The roots of Buddhism in Lithuania can be traced to the 20th century, although the time of its first introduction there remains unknown. Zen Buddhism practiced in Lithuania today originated in Korea. There are a few active communities across the country including Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipėda, Šiauliai, Panevėžys and Šakiai.
The first public Dharma talk in Lithuania was given in Kaunas in 1990 by Pawel Karppowich, the Polish student of Seung Sahn. The Kaunas Zen Kwan Um center was officially registered in April 1991, soon followed by a similar group in Vilnius, established after the visit of the Zen Master. The Vilnius Kwan Um Zen community grew under the support of Zen Master Wu Bong‘s frequent visits.
Zen Master Su Bong Sunim, the guiding teacher of the Hong Kong Kwan Um Sangha, opened the first Zen Temple, Ko Bong Sa, in Vilnius in 1993. Daily Zen practice is held at the Kaunas Zen Kwan Um Center since 2007.
Zen Buddhism in Lithuania today
The 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso has visited Lithuania twice and met with the President Valdas Adamkus and the Catholic Cardinal Audrys Juozas Bačkis. In 2009 supporters of Tibetan independence suggested giving its name to one of the parks in Vilnius as a gratitude for the Dalai Lama’s support for the Lithuanian independence movement of the 1990s.
Probably the most prominent Lithuanian Zen Buddhist is a TV journalist and a former head of the international non-governmental organization Transparency International, Rytis Juozapavičius, who is also the abbot of Vilnius Zen Center, Ko Bong Sa.
Friends of Tibet in Lithuania celebrated the 80th Birthday of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama on June 19 in Vilnius. This celebration became a part of the huge traditional cultural event called “Culture Night” which was held in Vilnius that night. The citizens of Vilnius and the guests of the city had a unique opportunity to attend different cultural places and various performances overnight; streets of Vilnius were therefore crowded till dawn.
It was a good opportunity to invite a lot of different people to celebrate the jubilee of His Holiness and to present Tibetan culture a few cultural events under the common name “The House of Tibet at the Culture Night” were organized by Tibet supporters. The visitors had an opportunity to paint mandalas, to taste traditional salt Tibetan tea and some snacks, to watch documentaries about Tibetan culture, Tibetan political situation, relations between Lithuania and Tibet and visits of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama to Lithuania. The last film was screened before 4 AM and a lot of people watched the program. The event was arranged at Tibet Square which was established by friends of Tibet in the popular district of artists and art called Uzupis in 2010. His Holiness consecrated the Tibet Square and the “Mandala” sculptural composition in the center of the Square during his last visit to Lithuania in 2013.
When His Holiness celebrated the 80th birthday on June 22 (according to Tibetan lunar calendar) in Dharamsala, Tibet supporters with Tibet flags and banners reminded the Tibet issue to Vice Premier of the People’s Republic of China, Zhang Gaoli, who visited Vilnius those days.It’s worthwhile to remind here about some coincidences in the history of Lithuania and Tibet and some facts concerned with relations between Lithuania and Tibet in recent decades. As Tibet by PRC in 1949, Lithuania was occupied by the Soviets in 1940. The same narration was used by occupants in both cases — Lithuanians were “liberated,” as well as Tibetans. After decades of struggle and suffers under occupation Lithuania declared independence on March 11, 1990. On April 3 — after 24 days — the Chairman of Lithuanian Parliament (Seimas) Prof. Vytautas Landsbergis received a telegram from His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. His Holiness congratulated Lithuania on the independence and expressed his strong support of the peaceful struggle which was chosen by Lithuanians on their way to freedom.
In October 1991, His Holiness visited Lithuania for the first time and addressed Lithuanian people at the Lithuanian Parliament (Seimas). It was a real and a very strong support for young Independence – very few countries recognized Lithuania at that time and the visit of world known person, the Nobel Prize winner was really important for the return of Lithuania to the world map. Since then we have strong Tibet support traditions in our country – there was the Group of Parliamentarian Relations with Tibet in the Lithuanian Parliament during all years of independence. And since 1994 we have had the informal Tibet Freedom Movement, which was initiated by the famous late Lithuanian writer — the author of the trilogy about Tibet — Jurga Ivanauskaite. After the first visit in 1991, His Holiness visited Lithuania two more times in 2001and 2013. And every time thousands of Lithuanian people came to listen to his public talks and just to enjoy meeting with him.