Berne, the de facto capital of Switzerland, earlier this month became the first city in the federal republic to establish a dedicated cemetery for Buddhists. An inauguration ceremony was held on 5 June attended by around 150 lay and monastic Buddhists to consecrate the new burial ground within the city’s Bremgarten cemetery.
The addition of a dedicated final resting place for Buddhists is part of the city’s ambition to offer comprehensive funeral and burial facilities that meet the needs and practices of the world’s five largest religious traditions. Bremgarten cemetery is already home to burial grounds for Bern’s Christian and Muslim populations, and the city also offers a cemetery for people of the Jewish faith. People of no religious affiliation can be buried in any of the city’s three cemeteries.
The city government next plans to dedicate a similar space for its Hindu community.
Out of a total population in 2016 of some 8.4 million people, there were an estimated 37,000 Buddhists living in Switzerland, of whom roughly a third were born in Thailand. About 66.9 per cent of the country’s population identify as Christian, with Islam representing 5.2 per cent and Judaism 0.3 per cent. Some 24.9 per cent of the population have no religious affiliation.
Despite a relatively short history in Switzerland, Buddhism has already established strong roots in the country through a number of buddhist temples and communities serving the Mahayana, Theravada, and Vajrayana traditions.
The renowned German-born Theravada monk Nyanatiloka Mahathera (1878–1957) had planned to establish a Buddhist monastery in Switzerland, but despite considerable effort was eventually forced to abandon the project due to ill-health. In 1977, Geshe Rabten Rinpoche (1921–86) founded the Rabten Choeling Centre, a Vajrayana monastery and study centre for monastics and lay Buddhists in Mont Pèlerin, while in 2003, a Thai Theravada temple, Wat Srinagarindravararam, was founded in Gretzenbach.
The Swiss Buddhist Union was established by the Czechoslovakian psychotherapist and Buddhist Mirko Fryba (1943–2016) in 1978 as an umbrella organisation for Buddhists and Buddhist communities in Switzerland, and has been a long-term member of the European Buddhist Union.