In Laos, as in a a big part of Southeast Asia, the prevailing religion, practiced by about 67% of the population, is Theravada Buddhism (or Small Vehicle, Hinayana).
This branch of Buddhism, which is the oldest, spread to Laos between the 14th and 17th centuries, but was born in India in the 5th century BC from the teachings of Buddha Siddharta Gautama.
Theravada Buddhism is based on the sutras of the Pali canon, that is, on the oldest collection of texts that include the speeches of the Buddha: this religious culture is based on the four Great Sufferings (birth, old age, illness and death). Lao Buddhists believe in reincarnation.
The aim of the disciples is, through a spiritual and purifying path called the Eightfold Path, to become “ahrat”, that is to achieve enlightenment by directly gaining Nirvana without going through reincarnation. Having gained Nirvana, the ahrat, the enlightened, will emerge from the vicious circle of birth/reincarnation, eliminating forever the suffering inherent in earthly life.
The essence of religion develops with monastic life.
The remaining 30% of the Laotian population, with the exception of a very small minority of Christians, practise animism and the cult of their ancestors.
Laotian animism is pervaded by the conviction that everything has a “phis”, a soul, that there is an energy that pervades all that exists, visible and invisible.
For the cult of the dead, small altars are built, called houses of spirits, where food is brought for the phis of the dead.