Buddhism in Laos:

Theravada Buddhism was introduced to the Lao people during the reign of King Fa Ngum in 1353 CE. Buddhism has since been patronized by the kings and supported by the leaders of the country. Its teachings have spread throughout Lao society and have been the religion of the majority ever since. From the fourteenth century to the present, Buddhism has been influential and has played a very important role in the lives of the Lao people. The Buddha’s teachings have not only unified the people but also makes people individually strong. Indeed the refuge of Buddhism is the refuge of oneself. It is because of the important teachings of Buddhism that King Fa Ngum became determined to establish Buddhism in Laos. King Fa Ngum depended on Buddhist teachings in formulating and promulgating principles, laws and administrative rules as he endeavoured to unite the Kingdom. King Fa Ngum not only oversaw the administrative system but also took a very important part in Buddhist propagation throughout Laos, through monasteries, the Sangha, and education. The result has been that Buddhism became the Lao state religion and monasteries became centres of education and training in many fields, for example, language, literature, law, economics, engineering, and administration, with monks as the instructors.

The Sangha was strongly supported by the Lao state throughout the monarchical period until the French invasion. During the French colonial period of 1893-1954 CE, the power of the monks was used to at times to sway the people in support the French administration. The French occupation had a major impact on Lao culture, education and administration. Because Laos has been periodically conquered by other countries, such Siam and France, Buddhism has periodically experienced difficult situations. Temples have been destroyed and the administration of the Lao Sangha was manipulated for political ends. In one sense, the French were better for Lao Buddhism than were other occupiers, as the French supported the monks in return for the monk’s help in controlling the population. However, during the colonial period Sangha education was not supported and went into decline.

In 1930 CE Buddhabandit Saphachanthaburi, the Chanthaburi Buddhist Council, was established by Prince Somdejchao Phedsaraj for the purpose of reviving study of the Lao and Pali languages, the bases of Lao language and literature.

Today, the Lao government supports the Sangha in the role community development. In the Lao PDR there are approximately 4,480 Buddhist monasteries. However, those monasteries are classified into two types, occupied and unoccupied. There are about 3,665 occupied monasteries and about 825 unoccupied monasteries. There are currently about 26,940 monks and novices in the Lao PDR.

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