Buddha Sculpture - Buddha - Antique Khmer Style Seated Wood Buddha Statue Teaching Mudra - 40cm/16"

The Historical Journey of Buddhism in Cambodia


Buddhism, one of the world's major religions, has a profound and enduring history in Cambodia. The story of Buddhism's presence in the country is a tale of spiritual growth, cultural integration, and political influence.

Buddhism in Cambodia is intertwined with the nation's history, and its development has been a source of both unity and transformation over the centuries. In this Blog, we will explore the history of Buddhism in Cambodia, from its early introduction to its role in contemporary society.

Early Arrival of Buddhism

Buddhism first arrived in Cambodia during the 3rd century CE, brought by traders and travelers from India. However, it was during the reign of King Ashoka in the 3rd century BCE that Buddhism began to spread across the Indian subcontinent, leading to its adoption in Cambodia. The influence of the Indian Mauryan Empire, under which King Ashoka ruled, played a pivotal role in promoting Buddhism's expansion throughout Southeast Asia.

The early form of Buddhism in Cambodia was Theravada Buddhism, which emphasizes the teachings of the Pali Canon. This form of Buddhism became the predominant tradition in Cambodia and remains so to this day. The Cambodian king, Ashoka's nephew and Buddhist missionary Mahinda, is credited with playing a significant role in the early propagation of Buddhism in Cambodia.

The Khmer Empire and Buddhist Influence

The peak of Buddhism's influence in Cambodia occurred during the reign of the Khmer Empire, particularly in the 9th to 13th centuries. The Khmer kings, who were both political and spiritual leaders, were strong supporters of Buddhism. They constructed magnificent temples and complexes, most notably Angkor Wat, which stands as one of the most significant religious monuments in the world.

Buddhism not only flourished within the Khmer Empire but also influenced Khmer culture, art, and architecture. The intricate carvings and bas-reliefs on Khmer temples often depicted scenes from Buddhist stories, reflecting the profound spiritual and cultural impact of Buddhism during this period.

Wood Buddha Khmer

Challenges and Decline

While Buddhism had a significant influence during the Khmer Empire, it faced challenges during times of political and social unrest. The invasion of Cambodia by the Ayutthaya Kingdom in the 14th century and the later aggression by the Vietnamese led to the decline of the Khmer Empire. During these turbulent times, Buddhism faced periods of suppression and decline.

Colonial Rule and the 20th Century

Buddhism continued to be an integral part of Cambodian culture even during the colonial rule of the French. The Sangha, the community of Buddhist monks, played a pivotal role in preserving Cambodian identity and culture during this period. Monasteries remained important centers of learning and spiritual practice.

However, in the 20th century, Cambodia experienced considerable political upheaval, most notably during the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979), which was marked by widespread atrocities, including the persecution of Buddhist monks. This period resulted in the loss of numerous monasteries, temples, and religious texts. It was a dark chapter in Cambodian history that greatly affected the practice of Buddhism in the country.

Resurgence and Revival

In the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge regime, Cambodia witnessed a revival of Buddhism. The country, once again, began to rebuild its monastic institutions and religious traditions. Buddhist practices, including meditation and the study of Buddhist scriptures, were revived, contributing to the nation's healing and recovery.

Contemporary Buddhism in Cambodia

Today, Buddhism remains deeply ingrained in Cambodian society and culture. The Theravada tradition is the dominant form of Buddhism in the country, and Cambodian Buddhism plays a vital role in people's daily lives. It influences everything from religious ceremonies and rituals to social customs and artistic expressions.

Cambodia has numerous temples, monasteries, and stupas that continue to serve as centers of spiritual learning and community. The annual Pchum Ben and Khmer New Year celebrations are significant religious and cultural events when Cambodians pay homage to their ancestors and engage in acts of merit, such as offerings to monks.


The history of Buddhism in Cambodia is a story of endurance, adaptation, and resilience. From its early introduction during the Khmer Empire to its revival following the dark days of the Khmer Rouge regime, Buddhism has remained an integral part of Cambodian culture and identity.

Today, Buddhism in Cambodia continues to guide people in their spiritual journeys, provide a sense of unity and identity, and play a significant role in shaping the nation's cultural and religious landscape. The enduring legacy of Buddhism in Cambodia is a testament to the profound impact of this spiritual tradition on the country's history and people.

Bronze Khmer Buddha