Buddhism Around The World


Buddhism in Malaysia


In Malaysia, Buddhism has a long history, dating back to around the 3rd century BCE. It was introduced through trade and cultural exchanges with India and other Southeast Asian regions. Over time, Buddhism became integrated into Malaysian society, particularly in regions like Penang, Kelantan, and Perak. Today, Buddhism is one of the major religions in Malaysia, practiced by a significant portion of the population, alongside Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and others.


Buddhism's history in Malaysia dates back over two millennia, with its introduction believed to have occurred through trade and cultural interactions with Indian and other Southeast Asian civilizations. Buddhism was introduced to the Malays and also to the people of the Malay Archipelago as early as 200 BCE. Written sources indicated that some 30 small Indianised states rose and fell in the Malay Peninsula. Malay-Buddhism began when Indian traders and priests traveling

the maritime routes and brought with them Indian concepts of religion, government, and the art.

For many centuries the peoples of the region, especially the royal courts, synthesised Indian and indigenous ideas including Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism and that shaped their political and cultural patterns. However, the Malay Kedah Kingdom denounced Indian religion after the king of Chola from Tamil Nadu attacked them in the early 11th century. The king of Kedah, Phra Ong Mahawangsa, was the first Malay ruler to denounce the traditional Indian religion; he converted to Islam, and in the 15th century, during the golden age of the Malacca Sultanate, the majority of Malays converted to Islam.

Over the centuries, Buddhism established itself as a significant religion in various parts of Malaysia, influencing art, architecture, and customs. It coexisted with other religions, contributing to the diverse religious landscape of the country. Today, Buddhism continues to thrive in Malaysia, with temples, rituals, and festivals playing an important role in the lives of its practitioners.


Theravada Buddhism: Theravada Buddhism: Emphasizes the original teachings of the Buddha as recorded in the Pali canon.

Mahayana Buddhism: Mahayana Buddhism emphasizes the idea of compassion and the potential for enlightenment for all beings. It is practiced by ethnic Chinese Malaysians and includes schools such as Pure Land Buddhism and Zen Buddhism.

Vajrayana Buddhism: Also known as Tibetan Buddhism, Vajrayana emphasizes esoteric teachings and practices, including rituals, mantras, and meditation techniques. It is followed by a small but significant Tibetan community in Malaysia.

Nichiren Buddhism: Nichiren Buddhism revolves around the teachings of the Japanese monk Nichiren, who emphasized the chanting of the Lotus Sutra to attain enlightenment. It has a presence among some ethnic Chinese communities in Malaysia.

Buddhist Festivals:

Vesak Day: This is the most important Buddhist festival in Malaysia, commemorating the birth, enlightenment, and death of Gautama Buddha. Celebrated on the full moon day of the lunar month of Vesakha (usually in May), devotees visit temples for prayers, offer food to monks, and participate in candlelight processions.

Nine Emperor Gods Festival: This Taoist and Buddhist festival, also known as the Nine Emperor Gods Festival or Nine Emperor Gods' Birthday, is celebrated by the Chinese community in Malaysia. It takes place over nine days during the ninth lunar month (usually in October) and involves strict vegetarianism, prayers, and ritualistic performances to honor the Nine Emperor Gods.

Pchum Ben: Celebrated by the Cambodian Buddhist community in Malaysia, Pchum Ben, also known as Ancestors' Day or the Festival of the Dead, is observed for 15 days during the tenth lunar month (typically in September or October). Devotees visit pagodas to offer food and prayers to their deceased relatives, seeking merit for them.

Kathina Ceremony: This Theravada Buddhist festival is observed at the end of the Vassa, or Buddhist Lent, usually in October or November. It involves the offering of robes and other requisites to monks who have completed the rainy season retreat. Devotees participate in merit-making activities and engage in acts of generosity.


Tripitaka (Pali Canon): The Tripitaka, also known as the Pali Canon, is the primary scripture in Theravada Buddhism. It comprises three "baskets" or collections: the Vinaya Pitaka (rules for monastic life), the Sutta Pitaka (discourses of the Buddha), and the Abhidhamma Pitaka (philosophical and psychological teachings). In Malaysia, Theravada Buddhist temples and monasteries often emphasize the study and recitation of the Tripitaka.

Mahayana Sutras: Mahayana Buddhism has a vast array of sutras attributed to the Buddha and other enlightened beings. These include foundational texts such as the Heart Sutra, Diamond Sutra, Lotus Sutra, and Amitabha Sutra. Mahayana practitioners in Malaysia study and recite these sutras as part of their religious practice, often in conjunction with chanting and meditation.

Tibetan Buddhist Texts: In Tibetan Buddhism, various texts are studied and revered, including the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bardo Thodol), the Kangyur (collection of Buddha's teachings), and the Tengyur (commentaries by Indian and Tibetan masters). Tibetan Buddhist communities in Malaysia engage in the study of these texts, often under the guidance of qualified teachers.

Nichiren Buddhist Texts: Nichiren Buddhism focuses on the Lotus Sutra as the ultimate teaching of the Buddha. The primary scripture in Nichiren Buddhism is the Lotus Sutra, which is recited and studied by followers in Malaysia, particularly within Nichiren Buddhist organizations.

Famous Temples and Monasteries:

Kek Lok Si Temple: Located in Penang, Kek Lok Si Temple is one of the largest Buddhist temples in Malaysia and Southeast Asia. It features a series of prayer halls, pagodas, and beautifully landscaped gardens. The towering Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas is a prominent landmark.

Thean Hou Temple: Situated in Kuala Lumpur, Thean Hou Temple is a six-tiered Chinese temple dedicated to the Goddess Tian Hou (Thean Hou). It is known for its elaborate architecture, intricate decorations, and panoramic views of the city skyline.

Sri Lanka Buddhist Temple: Also known as the Sentul Sri Lanka Buddhist Temple, this temple in Kuala Lumpur serves as a religious and cultural hub for the Sri Lankan community in Malaysia. It features traditional Sri Lankan architecture and hosts various religious ceremonies and cultural events.

Wat Chaiyamangalaram: Located in Penang, this Thai Buddhist temple is famous for its reclining Buddha statue, one of the largest in the world. The temple complex also includes colorful murals, statues of other Buddhist deities, and ornate pavilions.

Dhammikarama Burmese Temple: Situated in Penang, this Burmese Buddhist temple is renowned for its traditional Burmese architecture and richly decorated shrines. It is one of the oldest Burmese temples outside of Myanmar and hosts annual cultural festivals.

Nan Hua Temple: Located in Selangor, Nan Hua Temple is affiliated with the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist organization. It features classical Chinese architecture, a grand main hall, a towering pagoda, and expansive gardens for meditation and relaxation.

Sasanarakkha Buddhist Sanctuary (SBS): Nestled in the forested hills of Perak, SBS is a Theravada Buddhist monastery and meditation center. It offers retreats, meditation programs, and Dhamma teachings in a peaceful natural setting.

Present Status:

Buddhism continues to be one of the major religions in Malaysia, practiced by a significant portion of the population. While Islam is the official religion of Malaysia, Buddhism, along with other faiths, enjoys freedom of worship and is protected under the constitution.

Buddhist temples, monasteries, and meditation centers are active hubs of religious and cultural activities. They serve as places of worship, education, and community gatherings, offering opportunities for meditation, Dhamma teachings, and cultural events.

The practice of Buddhism in Malaysia is also influenced by modernization and globalization, with practitioners engaging in contemporary forms of religious expression, such as online Dhamma teachings, mindfulness workshops, and social welfare initiatives.

Overall, Buddhism maintains a significant presence in Malaysian society, contributing to the country's cultural diversity and religious pluralism. However, like other religions, Buddhism faces challenges such as demographic shifts, secularization trends, and socio-political developments that impact its role and influence in Malaysian society.

Government Recognized Organizations:

One of the prominent government-recognized Buddhist organizations in Malaysia is the Malaysian Buddhist Association (MBA), also known as Persatuan Buddhist Malaysia in Malay. The MBA is a non-profit organization that aims to promote Buddhism, foster unity among Buddhist communities, and engage in charitable activities.

Founded in 1959, the Malaysian Buddhist Association is one of the oldest and most established Buddhist organizations in the country. It is officially recognized by the Malaysian government and has played a significant role in advocating for the rights and interests of Buddhists in Malaysia.

The MBA operates under the umbrella of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST), which is an interfaith organization recognized by the government. Through its various activities, the Malaysian Buddhist Association contributes to the preservation and propagation of Buddhist teachings, promotes religious harmony, and serves the needs of the Buddhist community in Malaysia.