhism and comparative religion.

The founding members of Friends of Buddhism in Finland included consul-general Mauno Nordberg, ambassador Hugo Valvanne (M.A.), actor Jussi Snellman, author Antti J. Aho (Ph.D.), and student Leo Hildén. A list of Buddhist publications translated and produced between 1946 – 1951 witnesses to the enthusiasm and industriousness of the association’s members and to the importance of financial support coming from the Iisakki Räsänen Foundation.


The books published included (in chronological order) a Swedish translation of Buddhism – The Teaching of Liberation[33] (1946); and Finnish translations of The Essence of Buddha’s Teaching[34] by Nyanatiloka Thera (1947), Karma and Reincarnation[35] by Christmas Humphries (1948), The Four Brahmaviharas by Nyanaponika Thera (1948), Fundamental Doctrines of Buddhism[36] by Sydney Whitaker (1949), Buddha’s Teaching by Francis Storey (1950), The Light of Asia by Sir Edwin Arnold (1951), and The Word of Buddha[37] by Nyanatiloka Thera (1951).


During its entire existence Friends of Buddhism remained philosophically true to early and Theravada Buddhism.

At meetings presentations would be given or Buddhist texts read, followed by discussions thereon. Vesak festivals in honour of Lord Buddha were celebrated annually in May.

After the dynamic early years, the association became subject to the vagaries of change in personnel and finances.

Because the rules of the Friends of Buddhism did not prescribe payment of any membership dues, the association was dependent upon charity.

After the Iisakki Räsänen Foundation went bankrupt the association became hostage to irregular and insufficient donations.

In his youth Hugo Valvanne (1894 – 1961) had studied Indology under Reuter.

Now he left Helsinki and Friends of Buddhism for a new posting as ambassador to New Delhi (1949 – 1956). While in India Valvanne gained fluency in Sanskrit and he made a landmark contribution - the first original and complete translation of any Buddhist book to Finnish – the Dhammapada, from Pali[38].


The Friends of Buddhism underwent a change in generations in the course of the 1950s.

Having attended two congresses of the World Buddhist Fellowship (Colombo 1950 and Rangoon 1954) chairman Mauno Nordberg died in 1956. In the same year Leo Hildén (1919 – 2006) began his lengthy chairmanship of the association lasting nearly three decades.

Hildén lectured on early Buddhism at many different venues, schools included.

Being a hypnotist and psychotherapist he naturally added insights gained from his professional practice.

The first teaching visit to Finland by a Buddhist monastic occurred in 1969. Upon invitation from the Friends of Buddhism, Sri Lankan monk Piyadassi Thera sojourned and lectured in Helsinki, also at the university. However, efforts to secure a full-time resident monk from South Asia or from amongst Finns failed.

A relative of Nordberg, namely the retired sea captain Heikki Parviainen went to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) to train as a monk. Unfortunately his constitution could not adapt to the hot climate and spicy food, and hence he was taken seriously ill and was forced to return to Europe. Financial worries also burdened the association.

Thus, its activities and membership withered away by the mid-1980s. The pioneering legacy left behind by Friends of Buddhism included the late Leo Hildén’s biography of Gotama Buddha, published in 2002.

In the course of the 1950s Finns had turned their attention increasingly outward to the world. War reparations had been paid, Finland joined the United Nations in 1955, and a realization set in that active participation in international politics and trade would benefit from better knowledge of foreign cultures and religions.


Interest in Christian missions as well as in alternative worldviews also played a role in setting up institutions to study other religions, Buddhism included.

Anthroposophists Uno and Olly Donner gave a large donation for setting up the Donner Institute for Research in Religious and Cultural History in Turku (Åbo). That donation sufficed also for creating the Steiner Library.

Now called the Donner Library, it is Norden’s largest specialist library on history of religions and mysticism.

The first chair for comparative religion was established in 1962 at the Donner Institute and in the following year a dual chair for folkloristics and comparative religion was founded at Turku University.

The staff members recruited were predominantly folklorists, theologians and sociologists who lacked expertise on Buddhism. Nevertheless, new channels for studying non-Christian religions had thus opened and held potential for the future.


Buddhism-related scholarship during the 1950s and well into the 1970s largely hinged upon the contributions of Messieurs Aalto and Halén at Helsinki University.

Pentti Aalto (1917 – 1998) was a philologist of exceptionally wide range. Having been a student and collaborator of Altaist G.J. Ramstedt, he was appointed professor of comparative linguistics in 1958.

Aalto taught Sanskrit for 30 years to a small group of students and thereby educated the present generation of Finnish Indologists. He also gave courses in Pali, Tibetan, Mongolian and Buddhist Uighur for a number of years. During the 1950s Aalto published technical studies on Buddhist literature.


First of all worth mentioning is his lengthy article containing editions in Sanskrit, Tibetan, Uighur and Mongolian of five ‘protective texts’ popular in Mahayana and Tantric Buddism.[39]

Aalto’s other articles include a bibliography of a corpus of Canonical Tibetan sutras[40] held by the Helsinki University Library, moreover studies on fragments of the Subhasita-ratnanidhi in Mongolian quadratic script.[41]

The Subhasita-ratnanidhi is a compendium of moral aphoristic sayings and similes composed by Tibetan hierarch Sakya Pandita (1182 – 1251).

It has long been popular among both Tibetans and Mongols. In 1971 Pentti Aalto contributed his excellent documentary volume, Oriental Studies in Finland 1828 – 1918.

One of Pentti Aalto’s students, Tuomo Pekkanen apparently produced in 1960 the first academic thesis on a Buddhist theme to be accepted in Finland.

This was his Master’s thesis[42] on the great ‘protector text’ of the Maharaksa Mahamantranusarini also conceived as a tutelary deity.


The creation of an Institute for Asian and African Languages and Cultures[43] in 1974 helped to consolidate Orientalistic studies at Helsinki University and indeed in Finland.

The Institute presently includes seven different departments covering Asia and the Near East.

Already at the outset the Institute dearly needed a polyglot scientific secretary, so M.A. Harry Halén (b. 1943) was appointed. Halén’s career as the Institute’s amanuensis was to last 31 years. By training he was primarily an Altaist, and he taught literary Mongolian and Buddhist Uighur for a time.

Halén was secondarily an Indologist and his Master’s thesis on the Jataka Pantheon[44] in 1969 seems to have been the second academic thesis on a Buddhist theme accepted in Finland.

Being well versed in and sympathetic towards Asian cultures and Buddhism, he was invariably sought after by new generations of students and scholars for advice.

Halén’s research and publications span history of intercultural encounters and learning[45], Oriental philology, and Buddhist art.

In 1978 he compiled a comprehensive Handbook of Oriental Collections in Finland: Manuscripts, xylographs and inscriptions.

Thereafter he identified further Buddhist text fragments in the Finno-Ugrian Society’s Mannerheim collection from East Turkestan.

In 1987 Halén published Mirrors of the Void, a richly illustrated monograph on Buddhist art in the National Museum of Finland.

The collection of 63 scroll paintings from Mount Wutai Shan and art works of diverse origin have since been transferred to the Museum of Cultures in Helsinki.

Halén was also a principal contributor to two catalogues on Buddhist art exhibitions held in Helsinki (1980[46], 1998[47]).

In recognition of his contributions to science and learning Helsinki University awarded the ever-modest Harry Halén an honorary doctorate in 2007.


Since the 1970s Helsinki University’s Institute for Asian and African studies has helped ensure the continuation in Finland of training in languages central to Buddhist studies such as Sanskrit, Pali, Mongolian, Chinese and Japanese.

Further topics taught and studied have partly depended upon the respective interests of the scholars.

Indologist Klaus Karttunen (b. 1951) has taught Sanskrit, Pali and Indian cultural history at the Institute since 1977.

In that year he also co-produced Oriental Wisdom (Idän viisautta), the first ambitious compendium of Finnish translations of Indo-Asian texts.

Karttunen’s contribution to the multi-author work included a corrected Finnish translation of the Dhammapada from the Pali[48] and extensive extracts from the Lotus of the True Law (Saddharmapundarika-sutra)[49], an important Mahayana scripture.

In 1989 Klaus Karttunen presented his doctoral dissertation on India in Early Greek Literature.

Since 2006 he serves as professor for South Asian and Indo-European studies. Docent Bertil Tikkanen (b. 1949) is an Indologist specializing in modern Indian languages, but he is also an expert resource person in Sanskrit as can be seen from his doctoral thesis from 1987 on The Sanskrit Gerund.


Several promising woman scholars have been associated with Helsinki’s Asian and African Institute. During the 1970s M.Th. Marja-Leena Teivonen (b. 1944) did fieldwork at Buddhist monasteries[50] in Thailand, and then published her study In the Footsteps of the Buddha (Buddhan jäljillä) in 1978.

It includes Finnish translations from the Pali of one of the earliest Buddhist scriptures, the Sutta-Nipata[51], as well as recitational texts[52] in standard use at Thai monasteries. Miss Teivonen went unaccountably missing in France.

Virpi Hämeen-Anttila (b. 1958) is a translator and author. She earned an M.A. at the Institute and has also taught Sanskrit there.

In 1998 she published a selection of birth-legends under the intriguing title, When Buddha was Born in the Form of a Goose (Kun Buddha syntyi hanhen hahmoon).

These Jatakas were translated from Pali. Four years later Mrs. Hämeen-Anttila made a secondary translation[53] of Buddha: A short biography by John S. Strong.

This is currently the most thorough study available for an educated general Finnish readership.

Tibetan studies are fortunately represented to some extent at the Institute for Asian and African studies.

Traditional Tibetan civilisation, which had covered large parts of Central Asia, was subverted in the course of the 20th century by the Marxist revolution in Mongolia and annexation of Tibet by China.

Ever since its founding in 1949, Finland has enjoyed good diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.

Trade relations have likewise developed markedly, and these have led to a degree of politico-economic dependency and fealty.[54] In 2007 a separate Confucius Institute began operations at Helsinki University as a cooperative venture with Renmin University of China.

The Confucius Institute seeks to promote education on and interest for Han-Chinese society, culture and language.


Since the late 1970s the Institute for Asian and African studies has offered stray courses in Tibetan language, but to date even a docentship in Tibetology is missing.

Ms. Pirkko Periviita (M.A.) is a Mongolist by training, and presently teaches classical Tibetan at the Institute.

As a librarian at the nearby Helsinki University Library, now renamed the National Library, she also cares for a donated Tibetan Tripitaka.

This is one of the three principal Canons of Buddhism, together with the Pali and Chinese Canons.

In 1993 the learned Tibetan lama Pema Wangyal Rinpoche[55] (b. 1945) namely donated a copy of the huge Lhasa Kanjur[56] Edition of the Tripitaka to the Library. At the Institute for Asian and African Studies Professor of Sinology Juha Janhunen (b. 1952) has sought to promote Tibetology through creation of an extensive multi-disciplinary research project on northeast Tibet (Amdo, i.e. the PRC province of Qinghai).

The 15-year project project just ended, and its focus lay on linguistics and ethnology.

Two recent participants, Tiina Hyytiäinen (M.A.) and Mitra Härkönen (M.A.) carried out fieldwork in Amdo for their planned dissertations respectively on the folk-religious practices of lay Tibetan women. and the way of life of Tibetan nuns (ani-s).

Tiina Hyytiäinen is also co-author of Changing Tibet (Muuttuva Tiibet), a collection of articles published in 2008 on the material culture, communal and religious life in Amdo.


Signs for the future of Buddhist studies inside the Finnish academe were especially encouraging from the 1970s through the early 1990s.

Contributions stemming from philologists at Helsinki’s Institute for Asian and African Studies have already been mentioned.

Wholly new channels for studying Buddhism had arisen early in the 1960s through the founding of Finland’s first two departments of comparative religion in Turku (Åbo) and through the creation of the Finnish Society for the Study of Religion.

In 1970 a chair for comparative religion was also established at Helsinki University, and it attracted many students and scholars, albeit mainly of folklore, theology and sociology.

New career opportunities seemed to be on the horizon, and the 1970s were a heady time with the political youth revolt and alternative lifestyle movement loosening societal structures and giving space for exploring other religions and philosophies.


A number of enterprising students and young scholars took up Buddhist studies.

In course of time they produced books and dissertations on related topics that attracted attention both nationally and internationally. Kaisa Puhakka (b. 1946), author of Knowledge and Reality: A comparative study of Quine and Buddhist logicians (1975) returned from the USA for a time to teach in Helsinki.

Puhakka (Ph.D.) is a former editor of The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, and now serves as professor of psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco.

There she lectures on psychotherapy, Buddhist thought, meditation, and transformation of consciousness.


Early on René Gothóni (b. 1950) specialised in Southern Buddhism and later also cooperated on projects to create study materials.

In 1981 he published the article “Buddhismen in Finland”[57] containing useful historical documentation. Following a research sojourn at a monastery in Sri Lanka and years of teaching in Helsinki Gothóni defended in 1982 his monograph Modes of Life of Theravada Monks: A case study of Buddhist monasticism in Sri Lanka.

This first doctoral dissertation (Th.D.) on Buddhism to be accepted in Finland attracted considerable attention among Buddhologists and sociologists of religion[58] It innovatingly combined a wealth of different methodological and analytical approaches, even at the risk of reductionism.

Another notable contribution is Gothóni’s structural-analytical study[59] in Swedish of the Patimokkha code of monastic rules, published in 1985. In the year 2000 René Gothóni was appointed Helsinki’s second professor of comparative religion, but years earlier he had already abandoned Buddhology in favour of research on methodology, Eastern Orthodox monasticism and pilgrimage. During the 1980s the engagé Buddhist and M.A. Mikael Niinimäki[60] (b. 1952) collaborated with Gothóni on research projects resulting in three books. In 1984 they co-edited a collective travel documentary, Under the Bodhi Tree. Experiences from Buddhist monasteries (Bodhipuun alla)[61].

It incidentally includes a Finnish translation of the disciplinary code Patimokkha in use at Buddhist monasteries in South Asia. The most important fruit of Niinimäki’s and Gothóni’s collaborative efforts was the anthology of Buddhist scripture entitled Buddhist Wisdom (Buddhalaista viisautta), published in 1987.

It contains translations of numerous Pali and Sanskrit Canonical texts in whole or part, including for instance the Satipatthana-sutta on developing mental concentration, the Diamond Sutra (Vajracchedika -Prajnaparamita), the Heart Sutra (Prajnaparamita -Hrdaya), and the Twentyone Stanza Hymn to Tara[62].

While the foregoing two books are suitable for university courses, the third publication Buddhist Glossary and Symbolism (Buddhalainen sanasto ja symboliikka) from 1990 is a reference work.

It represents an early attempt to solve some of the many problems of spelling, definition and equivalency involved in working with Buddhist materials.


Mr. Niinimäki found the atmosphere in the Finnish academe less appealing and he entered upon a monastic career instead.

In 1987 he was fully ordained in South Korea as bhiksu Tae Hye sunim. In the same year he published a sketch of “The History of Buddhism in Finland”[63] in commemoration of 40 years of the Friends of Buddhism (1947 – 1987).

The Bodhidharma Association in Helsinki is successor to Friends of Buddhism, and since the mid 1980s Venerable Tae Hye serves as its distant spiritual director.

He principally serves as abbot of a small Zen temple in Italy and periodically visits Finland to give lectures and lead meditation retreats.

Tae Hye has translated numerous Buddhist texts largely from English into Finnish including a large compendium of Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh’s writings[64].

In 2001 he authored The Finnish Zen Guide (Suomalainen zen-opas) with practical advice on leading a healthier and more fulfilling life in the conditions prevailing in northernmost Europe.


The fourth talented Finn to turn away from Buddhist studies within Finland's academe is Ilkka Pyysiäinen (Th.D.). During the 1980s and 1990s he made a name for himself through prolific publishing activity on a range of Buddhist-related topics.

Pyysiäinen initially published articles in the Finnish Theological Journal (Teologinen Aikakauskirja) with ironic titles such as “Oddling from Afar, i.e. Buddhist Hermeneutics”[65] and “The Godless Void. Nagarjuna’s critique of theism”[66].

These were followed by a number of books in both Finnish and English, as well as refereed articles in international journals. Pyysiäinen’s book from 1988, Ultimate Images: The biography of the Buddha in the Theravada Canon[67] is based on his Licentiate thesis.

More popular books in Finnish followed.

They include an anthology of translated aphorisms entitled Words like a Boundary. Zen East and West (1991)[68] and Joy from Crying Long. Buddhism and therapies (1993)[69].

Pyysiäinen’s Beyond Language and Reason: Mysticism in Indian Buddhism from 1993 is a fine religio-phenomenological analysis of ‘pure consciousness events’ as expressed in four authoritative Buddhist texts[70].

International recognition for this doctoral dissertation probably helped secure Pyysiäinen his posts as docent (associate professor) in comparative religion at both Helsinki and Turku Universities.

The titles of his articles such as “Jnanagarbha and the ‘God’s-eye view’” (1996) and “Holy Book – A treasury of the incomprehensible” (1999) indicate a certain playfulness with people’s expectations, paradoxes and words, and they suggest that Pyysiäinen looks at things from new perspectives which sometimes yield valuable insights.

While superabundant authorship over a wide range of topics can attest to considerable talent, it may also in part reflect shallowness or the insecurity and need to publish as an academic in Finland. In any case by the turn of the millenium Pyysiäinen has turned his primary attention from Buddhology elsewhere. It remains to be seen, if his contributions on cognitive science[71], method and theory can fructify Buddhist studies in the future.


Internationally Buddhist studies have developed remarkably in recent decades.[72] In Finland too there has been progress, but on balance it is less than one might reasonably expect.

For instance, the fact that within the last generation three Finnish scholars with doctorates and accomplishments in Buddhology abandoned that engagement at departments of comparative religion, makes one wonder about the reasons.

Perhaps we should first consider the career experiences of further scholars at Government-funded academic institutions. Two Finnish lady scholars, Ms. Heikkilä-Horn and Ms.

Määttänen have been with departments of comparative religion respectively in Turku (Åbo) and Helsinki, while Mr. Klemola is an interesting case at Tampere University’s Department of history and philosophy.

Some 2 600 Thai immigrants reside in Finland, and the first-mentioned lady, Marja-Leena Heikkilä-Horn (Ph.D.) is one of very few Finnish specialists on Southeast Asia and Thai Buddhism.

Several earlier sojourns in the Thai countryside and focused fieldwork there in the winter of 1994 – 95 paved the way for her research on the ideology of Theravada kingship and especially on a new Buddhist movement that harks back to more austere ways of life.

They resulted first in Heikkilä-Horn’s Licentiate thesis, The Supernatural Power of Buddhist Rulers in 1992 for the Department of comparative religion at Åbo Akademi University, and secondly in her doctoral dissertation Santi Asoke Buddhism and [the] Thai State Response, published in 1996.

The latter monograph made use of participant observation and interviews to provide the first full-scale characterisation of the Asoke Buddhist movement, its members, their worldview and way of life. Dr. Marja-Leena Heikkilä-Horn has since moved to Thailand where she resides and serves as associate professor at Mahidol University teaching Southeast Asian history.

Maija Määttänen Butters (M.A.) is a cultural anthropologist and artist specialising in Tibetan sacral art. Inspired by an earlier sojourn in the Indian Himalayas, Ms. Määttänen spent the winter of 1999 – 2000 in the hill station of Dharamsala visiting refugee Tibetan artists and interviewing them about their life and work. Utilizing her fieldwork materials she prepared a Master’s thesis for Helsinki University’s Department of cultural anthropology in 2001.

The following year she reworked those materials to produce an attractive, illustrated book entitled Thangka.

The Buddha’s picture in Tibetan culture (Thangka. Buddhan kuva tiibetiläisessä kulttuurissa).

In 2003 she produced an abridged version[73] to accompany the exhibition of modern Tibetan thangkas which she organised for the Helinä Rautavaara Museum near Helsinki.

Maija started a Ph.D. project for Helsinki University’s Department of comparative religion, but apparently discontinued it after meeting and marrying American Indologist Dr. Albion Butters and founding a family. They now reside in California.

To date Buddhist-related studies in the Finnish academe have perhaps been most fruitful at Tampere University’s Department of history and philosophy.

Timo Klemola (b.1954) is a docent (associate professor) there with an impressive experiential, teaching and publishing record.

Several decades of dedicated practice of Far Eastern martial arts (karate, tai chi, yiquan) and of motionless Rinzai zen meditation have endowed him with commendable proficiency in them. Klemola has taught martial arts privately and meditation at Tampere’s Zenshindojo centre.

He has published half a dozen practical guides in Finnish including Zen-karate (1998), and already in 1991 a secondary translation of Zen tales and songs entitled the Gateless Gate and Other Zen Texts[74]. ‘Gateless Gate’ in the title refers to the famous Mumonkan, a collection of koans compiled over 700 years ago by Chinese Zen master Wumen (1183 – 1260).

Klemola’s first scholarly writing was his Licentiate thesis Movement as a Path to the Genuine Self[75] from 1990, followed in 1998 by his doctoral dissertation, entitled The Body Moves – Does the Spirit Move? (Ruumis liikkuu – liikkuuko henki?).

This phenomenological study in 1998 earned high praise. In his monograph Praxis Philosophy – Philosopher’s Praxis (Taidon filosofia – filosofin taito)[76] from 2005 Klemola has sought to distill what he learnt during his lifetime from the practice of philosophy and martial arts, how diving deep into movement opens up new experiential dimensions and understandings which can be retrieved, brought back to enhance daily life.


A part of Timo Klemola’s activities are best described as applied science. Recently Klemola together with a medical doctor and two other trainers developed a new exercise system called Asahi health (Asahi terveysliikunta).

It combines elements of eastern and western health gymnastics and involves gentle movements coordinated with one’s breathing rhythm. It is designed in part with typical ailments of the Finnish population in mind, such as shoulder and back problems and stress-related psychosomatic problems.

The Asahi exercise system is described in a jointly authored book.[77] Besides teaching at Tampere University, Klemola has started Finevision, a solitary proprietorship in which he offers training, consulting and services in areas of his expertise.


In the foregoing I have sketched historical developments, how Finnish contacts and interest for the East and Buddhism grew over the centuries.

Then I covered in some detail the development of Buddhist studies since 1890 largely at schools of higher learning in Finland.

Although one hundred years ago it was illegal to be a Buddhist in Finland, at the same time research on Central Asia and Siberia enjoyed unparalleled national priority.

The search was on for Finnic origins and linguistic relations in service of individuating a stronger national identity to support Finland’s incipient Independence movement. Witness here numerous important scientific expeditions to Mongolia, Eastern Turkestan, etc. between 1898 – 1911, made not only by Ramstedt and Mannerheim, but also by Johannes Gabriel Granö,[78] Sakari Pälsi[79] and others.

They amassed unique collections, and in the case of Gustaf John Ramstedt made outstanding contributions to Mongolian and Korean philology. All these gentlemen later attained celebrated positions in the Finnish academe or society.

The contemporary situation for Buddhist studies in Finland is poignant. Government support for the maintenance of library and museum infrastructure and their Asia and Buddhism-related collections has continued and certainly been welcome, even though in itself insufficient. Formal freedom of religion prevails and several thousand immigrant Asians and native Finns are professing Buddhists.

Their children should be allowed to receive primary and intermediate school courses in Buddhism from qualified teachers.

However, in Finland Buddhology enjoys very low priority in education, research funding and career prospects.

In practice Buddhist studies are largely restricted to the undergraduate level at universities or to independent endeavours. Postgraduate students and scholars of Buddhism are rarities, under-funded and isolated.

According to a former Ph.D. student, “There is no academic research tradition of Tibetan culture or Buddhism in Finland”.[80] My earlier mentor, the internationally renowned Orientalist, Professor David Seyfort Ruegg[81] pointed out that productive Buddhological research requires fine library resources, a small group of talented scholars who co-operate, plus adequate funding.

My experiences to date suggest a lack of will to promote world-class Buddhist research in Finland.

Within the last generation all accomplished scholars in Buddhology at departments of comparative religion in Finland have abandoned that engagement.

Half a dozen accomplished or promising scholars found it necessary or preferable to leave those departments or instead move abroad.[82]

It remains to be seen if Buddhist studies at the country’s only Institute for Asian studies - or elsewhere - can really take off. Only one scholar seems to have been able to navigate pitfalls inside the Finnish academe and be relatively successful for years in studies marginally related to Buddhism.

Two Theologians gained recognition through Buddhist studies, and once established at departments of comparative religion, distanced themselves from Buddhist studies.

It is unclear how they can use their positions to promote Buddhist studies in Finland in the sense of both primary research, researcher training and the training of teachers on Buddhism.


Buddhist studies do not operate in a vacuum, but in a particular socio-cultural context with various favourable and restrictive factors. Finland is a secular, modern and economy-driven society. The country has never had overseas colonies, so it is neither burdened by an imperial past, nor benefitted by lengthy historical contacts and knowledge.

Within one generation Finland has become much more international, but Europa-centrism and ignorance regarding Asian worldviews appear to be endemic.[83]

The cultural, philosophic and humanistic dimensions and significance of Buddhism are inadequately understood.

Institutions, groups and individuals try to protect their interests, promote their own views and compete for support.

The Finnish economy is highly dependent upon international trade, also with China. Business lobbies are averse to Tibet-related studies, and the Government tends to follow suit.

The country has two state Churches[84] with thousands of paid employees and a number of Evangelical organisations getting Government subsidies for humanitarian and missionary activities in Asia. Finland has two dozen chairs of Christian Theology, including 18 professorships alone at Helsinki University’s Faculty of Theology.

Two of the latter professorships are in comparative religion.

Their remit includes in principle all major non-Abrahamic religions, popular religiosity and most of the world’s different religious denominations of past and present.

In recent years departments in Helsinki and Åbo have promoted persons or research projects dealing with black magic.

Judging from experiences in Sweden, that is not likely to improve the institutional atmosphere. Buddhist studies are at risk of being elbowed out.

Such circumstances are not immutable. In his recent speech at Helsinki University former Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja demanded[85] separation of Church and State, the removal of Theological departments from state-run schools of higher learning, and the ending of Government funding for denominational education in Finland, and instead further support for comparative religion.


Though Finland is largely a developing country in academic Buddhist studies, the picture is not altogether bleak.

A groundswell of interest for Buddhist aesthetics, sports, therapy, etc. has grown among sections of the population.

The Dalai Lama is arguably the religious leader whom Finns esteem the most, even if Finnish Government Ministers are extremely wary of meeting him during his visits[86] to Finland.

Nevertheless, Buddhist activities and organisations have started to flourish in the capital city region and other urban centres. In time these developments are likely to influence popular views, Government and academic policies in Finland for the better.

In the meantime important contributions to Buddhist studies continue to be made outside the academe.

Various private institutions, applied science ventures, as well as Buddhist and independent scholarship are complementing establishment infrastructure and helping to overcome its limitations.

Notable, private Buddhist art collections have been built up, e.g. those of avant-garde artist J.O. Mallander, goldsmith Oppi Untracht,[87] and the so-called Buddhist Dharma Centre.[88]

Various town and private museums, such as the Amos Andersson Museum in Helsinki, hold Buddhist exhibitions from time to time.

Many private institutes and study groups, which engage in physical fitness and applied psychology, are influenced by Buddhist traditions.

Far Eastern martial arts are extremely popular. During the 1970s through the 1980s the Gonpo Institute in Helsinki offered training in psychotherapy and growth-oriented modalities.

The respected Tibetan lama and scholar Tarab Tulku[89] (1934 – 2004) of Hørsholm, Denmark was on Gonpo’s International board of advisors.

In 1999 a new branch of the international Tarab Institute was founded in Helsinki. It helps coordinate international training in the ‘Unity in Duality program’ which combines Buddhist philosophy, psychology and psychotherapy.

Rokpa Finland, a branch of the international Rokpa Trust was founded in Finland in 2002.

The respected Tibetan lama and medical doctor Akong Tulku[90] (b. 1939) of Kagyü Ling Scotland is founder of the Trust and developer of the multi-year Tara Rokpa program.

This combines elements of western psychology and Buddhist techniques to promote mental balance and spiritual growth. Venerable Ani Sherab[91] (née Pirkko Siltaloppi), who has much experience of meditation retreats in Scotland, was appointed to supervise the Tara Rokpa program in Finland.

In recent years Finland has witnessed a remarkable growth in the availability of Buddhist literature and teachings, largely popular and largely translated from English.

Idealistic publishers[92] have sprung up to supplement small publishers,[93] in addition to older and larger commercial publishing houses[94].

Translators from English include Lauri Porceddu (Dharmachari Sarvamitra), Ari Laaksonen (Dharmachari Viddasu) and Tuula Saarikoski, all with numerous books to their credit.

Ani Sherab has placed a representative selection of her translations of Kagyü and praxis-oriented texts online.

Two independent scholars are perhaps also worth mentioning: Messieurs Nieminen and Ratia. Kai Nieminen (b. 1950), is a translator of Japanese literature and also a poet.

In 1998 he published a translation from the Japanese of the Crazy Cloud (Riehaantunut pilvi) anthology by Ikkyû Sôjun (1394 – 1481).

Ikkyû was an eccentric and indeed iconic Japanese Zen Buddhist priest and poet. Alpo Ratia currently works as Asia consultant and translator.

Following predoctoral studies at Uppsala and Hamburg universities, he carried out fieldwork on Tibetan Buddhism in India. One of his recent contributions is a study and translation from the Tibetan of “Canon Redactor Bu ston’s Advice on Publishing”[95].

Pu-tön (i.e. Bu ston, 1290 – 1374) was one of the greatest and most prolific lama scholars in 14th century Tibet. Finns are fortunate now to have in their midst a young, learned Tibetan lama, Venerable Tulku Dakpa Rinpoche[96] (b. 1975).

Tulku Dakpa completed Buddhist philosophical studies at Mindröling monastic university in India and was awarded the title of khenpo[97], roughly equivalent to that of professor.

Since 2006 Tulku Dakpa resides in Finland and at the Danakosha centre in Helsinki imparts a wide range of Mahayana philosophical and Nyingma teachings.

Conclusion

In short, Finland may be a developing country in Buddhist studies, but the developmental needs – and potential – are great!

Footnotes

<references / >
  1. Several different cosmographic schemes are found in Buddhist tradition. One of the oldest is that of the triple-world mentioned for instance in the Lalitavistara-sutra. Here it consists of: 1. the firmament (including embodied and disembodied consciousnesses of the celestial realms), 2. middle earth (and terrestrial beings like humans), and 3. the netherworld (including sentient beings of the subterranean and oceanic realms).
  2. Oral communication from Prof. Klaus Karttunen (Helsinki 29 January 2009).
  3. The king-turned-ascetic Josaphat (Georgian Iodasaph, Arabic Yudhasaf or Budhasaf) derives his name from the Sanskrit Bodhisattva, representing Siddhartha before becoming the enlightened Buddha. See e.g. the articles “Barlaam and Josaphat”, - www.en.wikipedia.org, and K.F. Johansson, “Barlaam och Josafat”, - Nordisk Familjebok, Ny reviderad, Band II, Stockholm 1904, column 934.
  4. Email communication from Klaus Karttunen (Helsinki 13 March 2009). One manuscript copy is held by the Royal Library in Stockholm, and an old printed edition can be found in G.E. Klemming, Prosadikter från Sveriges medeltid, Stockholm 1887-89, pp. 1 – 110. See also the article “Vincent of Beauvais” in http://en.wikipedia.org.
  5. The most convenient reference work on this period is Pentti Aalto, Oriental Studies in Finland 1828 - 1918, Helsinki 1971.
  6. Letter quoted in Harry Halén, Kulkumiehiä – Suomalais-itämainen vieraskirja, Helsinki: Otava, 1986, pp. 183-184, and translated to English by AR.
  7. Presumably refers to a leading Mongol temple in Central Asia such as the great Ablaikiit temple, now in ruins.
  8. Refers more likely to a Mongol hierarch of the Gelug school (e.g. the Jebtsundamba Khutuktu) than to the Dalai Lama in distant Tibet.
  9. Helsingfors: Svenska litteratursällskap i Finland, 1939, reprint 2008.
  10. Jarkko Jokinen, “Buddhalaisuuden historia Suomessa” (History of Buddhism in Finland, - before 2006), available online: www.buddha-dharma.info/art_historia.htm. This abridged and updated version is based on the original “Buddhalaisuuden historia Suomessa” written by Mahapanna (Mikael Niinimäki) to commemorate the 40 years anniversary of Friends of Buddhism in Finland. It was published in the Elonpyörä bulletin in 1987. The quotes are translated into English by AR.
  11. Versuch einer burjätischen Sprachlehre.
  12. Twelve volumes published 1853 – 1861.
  13. I.e. “Buddhism” in the Helsinki literary journal entitled Litteraturblad för allmän medborgerlig bildning, pp. 37-46.
  14. Indernas föreställningar om verldsskapelsen jemförda med Finnarnes (Indians’ Notions on the Creation of the World Compared with Those of the Finns), Helsinki 1863.
  15. According to an oral communication from Prof. Klaus Karttunen (Helsinki 29 January 2009) the famous French actress and Tibet traveler Alexandra David-Neel had arguments with Finnish missionaries in the Sikkim Kalimpong area, and these are depicted in Artturi Pylkkänen’s apologetic book Serving the Lord at the Foot of the Himalayas (Mestarin palveluksessa Himalajan juurella), published in the 1940s. Finnish missionary activities continued there a while beyond 1920.
  16. Kalmyk dictionary, published in 1935.
  17. Korean Grammar published 1939 in Helsinki.
  18. All 63 thangkas are reproduced and described by Harry Halén in his monograph Mirrors of the Void, Helsinki 1987, pp. 16-141.
  19. Journal de la Société Finno-Ougrienne, Helsinki 1911, vol. 27.
  20. The Mannerheim collections in Helsinki include nearly 1 200 Central Asian ethnographic items at the Museum of Cultures, some 2 000 text fragments housed at the National Library, and 1 370 photographs housed at the Archives for Prints.
  21. I.e. Continental Europe south of the Baltic and North Seas.
  22. Helsingfors; Finska Vetenskapssocieteten 1996.
  23. Buddhalainen Katkismus.
  24. Ervast’s Finnish rendering is of F. Max Mueller’s English translation of the Dhammapada.
  25. For instance circa 10 birth-legends from the Avadana-sataka were treated during autumn term 1914 (Harry Halén, Janua Orientis, Helsinki: Helsinki University 1990, p. 44).
  26. Helsinki 2008.
  27. Oral communication from Prof. Klaus Karttunen (Helsinki 29 January 2009).
  28. Buddhismin sanoma, 1944.
  29. Lay name: Heinrich Zimmermann.
  30. Zen – idän sanoma valaistumisesta, 1944.
  31. Two of the best sources on Friends of Buddhism are: René Gothóni, “Buddhismen i Finland”, - Aktuella religiösa rörelser i Finland, Åbo 1981, pp.137-146; and Jarkko Jokinen, “Buddhalaisuuden historia Suomessa” (History of Buddhism in Finland), date of composition uncertain (before 2006), available online: www.buddha-dharma.info/art_historia.htm.
  32. Buddhismin ystävät – Buddhismens vänner: Säännöt.
  33. Buddhismen – Läran om befrielsen.
  34. Buddhan opin ydin.
  35. Karma ja jälleensyntyminen.
  36. Dhamman perusaatteet, translated into Finnish by Mauno Nordberg, Lahti 1949.
  37. Buddhan sana, translated into Finnish by Leo Hildén, 1951.
  38. Dhammapada – hyveen sanoja, Porvoo 1953.
  39. “Prolegomena to an Edition of the Pancaraksa”, - Studia Orientalia, Helsinki 1954, article no. 12, pp. 48.
  40. “Le Mdo-mang conservé à la Bibliothèque Universitaire de Helsinki”, 1952.
  41. “A Second Fragment of the Subhasitaratnanidhi in Mongolian Quadratic Script”, 1954; and “Fragmente des mongolischen Subhasitaratanidhi in Quadratschrift”, 1955.
  42. Maharaksa Mahamantranusarini nama mahayanasutram raksakalyam, the first academic thesis or dissertation on a Buddhist theme accepted in Finland.
  43. Called in Finnish parlance: Aasian ja Afrikan kielten ja kulttuurien laitos (AAKL).
  44. Jatakain pantheoni, the first academic thesis or dissertation on a Buddhist theme accepted in Finland.
  45. Suffice it to mention Haléns’ extensive publication series wryly entitled ‘Storehouse of Forgetfulness’ (Unholan aitta, Helsinki 1994 -) and two books: a catalogue of 350 years of Oriental studies in Finland (Janua Orientis: Luettelo Aasian ja Afrikan kielten ja kulttuurien opettajista ja opetuksesta Turun Akatemiassa sekä Helsingin yliopistossa 1640 – 1990, Helsinki 1990); and secondly a new edition of Mannerheim’s massive monograph Across Asia from West to East (I, Helsinki 2008), revised by Halén with many place name corrections.
  46. “Oh, ye monks strive onwards diligently!” Exhibition of Buddhist ritual objects, Helsinki City Art Museum 1980.
  47. “Tibet – Culture and Art”, Museum of Art and Design, Helsinki 1998.
  48. Karttunen’s corrected translation is based on Hugo Valvanne’s Dhammapada translation from 1953.
  49. Idän viisautta, Porvoo 1977, pp. 307-322.
  50. Buddhist residential temples are called wat in Thai language.
  51. Buddhan jäljillä, Helsinki 1978, pp. 75-106.
  52. Ibid., pp. 51-74.
  53. Rendered into Finnish as Buddha – elämä ja teot, Helsinki 2002, 271 pp.
  54. At present over 200 Finnish firms have production lines in the PRC. Over 250 employees are engaged in Nokia’s research and development in Chengdu, while Kone Inc., the world’s second largest producer of escalators has a trade representation office in Lhasa. Government Ministers, NGOs and courses in Tibetan are monitored closely.
  55. (“Tulku”) sPrul sku Padma dBang rgyal Rin po che (alias sTag lung rTse sprul) is a highly regarded Lama of the Ancient (rNying ma) order of Tibetan Buddhism. He is the founder-director of Centre d’études de Chanteloube in France, founder of the Padmakara Translation Group, etc.
  56. The original blockprint Edition of the lHa sa bKa’ ‘gyur in 100 volumes was completed in 1934 and published at the Zhol par khang in the Tibetan capital, hence the nickname ‘Lhasa Zhöl Kanjur’. The Tibetan Cultural Printing Press in Dharamsala, India had started printing photo-offset reprints of it by 1993. The donated Kanjur must be one of these reprints.
  57. Aktuella religiösa rörelser i Finland (New Religious Movements in Finland), Åbo: Åbo Akademi, pp. 133-166.
  58. See AR’s review article, “Theravada Monasticism Today”, - Temenos (Helsinki), 1982, vol. 18, pp. 118-125.
  59. Patimokkha i strukturanalytisk belysning. En religionshistorisk studie av de buddhistiska klosterreglerna i Suttavibhanga (Patimokkha in the Light of Structural Analysis. A religio-historical study of Buddhist monastic rules in the Suttavibhanga), Åbo: Åbo Akademi.
  60. Mikael Niinimäki known later under the pen or initiatic names: Mikael Tenzin Dönden, Mahapanna, Tae Hye sunim.
  61. René Gothóni & Mikael Tenzin Dönden (eds.), Bodhipuun juurella. Kokemuksia buddhalaisluostareista, Helsinki: Otava, 1984. See in this connection AR’s book review in Temenos (Helsinki), vol. 20, 1984, p. 145.
  62. Tara (Tibetan: sGrol-ma) is a Saviouress-Bodhisattva much beloved by Tibetan Buddhists.
  63. Mahapanna (aka Mikael Niinimäki), ”Buddhalaisuuden historia Suomessa”, - Elonpyörä, 1987. Some years later Jarkko Jokinen wrote an updated abridgement of that article. It bears the same title and is available online: www.buddha-dharma.info/art_historia.htm. In 2006 Jarkko Jokinen translated the article into English as “History of Buddhism in Finland” and included an Appendix with a list of Finland’s Buddhist groups, statistics on Finland’s immigrant Asians, and brief introductions to several representative Buddhists and groups. Thanks to Mikko Koponen I received a copy of Jokinen’s as of yet unpublished article.
  64. Thich Nhat Hanh, Puhtaan maan polulla (On the Pureland Path), Helsinki 1996, 215 pp.
  65. “Kummajainen kaukaa eli buddhalainen hermeneutiikka”, - Teologinen Aikakauskirja, 1989, no. 4.
  66. “Jumalaton tyhjyys. Nagarjunan teismin kritiikki”, - Teologinen Aikakauskirja, 1992, no. 2.
  67. Perimmäiset kuvat. Buddhan elämäkerran merkitys Theravadan kaanonissa, Helsinki 1988.
  68. Sanat kuin raja. Zen idässä ja lännessä, Helsinki 1991.
  69. Ilo pitkästä itkusta. Buddhalaisuus ja terapiat, Helsinki 1993.
  70. The four scriptures studied were the Lotus Sutra, Samdhinirmocana-sutra, Mulamadhyamaka-karika, and Ratnagotravibhaga, alternatively called the Uttaratantra-sastra.
  71. E.g.: I. Pyysiäinen, How Religion Works: Towards a new cognitive science of religion, Leiden: Brill, 2001.
  72. The best all-round history of international studies is still the somewhat dated presentation by J.W. de Jong, A Brief History of Buddhist Studies in Europe and America, Delhi 1987.
  73. Ikkuna thangkan maailmaan (Window to the World of Thangkas), Helsinki 2002.
  74. Timo Klemola, Portiton portti ja muita zen-teksejä, Tampere 1991.
  75. Timo Klemola, Liikunta tienä kohti varsinaista itseä. Liikunnan projektien fenomenologinen tarkastelu, Licentiate thesis for Tampere University 1990.
  76. Taidon filosofia – filosofin taito, 2nd ed., Tampere: Tampere University Press, 2005, 302 pp.
  77. Timo Klemola, Ilpo Jalamo, and others, Asahi – health-exercise for all (Asahi –terveysliikuntaa kaikille), Helsinki: Edita, 2007.
  78. Johannes Gabriel Granö (1882 – 1956) became Professor of geography at Helsinki University and Chancellor of Turku University.
  79. Sakari Pälsi (1882 – 1965) became head of the National Museum’s Prehistory section and honorary Professor.
  80. Maija Butters interviewed in Helsinki University’s UH journal, i.e. Universitas Helsingiensis, spring 2003, also online: Helsinki.fi/uh/1-2003/juttu4.shtml.
  81. Dr. D.S. Ruegg is an authority on Madhyamaka philosophy, the Tathagatagarbha theory, Tibetan savant Bu ston, etc. Ruegg held professorial posts in Leiden, Seattle, and Hamburg, as well as served as President of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. He is presently Research Professor at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.
  82. One Tibetan Ph.D. student who complained about the atmosphere at a dept. of comparative religion chose to return early to Chinese-ruled Tibet.
  83. For an interesting perspective on the reception India-inspired religious movements have received in Finland, see Martti Junnonaho, “Vieraiden uskontojen vastustuksesta” (On Opposition against Foreign Religions), - Suomen Antropologi, 1983, no. 2.
  84. Finland’s two state Churches are the majority Evangelical Lutheran and small Eastern Orthodox Church.
  85. Erkki Tuomioja, “Teologit ulos yliopistosta!” (Theologians out of the University!), - Iltasanomat (Helsinki) online, 4.1.2008.
  86. The 14th Dalai Lama has visited Helsinki Finland thrice: in 1989, 1998 and 2005. Minister of Culture Claes Andersson did meet HH in 1998, but no minister dared meet HH in 2005. Note that C.G. Mannerheim went to great lengths to meet the 13th Dalai Lama in 1908.
  87. Goldsmith Oppi Untracht (1922 – 2008) co-authored with Harry Halén the exhibition catalogue, Tibet – Culture and Art, Helsinki: Museum of Art and Design, 1998. Untracht regretfully died in summer of 2008, and it is unclear what has become of his remarkable collection of Tibetan sacral instruments.
  88. Built up by Pekka “Maitreya” Airaksinen in SW Finland.
  89. dGe bshes lHa rams pa (Doctor of divinity) Khra rabs sPrul sku, XI (Rin po che).
  90. A kong sPrul sku, II (Rin po che).
  91. Full ordination name: Ani Karma Sherab Zangmo.
  92. Biokustannus, Dharmakustannus and Helsinki FWBO.
  93. Basam Books and Like Kustannus.
  94. Otava, Tammi, WSOY, etc.
  95. ”Canon Redactor Bu ston’s Advice on Publishing, Introduced, translated and edited with annotations”, - Studia Orientalia Tartuensis, Series Nova, vol.3, Tartu: Tartu University Press, 2008.
  96. sPrul sku Grags pa Rin po che, III.
  97. Re Tibetan academic titles including the mkhan-po, see Alpo Ratia, ”Towards a History of Tibetan Learning”, - Acta Orientalia (Copenhagen), 2003, vol. 64, pp. 247-252.