Buddhism in Aotearoa New Zealand: Multiple Sources and Diverse Forms





Aotearoa New Zealand, Buddhism in New Zealand, contemporary Buddhists, contemporary Buddhism, immigration from Asia


This article presents a provisional survey of Buddhists and Buddhist organizations in Aotearoa/New Zealand, identifying their key characteristics in terms of national origin, ethnicity, and areas of geographical concentration. We draw on three decades of the New Zealand census (1991-2018) to analyze demographic data about those who identify as Buddhist, and information from the NZ Charities Register to identify general characteristics of the diverse range of Buddhist organizations in the country. Based on this demographic data, we identify three main types of Buddhist institutions: (1) centers/temples serving heritage or “migrant” communities from Asian countries with Buddhist heritage; (2) centers which we refer to as “Pākehā/Multi-ethnic” because they serve newer Buddhists (“converts”) who are primarily but not exclusively Pākehā (NZ European), and (3) “multi-ethnic” organizations that include varying combinations of heritage and non-heritage Buddhists. Within each of the three categories we see diverse organizational forms and streams of distinctive Buddhist traditions, including sectarian, ethnic, and hybrid forms, each of which have contributed to a diverse religious landscape in significant ways. Most Buddhist centers are in urban areas, with 70 percent in or near Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. The main Buddhist traditions are almost equally represented across these institutions with 35 percent identified as Mahayana, 32 percent as Theravada, and 35 percent as Vajrayana (and 0.7% as mixed). The number of Buddhists in New Zealand has increased over the past three decades from 12,705 to 52,779, and approximately 80 percent identify with at least one of the Asian ethnic groups. Buddhists constitute only 1.1 percent of the total population, with at least 134 centers of varying sizes across the country. However, Buddhism may be exerting a cultural influence beyond these numbers, as recent research identified Buddhists as the “most trusted” religious group in contemporary New Zealand. In presenting this preliminary survey, we aim to provide a base for more in-depth investigations.

Author Biographies

Sally McAra, University of Auckland

Dr. Sally McAra is the author of several publications on Buddhism in Australia and New Zealand, including Land of Beautiful Vision: Making a Buddhist Sacred Place in New Zealand (University of Hawai’i Press, 2007). Her doctorate (2009) investigated the construction of a major Tibetan Buddhist stupa in rural Victoria, Australia. Her research interests center on Buddhism outside of Asia. Sally is part of the “Buddhism in Australia” research network, and is an honorary research fellow in Theological and Religious Studies at the University of Auckland. She is also a student of Zen and is a member of the New Zealand Buddhist Council.

Mark R. Mullins, University of Auckland

Mark R. Mullins is Professor of Japanese Studies and Director of the Japan Studies Centre at the University of Auckland. He completed his postgraduate studies in the sociology of religion and East Asian traditions at McMaster University (PhD 1985) and was engaged in academic work in Japan for several decades. His publications include studies of Japanese Buddhism in Canada, indigenous Christian movements in Japan, and religious responses to disasters and social crisis. His most recent work, Yasukuni Fundamentalism: Japanese Religions and the Politics of Restoration (University of Hawai’i Press, 2021), examines religion and nationalism in postwar Japan.




How to Cite

McAra, Sally, and Mark R. Mullins. 2022. “Buddhism in Aotearoa New Zealand: Multiple Sources and Diverse Forms”. Journal of Global Buddhism 23 (2):161-84. https://doi.org/10.26034/lu.jgb.2022.1996.