Listen to the voice of Buddha: copy the Scots

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The Independent Online

With high-profile cheerleaders like Richard Gere and Keanu Reeves - not to mention the endorsement of Hollywood's most glamorous young couple Orlando Bloom and Kate Bosworth - it is hardly surprising that the allure of Buddhism continues to grow.

Yesterday, Buddhism in Britain received another boost as the international spiritual superstar, the Dalai Lama, arrived in the UK on the latest of his goodwill missions. The exiled Tibetan leader was visiting Scotland where new figures show - in its largest city at least - that the Eastern credo is the fastest growing religion.

In Glasgow, according to figures from the 2001 census, the number of people describing themselves as Buddhist soared by 28.5 per cent. The growing number means there are nearly 1,200 Buddhists in the city - more than the declining Jewish community, and only slightly fewer than the number of Hindus. The Muslim population by contrast, rose by just 0.7 per cent.

The census also reveals that Buddhism is more popular than Sikhism or Judaism in Wales, and lags only 0.2 per cent behind Judaism in England. In Westminster in central London, 1 per cent considers itself Buddhist, a figure matched in Cambridge.

According to Dr Phramaha Laow Panyasiri of the Buddhavirhara Temple in Birmingham, the appeal goes beyond mere celebrity endorsement. "If you look at the history of religion in Britain you see that people became very disillusioned by wars between other religions. But there are no laws in Buddhism and it is looking for peace and how to grow more peace between people," he said. "Buddhism works in people's daily lives - it is reasonable and practical which is why it appeals so much in the West, especially Britain. "People have lost their peace - they may have material wealth but they have no model for living. Then they find Buddhism, which teaches them how to achieve inner happiness."

Buddhism is based on the teachings of the Buddha, Sikddhartha Gautama, a prince from the Indian sub- continent who lived 500 years before Christ. It spread through Asia, only reaching Britain and the West many centuries later. It has more than 350 million adherents, the central tenet of whose faith is to put an end to suffering through the realisation of truth. Its principles of not harming any living things and karma (the cosmic law of cause and effect) struck a chord with the 1960s counter-culture.

Paradoxically, its simple, non-material message has also chimed with some of the world's wealthiest people. As well as actors, musicians such as REM's Michael Stipe, Tina Turner and the Beastie Boy Adam Yauch have all spoken of its influence.

The Chinese invasion of Tibet and the exile of the Dalai Lama has also proved a powerful and fashionable rallying point. During his speech to the Scottish Parliament yesterday, the Dalai Lama, who has just returned from a 19-day visit to America, held up the nation's devolved powers as a model which could be used to help give autonomy to Tibet.

He renewed his call for dialogue with the Chinese authorities. "Up to now the stability and unity are just superficial, under force or under gun. I think the Chinese government's main priority is stability, unity and prosperity," he said.

"We feel that our approach, meaningful autonomy, provides more satisfaction to Tibetan people. As a result, stability and unity and prosperity become more meaningful."