Buddhism fastest growing religion in Australia

In Australia, Buddhism is a small but growing religion. According to the 2006 census, 2.1 percent of the total population of Australia, or 418, 749 people, identified as Buddhist. It was also the fastest-growing religion by percentage, having increased its number of adherents by 79 percent since the previous census in 1996. Buddhism is the second largest religion in the country, after Christianity.

The first clear example of Buddhist settlement in Australia dates to 1848. However, there has been speculation from some anthropologists that there may have been contact hundreds of years earlier; in the book Aboriginal Men of High Degree, A.P. Elkin cites what he believes is evidence that traders from Indonesia may have brought fleeting contact of Buddhism and Hinduism to areas near modern-day Dampier. Elkin interpreted a link between Indigenous Australian culture and Buddhist ideas such as Reincarnation. He argued this link could have been brought through contact with Macassan traders. There was also speculation due to reports of Chinese relics appearing in northern Australia dating to the 15th century, although it may have been brought much later through trade rather than earlier exploration.

In 1848, the first large group of Chinese to come to Australia came as part of gold rush most of whom stayed briefly for prospecting purposes rather than mass migration. In 1856, a temple was established in South Melbourne by the secular Sze Yap group. This temple was also used for Taoism, Confucianism, various cultural deities and even astrological activities. However, no clerics from China ever came to Australia, and the temple eventually declined and disappeared by the end of the century.

The first purely Buddhist group to arrive in Australia were a troupe of acrobats and jugglers from Japan who toured in 1867. More arrived throughout the century, mostly involved in the pearling industry in northern Australia, reaching an estimate of 3600 on Thursday Island, and also in Broome and Darwin, Northern Territory.

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