The beginnings of our Buddhist community Dharmaloka may be traced back to far-off 1977 when a small group of yoga and martial arts devotees - brought together by the Mushindokai association - decided to take the Three Refugees and to follow a Buddhist path as their life choice. At the beginning of the 1980s and in conditions that were adverse rather than favourable, one of those early enthusiasts, Žarko Andričević, founded the first group to investigate original Buddhist texts and explore meditation practice. In that period the foundations were laid for our Dharmaloka community as it is today. Some of the early practitioners still make up the core of our community.
The group’s inspiration, earnestness and dedication resulted in the establishment of the first Buddhist centre in Croatia in the beginning of 1990s. The Centre in Markusevac was our home for more than five years. Although located on a suburban fringe and unsuitable for daily visits, the Centre had a library and a meditation hall, which was sufficient for regular study courses and extended periods of meditation. Having reached a new organizational shape, we became a member of the European Buddhist Union in 1993. We brought and assisted in bringing a number of relevant Buddhist teachers to Croatia, such as Ayang Rinpoche, Chan Master Sheng-Yen (Shifu), and His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Their visit came decades late if compared to the West, but at last people in our country had the opportunity to meet great teachers of Buddhism and listen to what they had to say on the nature of human life.
That was an exceptionally important period for our community. After the encounter of our teacher Žarko Andričević with Sheng Yen Shifu, and Shifu's visit to Zagreb, we decided to follow Chinese Chan/Zen in our practice. It should be mentioned that even though we had had some inclination towards the Sino-Japanese Mahayana tradition, our involvement in Buddhism in the period previous to meeting Shifu was of a more general nature. Therefore, the encounter with a living tradition, indeed the one being embodied in one of the greatest masters of Buddhism at that time, Chan Master Sheng Yen, breathed a new life into our community. Following that, in 1998, we founded a Buddhist Centre in downtown Zagreb and came within reach of all who wanted to explore the ancient Buddha's teaching and start following the methods of Chan/Zen.
The past fifteen years of the existence of the Buddhist Centre in Zagreb has been a mature and productive period in our history. Expressed in numbers, we organized over 70 Chan meditation practice courses (in Zagreb but also in the towns of Pula, Split, Šibenik, Celje, Belgrade, Berlin and Cape Cod), 30 cycles of lectures, 50 one-day meditation retreats, 30 three-day retreats, 3 five-day retreats and 25 seven day-retreats (or over 330 days of meditation retreat). We also held 14 seasonal seminars on the island of Krk and 15 seminars in Orebic (or almost 200 days of seminars). With four generations we launched and brought to completion an internationally certified programme for the training for zenyoga teachers. Three books have been published and made available to wider audiences: a translation of John Blofeld's Zen Teaching of Instantaneous Awakening published by Profil and a translation of Chan Master Sheng Yen's Subtle Wisdom published by Dharmaloka. The book Zenyoga: Developing Mindfulness Through Movement, authored by Karmen Mihalinec, was also published by Dharmaloka. Meditation groups were established in towns of Pula, Šibenik, Split and Celje in Slovenia. Members of our community attended retreats held by Chan Master Sheng Yen in Europe, USA and Taiwan. Twelve members of our community took the Bodhisattva vows, dedicating their noble aspirations to the welfare of other beings.
Our teacher, Žarko Andričević, received a rare recognition in 2001 by becoming one of Chan Master Sheng Yen’s Dharma Heirs. He has since become an established international Chan teacher, regularly leading retreats at the Dharma Drum Retreat Center in the USA and on occasion visiting other groups outside Croatia as a meditation retreat master. He is a regular member of the Conference of Western Teachers of Buddhism and an associate of the Global Peace Initiative of Women.
An activity worth mentioning is our cooperation in drafting the law on the legal status of religious communities in Croatia. Having spent a couple of years on that task, in 2004 we received the certificate of entry in the register of religious communities. Unfortunately, in reality this did not entail entitlement to the rights that are granted to other religious communities in Croatia. We can only hope that the Government of Croatia will one day give Buddhism in Croatia a status in line with the reputation of Buddhism worldwide and that it will cease to treat Buddhism as a third-rank spiritual movement.
Over the past few years we have planned to build a meditation centre, therefore, the forthcoming period will be dedicated to achieving that ambitious goal.