Buddhism Around The World


Buddhism in Cambodia


Buddhism is deeply woven into the cultural, spiritual, and social fabric of Cambodia, with approximately 95% of the population identifying as Theravada Buddhists. The religion influences every aspect of Cambodian life, from daily practices to national festivals, reflecting its historical significance and ongoing relevance.


Buddhism's roots in Cambodia trace back to the 3rd century BCE when missionaries from India introduced the faith. However, it wasn't until the 5th century CE that Buddhism began to gain prominence, coexisting with Hinduism. During the Khmer Empire (9th to 15th centuries), Buddhism thrived alongside Hinduism, with King Jayavarman VII (1181-1218) being a notable proponent who declared Mahayana Buddhism as the state religion. By the 13th century, Theravada Buddhism began to dominate, eventually becoming the state religion and supplanting other forms.

Buddhism not only flourished within the Khmer Empire but also influenced Khmer culture, art and architecture. Buddhism remarked and integral part of Cambodian culture during the colonial rule of the French. The sangha and the community of Buddhist monks, played an important role in promoting Cambodian identity & culture during this period.


In Cambodia, Theravada Buddhism is the predominant sect. This form of Buddhism emphasizes the Pali Canon as its scriptural foundation and focuses on monastic life, meditation, and the pursuit of enlightenment. Although Mahayana Buddhism had a historical presence, particularly during the reign of Jayavarman VII, it is now minimal compared to Theravada. There are also small communities of Vietnamese and Chinese Mahayana Buddhists within Cambodia.


Buddhist festivals in Cambodia are major events that blend religious observance with cultural traditions. Key festivals include:

1. Meak Bochea: Celebrating the teachings of Buddha, this festival involves candlelight processions and sermons in pagodas.

2. Visak Bochea: Marking the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha, this is the most significant Buddhist festival, featuring processions, offerings, and prayers.

3. Pchum Ben: A 15-day festival to honor deceased ancestors, where Cambodians visit pagodas and make food offerings to monks.

4. Buddhist Lent (Vassa): A three-month period during the rainy season when monks retreat for meditation and study. It ends with the Kathina ceremony, where laypeople offer robes to monks.


The primary scriptures of Theravada Buddhism in Cambodia are the Pali Canon, known as the Tipitaka. This extensive collection of texts includes the Vinaya Pitaka (monastic rules), Sutta Pitaka (teachings of Buddha), and Abhidhamma Pitaka (philosophical and doctrinal analysis). These texts are integral to the religious education of monks and are often recited during ceremonies and festivals.

Famous Temples and Monasteries

Cambodia is home to numerous historic and revered temples and monasteries, including:

1. Angkor Wat: Originally a Hindu temple, it later became a Buddhist site and is now a symbol of Cambodia.

2. Bayon Temple: Known for its smiling stone faces, this Mahayana Buddhist temple reflects the transition from Hinduism to Buddhism.

3. Wat Phnom: Located in Phnom Penh, it is a significant historical and religious site, founded in 1372.

4. Wat Botum: One of Phnom Penh's most important temples, it has been a center of Cambodian Buddhism for centuries.

5. Wat Langka: Founded in 1442, this temple in Phnom Penh serves as a prominent educational institution for monks.

Present Status

Buddhism in Cambodia today is both a spiritual guide and a social force. Despite the devastation of the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979), which decimated the Buddhist clergy and infrastructure, the religion has experienced a resurgence. Monasteries and pagodas have been rebuilt, and Buddhist education is thriving once again. Monks play a crucial role in community life, providing spiritual guidance, education, and social services. There are more than 400 temples and 500 pagodas in Cambodia with Angkor wat being the largest of the temples.

Government-Recognized Organization

The leading government-recognized Buddhist organization in Cambodia is the Ministry of Culture and Religions. This ministry oversees religious affairs, supports the activities of Buddhist institutions, and ensures the preservation and promotion of Cambodia's Buddhist heritage. Another significant body is the Supreme Sangha Council, which governs monastic discipline and ordination standards.

Buddhism remains a cornerstone of Cambodian identity, influencing its values, traditions, and way of life, ensuring the continued vibrancy and resilience of this ancient faith in the modern world. Buddhism is the state religion and is referenced in the motto of the Kingdom of Cambodia: "Nation, Religion, King".