The origin of Buddhism in Malaysia can be attributed to the Spice trade routes, that existed before the Common Era, which passed through the straits between Malaya and Sumatra. Trade was between Eastern points in Asia/Africa and China in the East.
There were also land routes through central Asia from China to India is known as the Silk route. Both the Silk and Spice routes are complementary and has seen emergence of trade gateways or hubs at various land and maritime points for exchange of goods.
The first Thai Buddhist temple in Malaya was built in 1845 on land donated by the British Government to the Thai people in the interest of commerce.
The Sri Lankans built their first temple, ie Taiping BodiLangkaram in 1885 in Perak followed by the Brickfields Buddhist Temple (1894) – now known as Buddhist Maha Vihara Brickfields, Sri Lanka Buddhist Temple Sentul (1917) and the Mahindarama Buddhist Temple Penang (1918)
Today the Mahayana group forms the largest group of Buddhists, Buddhist youths and monastics in Malaysia, largely inspired by dynamic masters from institutions in Taiwan such as Fo Guang Shan, Tzu Chi, Dharma Drum Mountain, Hai Tao Foundation, Amitofo Care Center, etc.
The medium of communication and instruction in most Mahayana temples is predominantly Mandarin. The Young Buddhist Association of Malaysia which was formed in 1971 is an umbrella Buddhist youth organization with over 250 Buddhist youth societies of which over 80% are Mahayana which gives a good indication on the percentage breakdown of Buddhism into Mahayana and Theravada associations, temples and adherents in Malaysia.