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Buddhism in Myanmar: Brief Overview

The dominant religion in Myanmar is Theravada Buddhism mixed with local beliefs: animism (worship of nats), Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism. It is practiced by 90% of the population, especially among the Bamar, Rakhine, Shan, Mon and Chinese.

moine_birman10From the first step on the Golden Land, you will notice everywhere the presence of pagodas, temples and monks in major cities and remote villages, airports and train stations, restaurants and hotels, homestay …
The image of monks dressed in burgundy gowns becomes a symbol of the Burmese people, as the stupas, the symbol of the country’s architecture.
It is rare to find a country where Buddhism is much revered and practiced like in Burma. The people are always ready to offer money to build pagodas and temples, to make offerings or feed the monks despite their difficult living conditions. The Burmese are driven by great fervor.
Through the teachings of Buddha, the Burmese are deeply sincere, kind and smiling. Thus, there are very few robberies or delinquency in Burma. With the exception of some border areas that are still unstable, tourists can travel safely.

The Buddhist custom requires two monastic retreats for men in their lives (but some have three, a lucky number): first as a novice monk (samanera) between the age of 5 and 15, then as a full monk (pongyi) after the age of 20. Before the age of 20, almost all the boys involved in the novitiate ceremony (shinpyu) – an important event that brings merit and prestige to the family. Thereafter, every man must make a 3-month retirement as pongyi during the Buddhist Lent (waso).

The Buddha
bouddha1The Buddha was not a god, nor a spirit, but a man who actually lived in northern India about 2500 years. Born into a royal family, he was the prince of the kingdom of Sakya. At the age of 29, shortly after the birth of his son, Rahula, he left his kingdom and became an ascetic in search of the ultimate truth. For 6 years, he attended the greatest meditators in India and assimilated their teaching with great rapidity. He decided that none of them had found the answer to his quest and began to search for the Truth himself.
Aged 35, after 49 days and nights of meditation under the Bodhi tree, Gotama Buddha attained enlightenment and became the Buddha (the Awakened One). He then preached for more than 45 years before dying in Kusinara at the age of 80.

The Buddha’s Teachings
moine_birman6First, we must understand that Buddhists believe in reincarnation and karma, the natural law of cause and consequence. According to them, all life is suffering. Buddhist practice aims to try to eliminate to the maximum the causes of suffering. Buddhists believe that this life is only a link in a chain. It comes from other lives and we will be reincarnated in other lives (samsara), an endless cycle of existence.

The heart of the Buddha’s teaching is contained in the “Four Noble Truths”
1. Suffering
2. The origin of suffering
3. The cessation of suffering
4. The path leading to the cessation of suffering

Theravada Buddhism
mandalay_kuthodaw1Buddhism in Myanmar is Theravada Buddhism- the oldest form, the teaching comes directly from the Buddha’s words. It is characterized by a strict observance of the teachings of Buddha.
Theravada means “doctrine of the old” in Pali (language teaching Buddhism). This doctrine was taught first orally, then transcribed in writing. The meeting of all the texts formed the Tipikata (Tripitaka in Sanskrit).

The Tripitaka is divided into three “books” of lessons:
– Vinaya: that includes all disciplinary rules for monks, nuns and followers of Buddha.
– Sutta Pitaka: which includes all Sutta (sermons) that Buddha was able to hold his followers or people passing through.
– Abhidhamma Pitaka: “the book of higher education” which deals with the philosophical aspects of Buddhism.


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