Buddhism


Buddhism
   Established by Gotama Buddha, it is the religion of between 85 to 90 percent of Burma's people. Burmese Buddhism, like that of Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia, is of the Theravada stream, although before the establishment of the Pagan (Bagan) Dynasty in the 11th century CE, the practice of Mahayana Buddhism was also widespread. Burmese legends tell of the Buddha's visit to Burma during his lifetime, but the religion probably did not enter the country until the early centuries CE. Buddhist centers were located at Dhanyawadi and Vesali in Arakan (Rakhine) around the fourth to eighth centuries CE, and at Mon states established in Lower Burma around the same time. Both areas had close trade and cultural ties with the Indian subcontinent. The Pyus and the Burmans adopted the religion after their migration from Inner Asia. King Anawrahta of Pagan, advised by the Mon monk Shin Arahan, made Theravada Buddhism the official religion of his unified realm and established patterns of state-Sangha relations that persist in modified form to this day.
   In Burma's multiethnic society, the overwhelming majority of Burmans, Mons, and Shans, as well as many Karens (Kayins), are adherents of Buddhism. The fact that elites of the Karens and other "hill tribe" minorities, such as the Kachins and Karennis (Kayahs), are Christian, and most persons of Indian ancestry are Hindu or Muslim, has tended to keep these minorities out of the national mainstream, where the dominant idea is that "to be Burmese is to be Buddhist." In Burma, Buddhist thought, life-cycle events, and daily practice are tremendously complex, including the paying of homage to members of the Sangha, Buddha images, and pagodas; giving monks food or other offerings; the performance of other meritorious deeds, such as building pagodas, liberating animals, and sponsoring shinbyu ceremonies; and undergoing strict meditation regimes. Members of the Sangha, who in the late 1980s numbered around 300,000, are expected to observe the 227 rules of the vinaya, while laypeople have a less-strict code based on the five or ten precepts (sila). Although the Buddha himself is not considered a god, Burmese Buddhism coexists with a pantheon of gods or nats, local and brought from India, who are often seen as divine protectors of the religion.
   The Buddha's teachings can be summarized as emphasizing impermanence, suffering as the basic quality of life, and non-self, that is, the lack of an immortal soul. The basic principles are summed up in the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path of Righteousness that Gotama Buddha taught. Escape from samsara and the attainment of nibbana are considered the supreme goods. Most ordinary Buddhists hope that by accumulating merit (kutho) through performance of good deeds, they can achieve a rebirth on a plane higher than their present one, or at least avoid the torments of hell. Connected with Buddhism, though not doctrinally consistent with it, are certain magical practices, such as yedaya, that can be used as protection against ill fortune.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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