Buddhism spread to Southeast Asia by the work of Buddhist missionaries from China and India who helped establish the religion in the countries of the region. Although several Buddhist traditions are practiced in the region, Theravāda and Mahāyāna Buddhism are the most popular Buddhist traditions followed here. Although the latter was more dominant in the past, the former is currently gathering a greater number of followers. Here, we have listed the six countries of Southeast Asia where Buddhism is the religion of the majority of the country’s population.
Located in the Indochinese peninsula, Thailand is home to a population of 69 million people living in an area of 513,000 square km. Theravada Buddhism is the religion practiced by the majority of the Thai population and is integrated into the culture and identity of the country. 94.6% of the population of Thailand is affiliated with the Buddhist faith. Muslims account for 4.9% of the nation’s population. Christians, Sikhs, and Hindus are some of the other religious minorities living in the country.
Singapore is a small city-state located at the Malay Peninsula’s tip. Buddhism is the most popular religion practiced in Singapore with about 33% of the population adhering to the religion. Christianity, Islam, Taoism, and Hinduism are the other most-practiced religions of the country. The proportion of Buddhists in Singapore’s population has decreased between 2000 and 2010 while that of Christians, Taoists, and non-believers have increased. Most of Singapore’s Buddhist population are of Chinese descent. The Mahayana tradition of Buddhism is the most popular form of the religion that is practiced here. However, monasteries of all three major Buddhist traditions are present in the country.
Laos, located in the Indochinese peninsula, is home to a population of 7.2 billion people distributed through an area of 220,000 square km. Nearly all ethnic Lao are affiliated to Theravada Buddhism. The other popular religion in the country is the Laotian folk religion. A small proportion of the population also practices Mahayana Buddhism.
Located in the Indian Ocean, the external territory of Australia, Christmas Island occupies an area of 135 square km and houses a population of about 2,000 people. Malaysian Chinese is the dominant ethnic group here. 75% of the population of Christmas Island are Buddhists. Christians and Muslims account for 12% and 10% of the population of the Christmas Island.
Located on the Indochina Peninsula, Cambodia covers an area of 181,035 square km and hosts a population of 15 million. 95% of the country’s population practice Theravada Buddhism which is the official religion of the nation. The Buddhism followed in Cambodia is deeply influenced by Hinduism, traditional religions, and others. About 4,392 monasteries are spread throughout the country. The majority of the ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese living in the country follow Mahayana Buddhism.
Myanmar is a southeast Asian nation that houses a population of 51 million people as of 2014, in an area of 676,578 square km. About 80% to 89% of the population of Myanmar practice Buddhism. Theravāda Buddhism is the most popular Buddhist tradition followed in this country. Buddhist celebrations are held on a grand scale in the country. Followers of other religious faiths, especially Muslims and Christians face discrimination here. Only Buddhists are allowed to hold government and military posts in the country. The Rohingya Muslims are regarded to be the victims of the most recent case of religious persecution in the country and many have been forced to flee to the neighboring countries, especially Bangladesh.