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Southern Buddhism In South-East Asia

Buddhism of the Burmese


The monasteries of Burma include some of the most traditional in South-East Asia with a strong emphasis on the study of the commentaries and the subcommentaries in the Pali language.  Above all they are renowned for their study of abhidhamma.  This is often combined with insight meditation, of which there are many important teachers and centres with a dozen or more major schools.  There is also a strong tradition of female nuns with major centres and considerable numbers in some areas.  At a more popular level the cult of the stupa (Pali thupa) or pagoda is especially strongly developed.  As with almost all forms of Buddhism, there is a complex relationship with the cult of local deities, but in Burma that is often strongly emphasized even by educated Buddhists in the form of the cult of the 37 Nats.  As well as the more literary form of Buddhism mentioned above there are also strong esoteric traditions (notably alchemical) and many esoteric sects (gaing), especially among the laity but also including some monks.  It should be noted that at least the emphasis on abhidhamma and the building of stupas precedes the arrival of the Burmese in this area and dates back to at least the middle of the first millennium A.D.


It is usually held that people speaking Burmese arrived in Burma from the north around the ninth century, but it is not known what their religious practices would have been.  By the eleventh century they had established a substantial kingdom in which various forms of Buddhism inherited from the Pyu must have been present.  Following their conquest of the Mons to the south, Mon cultural influences soon became very important and a form of Southern Buddhism using the Pali language gradually emergd as dominant over the next few centuries.


Those of Southern Buddhism in general, especially the stupa.



Main Centre

Mandalay and Rangoon as well as a number of local centres.