Buddhism is one of the largest religions in the world. It originated in India and is based around the teachings of Siddhārtha Gautama, also known as Gautama Buddha or simply Buddha, who lived in India from roughly 563 BCE to 480 BCE. Those who practice Buddhism—known as Buddhists—believe in reincarnation. They believe that death is not the end, but instead, a person is reborn after they pass. Buddhists believe that finding enlightenment, or Nirvana, is the key to stopping the cycle of rebirth. Buddhism is a global religion, with practitioners all over the world, but is predominantly centered in East and Southeast Asia.
Buddhism can play different roles in the lives of different people. For some, Buddhism is a religion. For others, it is a philosophy. Still others practice Buddhism as a mental discipline through which they find themselves and experience inner peace. A 2019 article by the Pew Research Center cited published work that confirmed that many Asians may follow Buddhist customs and practices, but not consider themselves followers of Buddhism as a religion. It is estimated that as many as 506 million people around the world practice Buddhism as a religion, which would represent roughly 6.6% of the world’s total population.
Top 10 Countries with the Highest Percentage of Buddhists (Pew Research 2020):
The first seven nations listed above have a Buddhist population that makes up at least 55% of the total population, making them Buddhist majority countries. Other countries with a significant percentage of Buddhists include Taiwan (Republic of China), Malaysia, China, Macau (China), Vietnam, Hong Kong (China), Northern Mariana Islands, and Nepal. Also, percentages can be misleading, as several additional nations have massive Buddhist populations that simply aren't in the majority. For example, China is home to an estimated 254 million Buddhists—roughly half of the total Buddhists in the world. This makes Buddhism the most popular religion in China by a wide margin. Yet, because more than 51% of China's residents remain unaffiliated with any religion, China is generally not considered a Buddhist country. The list below illustrates this point.
Top 10 Countries with the Highest Number of Buddhists (Pew Research 2020):
- China — 254,700,000
- Thailand — 66,120,000
- Myanmar — 41,440,000
- Japan — 41,380,000
- Cambodia — 15,690,000
- Vietnam — 15,560,000
- Sri Lanka — 15,440,000
- South Korea — 10,950,000
- India — 10,140,000
- Malaysia — 5,220,000