Similar to the Southeast Asian countries, Laos also has its own beliefs and religion to lead the spiritual life of the people. Besides the animist beliefs such as worshiping gods and “phi” (spirits), which accounts for 30.7% of Lao population, Buddhism and Christianity are the two major religions allowed to practice in this charming land. Let’s go with Indochina tour to discover Animist Beliefs and Religion in Laos!Religions and Beliefs in Laos

Animist Beliefs in Laos

Animism is a philosophical, religious or spiritual conception that the soul or the sacred stays in all things (people, animals, plants, rocks, rivers, mountains, etc.), in all natural phenomena (thunder, lightning, clouds, rain) or other entities in the natural environment. According to the specialists, animism is considered as indigenous beliefs, associated with traditional festivals and worshiping customs of the local people. Each nation has different characters to worship, including Laos where worshipping gods and spirits coexist.

Animist Beliefs – Worshiping Gods in Laos

Worshiping gods is the ancient belief in Laos. Despite the religious devotion to Buddhism, the Lao still worship gods related to production life such as heaven, earth, rain, sun, thunder, and lightning. According to the animist beliefs, the gods are the ones who lead in the heaven, in the earth, and in the water, consisting of the Jade Emperor, the God of the soil and Dragon, Sea-god respectively.
For the Lao people, the gods are also real historical figures who have had great achievements in protecting production, exterminating monsters, beasts; in addition, they bravely accompanied with the residents overcome the harsh challenges, protected and empowered the people in the struggle for survival.
The worship of the gods in Laos has existed for a long time but there is no system of doctrines, the unity among the local communities or the change from polytheism to monotheism. The general development of this belief is to simplify the worshiping customs by practically worshiping those who are closely related to the outcome of labor and daily life.Worshiping Gods in Laos

Animist Beliefs – Worshiping “Phi” (Spirits) in Laos

It is believed that all things have spirits, even when they die, those spirits still exist, then enter into a powerful object to become sacred. “Phi” can bless for the people, but it can also cause affliction for the human beings, so there are two main forms of concepts: phi khoun wat (benevolent spirits) and phi phetu (malevolent spirits). Simply, you can understand that phi khoun wat is house and village spirits such as grandparents, parents, good people, or villages’ heroes who reside around the villages and houses to safeguard and protect the current generation. Meanwhile, phi phetu is often the soul of the people who died in their shoes, the casuists, or premature death without the worshipers. These types of spirits are often hidden in the tall trees, bushes, in the whirlpools, and on high cliffs, etc. and always disturb the peaceful lives of people.

Religion in Laos

Buddhism in Laos

Buddhism is the major religion in Laos, accounting for 66% of the population (Pew Research Center, 2010). According to a diversity of information sources, the first monks who immigrated to western Laos spread Buddhism to the residents in this area. A lot of Buddhist scriptures, Buddhist statues, and Buddhist monks were transferred from Sri Lanka to Laos to support the propagation of this religion. Afterward, Buddhism had been developing in most of the western parts of Laos.Buddhism in Laos
In the 13th century, when the Thai people who took over the entire northern part of Laos propagated Theravada Buddhism and expanded this religion throughout northern and central Laos. During this time, Lao Buddhism was closely related to Sri Lankan Buddhism. Meanwhile, in the south, Lao Buddhism was also influenced by Khmer Buddhism. Under the Angkorian Empire which dominated the Indochina countries from the 8th century to the 13th century, Mahayana Buddhism was propagated to Laos. In the 14th century, after King Fa Ngum (1316 – 1373) unified the entire territory of Laos, he acquired Theravada Buddhism from Cambodia and then developed it throughout Laos.
Thus, two sects of Buddhism now exist in parallel with each other: Mahayana Buddhism and Hinayana Buddhism, in which Hinayana Buddhism has dominated. According to statistics, there are more than 20,000 monks and nuns in Laos, and about 6,300 worshiping places. All of the Lao monks and nuns join the same organization called the Lao United Buddhists which is placed under the patronage of the Department of Religious Affairs in the Ministry of Education.

The Lao pagodas follow the architectural style of the Khmer pagodas, but they still possess many unique features of the traditional Lao architecture. In every village of Laos, there is always a temple called “wat” which is normally built on the central land of the village with the main gate facing the west and the rest on the other three sides. The temple complex usually consists of three main houses: the Buddha Hall, the Buddhist temple and the monks’ quarters. The Buddha Hall is the most important place that is dedicated for the monks and nuns practice the Buddhist ritual. The Buddhist temple is the area for the followers to come and practice. And, the monks’ quarters are the residence of the monks. In addition, the temple complex also has some auxiliary works such as the library, empty floor, guest house, etc. One unique characteristic of Lao temples is the tower system which is used for worshiping Buddha’s relics and containing the bone of the dead. Normally, the tower was monumentally designed and constructed. The most majestic tower in Laos is That Pha Luong located in the capital Vientiane – the highlight of each Laos tour for even the difficult tourists.

Throughout the history, Buddhism in Laos has been increasingly consolidated and developed. Although Buddhism is not the national religion in Laos, it is easy to see the important role and influence of Buddhism in the human life of every ethnic group in this country. Thinking of Laos, we will immediately think about the close relationship between the monks and the local residents.

Christianity in Laos

Christianity in Laos is a minority religion which makes up about 1.5% of the population. The religion was introduced into Laos in the 19th century by the French colonization but it does not have much impact on this nation because of the domination of Buddhism. Till now, Christianity is on the way to acquire the Laotian’s acceptance.Christian worshiping in Laos
There are two main types of Christian in Laos: Protestant with 100,000 followers and Catholic comprised of 45,000 worshipers. In terms of activating areas, Catholics seem to be more common in the central and southern than northern Laos because of the restriction. Meanwhile, Protestantism widely spread in three regions, not only in the big cities but also increasing the number of the followers in the rural areas, especially Mon-Khmer groups such as Khmu, Brou in Northern Laos and H’mong, Yao communities.

Other Religions in Laos

In addition to animism, Buddhism and Christianity, there are some minority religions in Laos, which accounts for 1.8% of the population, including Hinduism (due to the once mighty Angkor Empire), Confucianism and Taoism in the big cities. All of them contribute to creating a diverse religious system for the “A million elephant” country.