Trajectories of Southeast Asian History
Buddhism and Myanmar Society
Professor Dr. Margaret Wong
Head of History Department
Yangon University
18-19 February 2014
 Myanmar i follows the Pali Canon of the
Southern School
 The archaeological evidences
Maunggan, and Hmawza near Pyay
Theravada Buddhism in Sri Ksetra Pyus
before the 1st century A.D.
 Buddhism in Myanmar
was not exclusive
at the beginning
 there were some of the Brahmanical gods
 to be incorporated in some of the Buddhist
temples as subsidiary deities
 Theravada Buddhism had floured until the
invasion of Thaton by King Anawrahta
 Theravada Buddhism has permeated
smoothly in every aspect of Myanmar
culture. State
 Monastery worked hand in hand for
the material and spiritual well being of
the society.
All Myanmar Kings tried to
promote
support
Buddhism
defenders
Building
 religious monuments & enshrining
sacred relics and objects
Providing the Sangha
Four Requisites (food, robe, monasteries,
medicine)
doing many other meritorious deeds.

 The 11th century AD
 significant in the religious and cultural
history of Myanmar
 Theravada Buddhism and Pali language
were introduced from Thaton by Anawrahta
( A.D 1044 to 1077) in Bagan.
 Anawrahta seized Thaton
 brought back the Buddhist scriptures, relics
and many Buddhist monks to Bagan.
 Anawrahta
and
his
successors
became the great supporters of the
Theravada form of Buddhism
 Anawrahta made serious efforts to
curb all heretical sects in Myanmar
 Bagan
became
the
centre
of
Theravada
 the religion, its literature and art
flourished
 Buddhist paintings began to be used to
decorate the temples during Kyansittha’s
reign (e.g. Pahtothamya c. 1080 AD)
 The Sinhalese influence over painting and
sculpture constantly grew and extended
throughout his reign
 Theravada Buddhism became to get its
strong hold in Myanmar.
 The
ties
between
the
two
countries
improved in reign of Narapatisithu (11731210 A.D)
 Chappata,
one
of
the
disciples
of
Mahathera Uttarajava received ordination in
Sri Lanka and was admitted into the
Sinhalese Samgha
 Chappata spent about 10 years in the
Island.
 He acquired a full knowledge of the
Tipitaka & earned the designation of
Mahathera
 Chappata's ordination in Sri Lanka and his
admission
to
the
Sinhalese
Sangha
indicate that the Sinhalese Sangha was
held in high esteem in Myanmar
 His return to Myanmar led to an important
development in the history of Buddhism in
Myanmar
 He reached Bagan with four other monks who
had been ordained at the hands of the monks
of the Mahavihara
 This was the time when the foundations of the
Sinhalese Samgha were laid in Myanmar in
1181-82 A.D.
 Myanmar Sangha in large numbers joined
the Sinhalese Sangha
 the Sihala Samgha got divided into
several branches due to various monastic
disputes
 However, the Sinhalese Sangha continued
to be popular in Myanmar.
 Dhammaceti (AD 1476 - )
 one of the reputable kings in
Myanmar history for his reformation
in Sangha
 Dhammaceti’s first intention was to
unify the contending sects by
introducing
the
upasampada
ordination from the Mahavihara of Sri
Lanka and making it absolute.
 a mission of twenty-two monks was
sent to Sri Lanka in 1476.
They received ordination in Sri Lanka
by the clegy of the Mahavihara
they were received with due ceremony
by Dhammaceti when they returned
back.
 The king invited all monks who wanted
to receive the upasampada ordination
to come to the Kalyani sima and
receive ordination
 he was able to purge the Oder of all
impurities and corruption
 Through
the
process
of
a
valid
upasampada ordination
 to bring all contending sects under one
banner
 to 'form one single sect
 Dhammaceti's reformation is an important
event in the history of Buddhism in
Myanmar.
 King Bayinnaung (c.1551-1581) of
Taungoo Dynasty (c. 1486-1600)
 had never forgot to try to be a noble-
patron of Buddhism.
 King Thalun of Nyaungyan Dynasty
(c 1600-1752)
 instituted an inquest in 1638
 to ascertain the lands held by
monasteries or dedicated to pagodas
 Mahadanwun – a minister to take
charge of this matter
 The religious controversy was emerged in
ce1700 - King Sane - at Inwa
 The controversy of
 Ekamsikas - uncovered one shoulder and
the Prupana with both shoulders covered
was unsettled
 King Bodawpaya (1783-1819) issuing a
decree
imposing
strict
observance
Parupana practices throughout his realm.
of
 the
establishment
of
the
"Amarapura School" of Buddhism in
Sri Lanka
 During the reign of Bodawpaya,
there were two missions came to
Myanmar
respectively.
in
1800
and
1812
 The first group of the Sinhalese novices
headed by a thera came to Myanmar capital
 they were given the upasampada ordination
 They returned to Sri Lanka in 1802 together
with five Myanmar monks and a large
number of Pali sacred texts
 The significant event is they established
"Amarapura Sangha" in Sri Lanka when
they returned back
King Mindon tried to revive the ancient
tradition of the religion
 2400 learned monks participated in the
recitation of the Tripitaka Canonical texts
the complete text of the Tipitaka was engraved
on 729 marble slabs
 the largest book on earth won UNESCO’s
recognition
 He was conferred the title of ‘Convener of the
Fifth Council’
 In the Colonial period
 the government recognized no responsibility
for supporting the Sangha
 Buddhism still wields a most powerful
influence on the life of the people
 For the defense of Buddhism, the Young
Man's Buddhist Association (YMBA) was
formed in the year 1906
 for about ten years this organization gave
interest in Buddhism and education
 It
was
the
initiative
and
the
leading
organization in Myanmar history of nationalism
 After the independence, the Six Buddhist
Council was inaugurated at Mahapasana Cave in
Ka-Ba-Aye pagoda's compound in Yangon in
May 1954 and presented by 2500 learned
monks from various countries in the world
 The Council revised and edited all the texts and
commentaries in Pali script
 the First, the Second, the Third, the Fourth and
the Fifth Congregations of the Sangha of All
Orders of Myanmar were held in 1980, 1985,
1990, 1995 and 2000 respectively
 Each Congregation was attended by 1500 Sangha
representatives representing over five hundred
thousand members of Sangha throughout the
country.
 the
International Theravada Buddhist
Missionary University was inaugurated on
December
Government
9,
1998
of
under
State
Myanmar
Peace
and
Development Council
 It is for everyone who would like to make
an in-depth study of Theravada Dhamma
both in theory and practice
 The World Buddhist Summit was grandly and
successfully held in the historic Maha Pasana Cave
from 9 to 11 December, 2004 in Yangon
 There were over 2,000 participants from 38
nations including prominent Buddhist leaders,
prime ministers of foreign governments, delegate
monks from 38 countries and 600 observers and
over 600 Myanmar monks and devotees
 The Summit was sponsored by the Ministry of
Religious Affairs of the Government of Myanmar
 It was one of the most important and glorious
conferences in Myanmar religious history
Sangha and the Society
 As
in
the
Buddhist
countries
of
Southeast Asia such as Thailand, Laos
and Cambodia, the state is structured on
that the king supports the sangha, the
sangha transmits the Dhamma, and the
Dhamma legitimates the monarchy.
 By protecting Sangha, the king contributes
to the maintenance of the Dhamma which is
the legitimating principle of kingship
 Theravada Buddhism as state religion in
some of the Southeast Asian countries
 Theravada Buddhism in Myanmar has its
own distinct characteristics
 the governments are the main protectors and
supporters of the religion which is flourished
in Myanmar from the earliest time
 there is no state religion
 Buddhism is recognized as the religion of the
majority
 Christianity, Islam and Hinduism receive due
recognition.
For Myanmar people, Theravada Buddhism is
more than a religion
 it is life-style, an all compassing instrument of
spiritual, cultural and political identity
 From the cradle to the grave, Buddhism has a
great influence on the social, economic, political
and especially the cultural life of Myanmar
people
 There are 12 traditional monthly seasonal
festivals that are really important in Myanmar
social life
 some of them are not origin in Buddhist or
Buddhism
 Buddhist monks are taking a leading role in
celebrating these seasonal and traditional
festivals
 Buddhist influence on the performing arts and
literature.
 In the merit-oriented Myanmar society
 building the new temples and renovation of old
temples and monasteries got the priority in order
to promote the religion

 For Myanmar Buddhist
 the Order of monks is one of the Three Gems:
Buddha (the Lord)
Dhamma (the Tipitaka)
Sangha (the Order)
 The importance of the Three Gems is parallel
in the Buddhist Doctrine
 Dhamma or Buddha's teaching or Tipitaka was
made copies and mostly kept in the monastic
libraries
 the Dhamma must be transmitted by
Sangha
 the Dhamma's survival is guaranteed by
the purity of the Sangha
 the purity and the correct observance of
the precepts by the Sangha is essential
 Samgha Nayaka Committees at different
levels and the Ministry of Religious Affairs
are taking care of the Sasana.
 The government and the people are the
Sasana and provide four necessities to the
Samgha
 the closed relationship of the sangha and
society
is
Myanmar.
another
distinct
aspect
of
 Buddhist monks are highly respected in
Myanmar society
 The Myanmar word for monk 'phongkyi' means
'the great glory
 Myanmar believe that monks acquire power
from the 'sacred knowledge‘
 Young monks devoted their time largely to the
pariyatti- learning in the monastery.
Monasteries devoted to learning were called
sahtintaik- educational institutes
 These institutes provide free board and
lodging to the students
 The monasteries are also the education
centre for both secular and religious
 Every Myanmar male over seven years of age
had to spend a certain specified period of their
young lives in the monasteries
 they not only learnt to read and write but also
imbibed the teachings of Buddhism and the
Buddhist way of life there
 many monastic schools are open again in
hilly regions remote areas and poor areas
 Monastic schools follow the curriculum of
the government primary school but the
emphasis is mainly on Buddhist culture
 The initiative to encourage the monastic
school was taken by the Chairman of the
State Sangha Mahanayaka Committee
 Ministry of Religious Affairs give material
support to the schools
 The monastic schools are mostly run by the
local monks with the support of local people
 The lay devotees would dedicate lands and
slaves to the monastery
 Myanmar is one of the countries with high
literacy
rates
because
of
monastic
education.
 monasteries are the centers for transmitting
and protection of Buddhist culture.
 The group norms of the Sangha are the
Dhamma
vinaya),
and
the
Vinaya
doctrines
(Pali,
dhamma-
and
precepts
preached by the Buddha
 These
have
been
preserved
and
transmitted in the Tipitaka. or 'three baskets'
of the canon, namely, the Sutta Pitaka, the
Vinaya Pitaka, and the Abhidhamma Pitaka.
 the students formed the most important
group
 They devoted their time to pariyatti learning
and patipatti-practice
 Big
monastic
establishments
were
endowed with funds to enable them to
become Buddhist schools
 The lay devotees would dedicate lands and
slaves to the monastery.
cappiya - looked after the comfort of the
monks and serve for the monks in dealing
with the outside world
According to Buddhism, people should give
away property in charity for attaining the
nirvana since nothing in this world is
permanent
Conclusion
 Through out the history of Myanmar,
Buddhism is the main and the only source
that influent both the government and the
society
 Buddhist is the fundamental basic of
Myanmar culture and way of life
Myanmar people
of
 Unlike the other Southeast Asian Buddhist
countries, Theravada Buddhism in Myanmar has
its unique features:

(1) Theravada Buddhism had flourished in
Myanmar since the kingdoms of Pyu though
there were Brahmanism and Mahayanism

(2)Theravada Buddhism has uninterruptedly
the dominant religion since Bagan Period
 (3) Theravada Buddhism and Myanmar culture
are undividable It is the root of Myanmar
culture
 (4) Myanmar is a secular nation
 (5) Though Myanmar had experienced the
colonial rule for several decades, people's faith
on Theravada Buddhism had never dwindled

(6)
Changing
of
political
system
and
government appears no effect on the
common faith of Theravada Buddhism

(7) The tripartite relationship between the
Dhamma, Sangha and rulers, Sangha and
laities are getting developed on the basic of
religion.
 Successive support and patronage of Myanmar
rulers is the key reason for the flourishing of
Theravada Buddhism in Myanmar
 In the history of Myanmar, the leaders are the
promoters,
propagators
and
purifiers
of
Theravada Buddhism for the perpetuation of the
religion.
 Buddhism has always been separated from state
affairs
 The Sanghas might sometimes had influence
over the kings, but the king was the only
decision maker and holding the absolute power
So, we do not find any legitimacy between the
king and the Sangha in Myanmar.
Sommboon had mention that
the Sangha whose main concerns were
strictly
non-political
and
who
would
be
economically supported by the people, but were
also prepared to cooperate with the ruler and
advise him on religious and social matters in
return for his guaranteeing them a virtual
monopoly
as
the
spiritual
professionals of the kingdom.
and
religious
 The relationship between the kings and the
sangha was reciprocal
 In Myanmar, as revealed by epigraphic
and archaeological evidence
 Buddhism had reached its height in
Bagan. Religious life of Bagan came under
strong influence of Sri Lanka.
The inspiration of Sinhalese Buddhism on
Bagan can be perceived in the various
paintings and sculptures in different temples
The first formation of Sinhala Sangha or
Sinhala
Order
in
Myanmar
was
by
Mahathera Chappata during the reign of
Narapatisithu (c 1173-1210).
 It was Dhammaceti (1476 – 1480 c)
who held Sinhalese views of orthodoxy
helped the Sinhala Sangha become
supreme and it became the only officially
recognized Order in Myanmar
 the 18th century religious struggle known
as
Parupana-Ekamasika
was settled by King Badon.
controversy
 The establishment of 'Amarapura School'
(Burmese Order) in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) was
another achievement of King Badon
 this was an important event in the religious
history
 King Mindon convened the Fifth Buddhist
Council which was the first Buddhist Council
held in Myanmar.
 In the Colonial Period, the government
recognized no responsibility for supporting
the Sangha, and the Primate office was
abolished
 However, Buddhism still was a most
powerful influence, just as it did in the past,
on the life of the people, and still a great
social force.
 Therefore, we can see that throughout the
religious history of Myanmar, Buddhism has
been closely linked to the state
 The most powerful supporter of the Sangha
was the king
 Myanmar kings were not only the patrons of
the Order but were the defenders of Buddhism
 That is why even in the Colonial Period, Buddhist
faith was not effect by any other influence.
 After
the
independence,
Buddhism
was
encouraged by the Myanmar government
 the government was not only the protector of
Buddhism but took the responsibility for the
preservation and purification of the Order
 The Government of the Union of Burma
Socialist Republic sponsored the Buddhist
Council in 1980
 Buddhism in Myanmar was developed
along with the growth of the nation
 It assimilated with the local culture and
later even stand hand in hand with the
indigenous belief such as spirit worship,
animism and superstitious
 Buddhism and Myanmar civilization was
vi-si-vi-za since it was gradually grown up
within the civilization history of Myanmar
 Buddhist faith was accepted and influent
over the social life of both the ruling class
to the grass-root level throughout the
history of Myanmar
 Buddhism is encouraged by the ruling-class
whenever the administration system change
or the change of government
 The Buddhist theory of equality in society is
also the main reason for it to be popular in
Myanmar society
 The monasteries became one of the
important parts of religion
 The monks are taking leading role both in
the religion and social life of Myanmar
 Myanmar
is
a
secular
state
though
Theravada Buddhism is getting strong hold
in it