Buddhists and their Values and Practices in Spanish-speaking Countries: A Sociological Exploration, Part One

By Dr. José Antonio Rodríguez Díaz, Department of Sociology, Faculty of Economics and Business, University of Barcelona, Spain

Our knowledge about the practitioners and followers that make up the Buddhist social world in Spanish-speaking countries is still minimal despite its relevant history and roots. Yet we have considerable resources, as evidenced by studies of the institutionalization and propagation of Buddhism both in Spain (with the pioneering works of Díez de Velasco and the thesis of Liliana Arroyo), and in Latin America (the compendium of excellent works published in Buddhistdoor en Español).   

Most of the information about the Buddhist population comes from global data and surveys, such as the World Values ​​Survey, with high representation from the Asian world, where most Buddhists live (According to the Pew Research Center, Buddhism is the fourth world religion (after Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism) and is followed by almost 7% of the world’s population. 95% of Buddhists live in Asia. Data on Buddhism in the West and Spanish-speaking countries are scarce and do not provide a comprehensive vision of what the Buddhist population outside Asia is like and its relationship with Buddhism, its values, ​​and its individual and social practices. 

And hence our goal is to get a little closer to the characteristics of people who follow or are close to Buddhism and to their path of practice towards enlightenment. With this we also hope to better understand the processes of introduction and adaptation of Buddhism to the West and specifically to the Spanish-speaking world, characterized by being mostly Catholic. 

To get a close look at the world of Buddhist practitioners, in July 2022 we launched the first international survey, in Spanish-speaking countries, centering our attention on their characteristics, values ​​and practices (“Following the Buddhist path: Our values, religiosity, spirituality”). It was carried out with the collaboration of Buddhistdoor en Español and the Dharma-Gaia Foundation. Some of its results are presented and analyzed in this essay. The responses obtained offer a first, but already rich, image of many dimensions of the life of Buddhism in Spanish-speaking countries. 

The survey was carried out, through Google Forms, between July 27, 2022 and December 26, 2022. 257 valid responses were obtained. It is the first survey of its kind carried out in the Buddhist world. Limitations of the study: Despite being a good first image of the Buddhist populations in the Spanish-speaking world, the dimensions of the response require being careful with the automatic extrapolation to the entire Buddhist population.

I would like to thank all those people who have answered the questionnaire and also those entities that have supported and disseminated it among their members and acquaintances, and all those who have extended the questionnaire to their friends. We are very grateful to all of them for their support.  

We begin the exploration of the social world of Buddhists with the presentation of their sociodemographic characteristics and then go on to analyze their paths in Buddhism, the history, and reasons for their relationship with it and their level of identification and closeness to it along with their schools, their beliefs, objectives and practices and actions. We try to approach their way of seeing and understanding the world together with the way of acting and creating that world. And finally, how all of this is intertwined and complemented by the enjoyment of life and happiness, shaping the Buddhist paths.


Let’s start with a look at who are the Buddhists in the survey. Just over half (58%) of the responses came from people living in Latin America* and 38% from people living in Spain. The answers are evenly divided between men and women. The mean age was almost 51 years (50.7). And by age group, the youngest are the minority (they represent 11%), a third of the responses are from people between 30 and 49 years old, and a little more than half are 50 years old and older.

AgeNumber (N)Percentage (%)
18 to 29 years229%
30 to 49 years8834%
50 years and over14456%

* The responses come from Argentina (14), Bolivia (5), Brazil (1), Chile (19), Colombia (30), Costa Rica (2), Cuba (2), Ecuador (2), El Salvador (2), Honduras (1), Mexico (44), Nicaragua (1), Paraguay (1), Peru (5), Uruguay (8), Venezuela (11)

There are a few small differences that deserve to be mentioned. There is a slightly higher percentage of women responding in Spain than in Latin America (53% vs. 46%) and the average age in Spain is somewhat higher than in Latin America (54 vs. 48 years). And globally, female Buddhist respondents are slightly older than men (53 vs. 49 years old) (Table 1).

A large majority of respondents (72%) have very high levels of education (41% have university studies and 31% also have postgraduate university studies), more than 1/3 self-position themselves in high and/or medium-high social statuses and the vast majority (87%) do not have pressing economic problems and make ends meet with their current income and enjoy good or very good health (81%).

A higher proportion of women than men surveyed have high levels of social and material well-being. 82% have reached the highest levels of education (compared to 65% of men), position themselves in the upper social scales (upper middle class and upper class) (42% of women vs. 32% of men), and have a somewhat better economic situation than men. The Theravāda and Vajrayāna followers are situated somewhat more in the higher social statuses and the Mahāyāna ones somewhat more in the lower positions.

Comparing these Buddhist populations with the Buddhist populations in Asia (where 95% of Buddhists reside), we find that the percentage of women in these populations is also somewhat higher than that of men, but the overall average age is somewhat lower in Asia (46 years). (According to data from the World Values ​​Survey 6, in Rodríguez (2018))

To be continued . . .

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