First Buddhist Cemetery Opens in Eastern Germany
Following a four-year struggle by the local Vietnamese community, the first Buddhist cemetery in eastern Germany opened on 27 September in the city of Dresden, although in a nod to political correctness the traditional Buddhist swastika, a symbol of auspiciousness, is notable only for its absence. The 2,000-square-metre burial ground is otherwise replete with Buddhist imagery. A 10-tonne granite statue of the Buddha stands as the focal point of the site at the hub of an eight-spoked Dharma wheel—one of the oldest symbols of Buddhism.
“When you visit Buddhist burial grounds in Asia, you see swastikas everywhere,” said Ding Linger, a spokesperson for the Vietnamese Buddhist Centre in Dresden. "It is an ancient symbol of rebirth in the Eastern world that long predates Buddhism. But Buddhism teaches us to avoid extremes and seek balance in life. For this reason, we decided not have swastikas in our burial ground. We wanted to avoid misunderstandings; in Europe there is widespread ignorance about the Eastern meaning of the symbol.” (The Local)
Linger noted that the graveyard was not exclusively for the use of the Vietnamese community, but was open to anyone who identified as a Buddhist, regardless of their ethnicity or the tradition to which they adhered.
He observed that the burial ground was a long-overdue addition to the city, mainly because Buddhism does not yet receive the same state recognition as Judaism, Catholicism, or Evangelical Christianity in Germany. “It’s been needed for 40 years since Vietnamese people first came to East Germany,” Linger added. (The Local)
Numbering about 100,000, Vietnamese make up the largest immigrant population in eastern Germany, of whom some 7,000 live in Dresden. Around 85 percent of the Vietnamese population identifies as Buddhist or are affiliated with Buddhism.
The burial ground also stands as a symbol of religious tolerance that Buddhists in Dresden hope will mitigate some of the negative publicity the city has acquired recently as a result of far-right protests and anti-immigrant marches organized by far-right groups over the past year.
The swastika is considered a sacred and auspicious symbol in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism, and has been used as a decorative element by numerous cultures since at least the Neolithic period, which ended between 4,500 and 2,000 BCE. Despite its adoption by the Nazi Party in Germany prior to World War II, the swastika continues to be widely used as a religious symbol in Buddhism and Hinduism.