Religions and beliefs have long contributed to the development of Burmese society and culture. In terms of legislation, there was no official protection of freedom of worship until the Socialist Constitution of 1974 was suspended in 1988. The authorities are generally tolerant of religious groups.
However, the situation is not as transparent as it is believed. The government imposes restrictions on certain religious activities and is occasionally accused of abusing the freedom of religion to promote a single religion, Buddhism. Here is a short overview of the religions and beliefs in Burma that can be useful Myanmar travel information.
Religions and beliefs in Burma: Buddhism
During your Burma trip, you can easily realize that the influence of Buddhism is particularly noticeable. Indeed, nearly 90% of the Burmese population practices Buddhism, majority of which is in Theravada form.
The Theravada doctrine considers Man as the center of preoccupations and individual enlightenment as the ultimate goal. The other less popular form is Mahayana, which seeks to bring salvation to all men.
Theravada Buddhism began to spread in Burma from Bagan, the ancient capital, from the tenth century. Since then, Buddhism has played a crucial role in the development of Burmese society and its culture; Arts and architecture have also been substantially influenced by this belief. More and more temples have begun to be built all over the country, such as Yangon, Mandalay, and Moulmein.
Today, Buddhism is seemingly considered Burmese national religion. However, it is not “pure” Buddhism, in the sense that the Burmese have incorporated elements of older and animistic beliefs, such as the nats and the ancient spirits. Buddhism plays an important part in Burma history and it is the origin of the largest tourist sites in the country, such as the Shwedagon Pagoda or the Ananda Temple Bagan.
The minority religions of Burma
Despite the all-powerful place of Buddhism in Burma, other religions are also practiced throughout the country.
This is particularly the case of Christianity, which is currently the second biggest religion of Burma, with about 5% of the population. The majority is Protestant, although there is a small minority of Roman Catholics. Christianity was introduced in Burma in the 19th century, along with the arrival of the first Westerners who conquered most of its followers among members of minority ethnic groups, such as the Kachin or the Karen.
Then comes Islam, which account for about 5% of the Burmese population. As Christianity, Muslims are mostly practiced by Burmese ethnic minorities, such as the Rohingyas. Islam was introduced at about the same time as Buddhism, but its expansion stopped in the northern territory of the country and then resumed with the arrival of the Indians in Myanmar during colonization.
Finally, there are also Hindu (2% of the population) and animists in Burma, although their beliefs are mixed with Buddhism.
Religions in Burma: a source of conflict?
One of the most important Myanmar travel guide is that although Burma has unofficially recognized the freedom of worship, the country has for some time been in the spotlight because it is accused of promoting Buddhism as a state religion.
Thus, U Nu, one of the political leaders of the country, has influenced the legislation of the country by designating Buddhism as a state religion. Similarly, religious sites are often the site of important political discourse, and political leaders do not hesitate to put forward their faith.
It also should be noted that the emergence of certain religious conflicts may have a consequence on your stay in Burma. This is particularly the case in Rakhine State, where the ethnic minority of the Rohingyas is under great pressure from the Buddhist majority.
During your tours Myanmar, you will be surprised and delighted to discover the diversity of Burmese religions and beliefs. More than a fact of society, they are one of the pillars of the community in a country that has experienced a tormented history.