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Theravada Buddhism was the state religion of the Kingdom of Laos. The Marxist government that took power in 1975 did not dare prohibit the practice of Buddhism and close the temples. Rather it has tried to manipulate religion for political purposes, but relaxed controls have led to a bit of a Buddhist revival in the 1990's.

Unlike western religions, Buddhism has no god, no savior, no particular interest in creation. Each person is responsible for his own salvation. Buddha is regarded as a great teacher, and his teachings, the dharma, are revered along with the Buddhist clergy, the sangha. The basic Buddhist prayer says:

I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the Dharma. I take refuge in the Sangha.

Buddha taught that people's minds are clouded by greed, anger, and illusion. Life is suffering caused by desire. The Eightfold Path to attain peace involves right understanding, right purpose, right speech, right conduct, right vocation, right effort, right thinking, and right meditation.

The balance of one's good and bad deeds is one's karma. Nirvana, enlightenment with the complete extinction of desire and with perfect peace, may be impossible to attain but one's karma can provide for a better or worse rebirth in the next life, part of the cycle of births and rebirths. One improves one's karma by observing the Five Precepts: refraining from killing, stealing, forbidden sexual relationships, lying, and using intoxicants. One can also improve one's karma by doing good deeds, making merit. Support for the sangha, the Buddhist clergy, and participation in religious ritual are considered good ways to make merit. Males can be ordained as monks for a period, and traditionally most Lao men were ordained for a few months, although this is becoming less common. (There is no ordination of women.) Monks are prohibited from having possessions other than a few bare necessities. They rely on gifts from the laity for their food and clothing. The monks study, meditate, and try to develop detachment from the world. They are working out their own salvation, not that of the laity.

Animism is widespread in Laos, especially among upland peoples, but beliefs in spirits co-exist with Buddhism among the lowland ethnic Lao. Indeed, some Buddhism monks are considered powerful spirit practitioners, able to exorcise malevolent spirits that cause disease or misfortune.

The ancestor spirits, local spirits of each village, are appealed to at the beginning of the agricultural year for good crops. These local spirits should also be informed of major changes in a person's life, such as marriage or leaving the village for a job.

The Lao believe that the body contains 32 spirits, and illness results when a spirit leaves the body. To cure illness or to provide protection at crucial events in one's life, a baci ceremony is held to call the spirits back to bring health, happiness, and prosperity. A beautifully decorated tray with ritual offerings is presented to the spirits. Cotton strings are tied around the wrists of the sick person, the couple being married, or the person being honored to keep the spirits within. A blessing for the person's well-being is recited when one ties the strings on the wrist.

Astrology and numerology are popular. Fortunetellers are consulted to find auspicious days for marriage, opening a business, and the like.