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Belgium officially recognises Buddhism for first time

14:37 20/03/2023

Belgium has officially recognised Buddhism as a "philosophy of life", affording it all the privileges and protections of the seven other philosophies or religious practices in the country.

There are currently estimated to be around 150,000 followers of Buddhism in Belgium, Bruzz reports.

The Buddhist Union of Belgium applied for official recognition of Buddhism as a non-denominational worldview back in 2006.

“We finally see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Carlo Luyckx, president of the Buddhist Union of Belgium. “Thankfully, Buddhists are masters of patience and perseverance.”

Luyckx wants to move the secretariat to the Chinese Pavilion in Laeken following the recognition.

“We are currently in talks with the Régie des Bâtiments to see what is possible, but that seems to us to be the place par excellence,” said Luyckx.

The benefits to such a designation include entitlement to federal funding for honing its organisational structure and the money for extra consultants in Buddhist centres. These consultants are paid a salary just like priests or imams.

Apart from the material benefits, recognition also means that Buddhists are placed on an equal footing with other philosophies such as Christianity and Islam. This means, for example, that prisoners can no longer be denied access to spiritual guidance from Buddhism.

“A prison sentence is an excellent time for detainees to reflect and we want to guide them in this,” Luyckx said. “We already have volunteers who do that, but until now prison management could refuse it.”

Luyckx is not only president of the Buddhist Union, but also a Brussels resident and former alderman of Saint-Gilles. He discovered Buddhism himself at the age of 15 and travelled to Scotland at 17, where a Tibetan priest initiated him.

Last year, Luyckx wrote a book about his two great passions: politics and Buddhism. The foreword to that book was written by the spiritual leader of the Buddhists, the Dalai Lama.

“I had met him several times and with him you really notice the importance of humour and putting things into perspective in Buddhism - a very funny man,” Luyckx said.

The announcement of the recognition came from the office of federal justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open VLD).

A draft bill to recognise Buddhism in Belgium, tabled by the Liberal Party, was approved by the Council of Ministers on Friday afternoon. The bill finally responds to the 2006 recognition request from the Belgian Buddhist Union (UBB).

Belgium has six officially recognised religions: Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish, Anglican, Protestant-Evangelical and Islam.

In addition to these, there is the "philosophy of life" category which includes "organised" secularism, which has been recognised as such since 2002.

This is the category the UBB asked to be registered under, because Buddhism does not have a god like the other recognised religions.

Written by Helen Lyons