Buddhism in Malaysia

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Malaysian Buddhist
Sri Dhammananda.jpg
Michelle Yeoh TIFF 2011.jpg
Koh Tsu Koon.jpg
Tan Chai Ho.jpg
Aaron Lim.JPG
Yap Ah Loy.jpg
Total population
5,620,483 (2010)
Regions with significant populations
Penang · Selangor · Kuala Lumpur · Johor
Malaysian Mandarin · English · Thai  · Chinese · Sinhala · Indian · Malay
Mahayana Buddhism  · Sukhavana
Related ethnic groups
Malaysia Hindus
Kek Lok Si, or "Temple of Sukhāvatī", in Penang, Malaysia

Buddhism is the second largest religion in Malaysia, after Islam, with 19.2% of Malaysia's population being Buddhist although some estimates put that figure up to 21.6% when combined with Chinese religions.[1] Buddhism in Malaysia is mainly practised by the ethnic Malaysian Chinese but, there also Malaysian Sri Lankans that practice Buddhism such as Ananda Krishnan and K. Sri Dhammananda.


Standing Buddha statue made from brass, found in a tin mine in Pengkalan Pegoh, Ipoh, Perak in 1931.

Buddhism was introduced to the Malays and also to the people of the Malay Archipelago as early as 200 BC. Chinese 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 arts. 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. [1] 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.

The Maha Vihara Buddhist Temple in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur.


Che Sui Khor Pagoda in Kota Kinabalu.
Sri Lanka Buddhist Temple (from Lorong Timur), Sentul, Kuala Lumpur

According the Malaysian constitution, the majority ethnic group, the Malays, are legally defined as Muslim. They constitute 60% of the population, with the remainder consisting mostly of Chinese, who are generally Buddhists or Christians, and to the lesser extent Indians, who are generally Hindus. There are also smaller numbers of other indigenous and immigrants; among the latter are Malaysians of Sinhalese, Thai, and Eurasian origin. Nearly all of the Buddhists in Malaysia live in urban areas, since they are mostly engaged in business or employed in various professions.

Recently, a number of Malaysian Buddhist leaders have responded to the decline in religious participation by the children of Buddhist families, have attempted to reformulate their message to address modern life more directly. Groups involved in these education efforts include the Buddhist Missionary Society. Missionary Society leaders have argued that, while many educated youths seek an intellectual approach to Buddhism, an equally large number of people prefer to approach the religion through the tradition of ceremony and symbolism. In response to these needs, religious practices are carried out, but in a way that is simple and dignified, removing what can be seen as superstition. Efforts are made to explain why sutras are chanted, lamps lit, flowers offered, and so on.

As a religion without a supreme head to direct its development, Buddhism is practised in various forms, which, although rarely in open conflict, can sometimes lead to confusion among Buddhists. In Malaysia, some ecumenical moves have been made to coordinate the activities of different types of Buddhists. One example is the formation of the Joint Wesak Celebrations Committee of the temples in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, which coordinates the celebration of Wesak, a holiday commemorating the birth of the Buddha. An initiative has also begun to form a Malaysian Buddhist Council, representing the various sects of Buddhism in the country to extend the work of the development of Buddhism, especially in giving contemporary relevance to the practise of the religion, as well as to promote solidarity among Buddhists in general.

Regional distribution of Buddhism[edit]

Malaysian states by per 2010 Census,[2]

Buddhism population
(2010 Census)
 % of Population
Johor 989,316 29.5 %
Kedah 275,632 14.2 %
Kelantan 57,792 3.8 %
Melaka 198,669 24.2 %
Negeri Sembilan 216,325 21.2 %
Pahang 215,815 14.4 %
Perak 597,870 25.4 %
Pulau Pinang 556,293 35.6 %
Perlis 22,980 9.9 %
Selangor 1,330,989 24.4 %
Terengganu 25,653 2.5 %
Sarawak 332,883 13.5 %
Sabah 194,428 6.1 %
W.P. Kuala Lumpur 597,770 35.7 %
W.P. Labuan 7,795 9.0 %
W.P. Putrajaya 273 0.4 %

According to the 2010 Census of Malaysia, there were 5,620,483 Buddhist living there (19.8% of the population [3] 83.6% of all the Malaysian Chinese were Buddhist.

See also[edit]