Buddhism is a relatively minor religion in the Philippines. It is largely confined to the Filipino Chinese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, and Vietnamese communities. There are temples in Manila, Davao, and Cebu, and other places. Estimates at the Buddhist population of the Philippines varies between 0.1% and 2%. Several schools of Buddhism are present in the Philippines. There are Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist temples as well as Theravada followers, lay organizations, meditation centers and groups, such as Soka Gakkai International.

There is no written record of when Buddhism first arrived in the area today known as the Philippines, but various archaeological finds suggest that it was likely present in some form by the 9th century CE. The popularity of Buddhism in the area declined with the influx of Muslim immigrants and missionaries and then with Catholic colonists between the 14th and 16th centuries CE. The Spanish Inquisition had an especially pronounced effect on the area, effectively eliminating all forms of religion other than Catholicism. The persecution of Buddhism in the Philippines ended when Spain ceded the country to the Americans after their defeat in the Spanish-American War in 1898. The new colonial government granted the Philippine people freedom of worship.

A fair number of words in Filipino dialects have been noted to have roots in the Pali and Sanskrit languages related to Buddhist and Hindu concepts. This has raised the question of a connection between these dialects and ancient religious practices in the area.


Pre-colonial period

No written record exists about Buddhism in the area now known as the Philippines before the colonial period. However, recent archaeological discoveries and a few scant references in other nations' historical records have provided some hints as to the nature of religion in the Philippines at this time. The archaeological finds include many artifacts from Buddhist or Hindu mythologies that have been dated to the 9th century. The style of these artifacts is of Vajrayana Buddhism, and suggests the influence of the Srivijaya empire. The old religions began to decline in present-day Moro areas with the arrival of Muslim missionaries in the 14th century and the imposition of Catholicism by Spanish colonizers in areas controlled by Spain starting in the 16th century.

Spanish colonial period

In the 16th century, the Philippines islands became a colony of Spain, and ceased trade and cultural contacts with Buddhist Asia.

Manila was established as the center of the new colonial government in 1571, and the entire archipelago was placed under Spanish rule. The first ruler was the Archbishop of New Galicia, (now Mexico). He was succeeded in 1595 by the Archbishop of Manila, who was charged with converting the Spanish East Indies territories – the Philippines, Guam, and Micronesia – to Catholicism.

The Spanish Inquisition, which started during the reign of Pope Sixtus IV, became active over four centuries against Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Protestants. Their opposition to Catholic conversion was met with the penalty of death for rebelling against the Roman Catholic Church and the Spanish sovereign. The Spanish Inquisition resulted in the changing of indigenous cultures, if not wiping them out altogether.

The civil and Catholic church authorities' intolerance toward other religions during this period likely caused a total loss of any Buddhist faith or culture from the memory of the archipelago's indigenous inhabitants.

American colonial period

Spain ceded the Philippines to the Americans under the Treaty of Paris in 1898 after Spain's defeat in the Spanish-American War. The American colonial government took control of the country from 1905 to 1942 and from 1945 to 1946. The government guaranteed the freedom of worship for the people.

Beginning in the 1920s through the 1930s, temples belonging to the Mahayana Buddhist streams of Pure Land and of Ch'an or Zen were built in cities where a large concentration of Buddhists had resided. Davao had the largest number of Japanese Buddhist settlers and Cebu had the largest number of Chinese Buddhist residents. After World War II, most of the Japanese returned to Japan, making both Chinese and Filipino Chinese the predominant Buddhist ethnic groups.

Buddhism today

According to the 2000 Philippines Census, Religious Demographic Profile, the Buddhists account for about one to three per cent of the Philippines's 80 million population.

There are temples in the Philippines for all three major schools of Mahayana—Pure Land, Zen, and Vajrayana Buddhism. In the 1970s, Vietnamese refugees built temples in Palawan. At the same time, Japanese temples and organizations such as the Sokka Gakkai International began to re-emerge. Many of the locals and the expatriates from the southern Buddhist countries have a growing interest in Theravada Buddhism, although no Theravada temple currently exists in the Philippines.

Buddhist temples in Manila

Most of the Buddhist temples cater to the local Chinese community. Their temples's Pure Land services are conducted only in the Chinese language.


As of January 2010, the Nyingma lineage temple and two of the Karma Kagyu lineages's temples comprise the two of the four lineages of the Tibetan Buddhism in the Philippines.

The presence of two Karma Kagyu temples in Manila reflects the current split over the Karmapa succession within the order. The Karma Kagyu Buddhist Society on Silencio street follows Ogyen Trinley Dorje as its head, while the Nedo Bodhi Karma Kagyu Dharma Foundation in Bacood follows Trinley Thaye Dorje as its head.

The Tibetan Buddhist temples are located within twenty minutes or less travel from each other in Santa Mesa, Manila. They offer puja or prayer service, blessings for houses and business establishments and divination based upon Tibetan astrology. The pujas are conducted in the Tibetan language. Most prayer books are in Tibetan as well as in Chinese and English translations.

Maha Bodhi Society's Zen circle

The Maha Bodhi Society's Zen circle was founded in October 1998 by Samnak P.J. Concepcion, a Filipino dharma teacher. Affiliated with the Korean Chogye Order's Dae Kak Sa Temple in Toronto, Ontario, the Zen Circle is under the spiritual direction of Venerable Sunim Hwasun Yangil.

Bul Kuk Sa Branch temple

In mid 2000, Venerable Sunim Bup Kwan established the Bul Kuk Sa Philippines Branch Temple in San Pedro, Laguna. The temple serves the spiritual needs and aspirations of both Korean and Filipino Buddhist communities in the Philippines. The temple offers chamsoen or sitting Zen practices and the traditional Korean Pure Land devotional practices. The temple's master emphasizes the Buddhist practice of dana paramita or perfection of giving to the temple members.

Ocean Sky Monastery

Affiliated with the Chung Tai Shan monastery in Taiwan, the Ocean Sky Monastery in San Juan, Greenhills offers free Zen meditation instruction.

Fo Guang Shan

The Fo Guang Shan (FGS) Philippines Humanistic Academy of Life and Arts offers both temple stay and Buddhist studies programs.

Linguistic influences

The question has been raised about the origin of some words in the various dialects of the Philippines and their possible connection to ancient Buddhist and Hindu culture in the region. About 25% of Filipino words have been derived from both Pali and Sanskrit languages, and point to possible connections with Buddhism.

Influences in Tagalog

  • kawali "karahi" from hindi karahi wok
  • budhi "conscience" from Sanskrit bodhi
  • dukha "one who suffers" from Sanskrit dukkha
  • guro "teacher" from Sanskrit guru
  • sampalataya "faith" from Sanskrit sampratyaya
  • mukha "face" from Sanskrit mukha
  • laho "eclipse" from Sanskrit rahu
  • maharlika "noble" from Sanskrit mahardikka

Influences in Kapampangan

  • kalma "fate" from Sanskrit karma
  • damla "divine law" from Sanskrit dharma
  • mantala "magic formulas" from Sanskrit mantra
  • upaya "power" from Sanskrit upaya
  • lupa "face" from Sanskrit rupa
  • sabla "every" from Sanskrit sarva
  • lawu "eclipse" from Sanskrit rahu
  • galura "giant eagle" (a surname) from Sanskrit garuda
  • laksina "south (a surname)" from Sanskrit dakshin
  • laksamana "admiral (a surname)" from Sanskrit lakshmana

Influences in Tausug

  • suarga "heaven"
  • neraka "hell"
  • agama "religion"

Sanskrit and Sanskrit-derived words common to most Philippine languages

  • sutla "silk" from Sanskrit sutra
  • kapas "cotton" from Sanskrit kerpas
  • naga "dragon or serpent" from Sanskrit naga
  • kalinga "happy land or care" from Sanskrit kalinga
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