The Western world have surely heard of Buddhism and associated this with the saffron-clad monks chanting and meditating in temples or pagodas. What most are not aware of there are three different schools and three types of monastic fraternities in Buddhism. The three schools are Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana; the fraternities that are still in existence are the Theravada, Dharmaguptaka and Mulasarvastivada. And when you visit Burma that is exactly what you will find. Your senses will be filled with everything related to Buddhism – sights, sounds and character. Understandably, since Burma’s way of life is almost 90% are followers of Theravada Buddhism.
The proud Burmese people are estimated to be at 60 million and at least half a million are Theravada monks and another 75,000 are practicing nuns. Theravada Buddhism is inclined to be conservative with the focus on the moral code rather than the supernatural. Burmese families who have been devout practitioners of Buddhism would have a home with altars and look forward to their sons to join the monastery sometime in their lives even just temporarily.
Buddhism was probably brought to Burma more than two thousand years ago. The Theravada way of belief was embedded in Pagan as early as the 11thcentury by a Burmese royalty, King Anawrhata. He was bent in making Pagan the seat of Theravada Buddhism and surmised that if the Tipitaka, considered as a sacred text were brought to Pagan, it would strengthen his people’s conviction. So he took the Tipitaka by force from a Mon king and with white elephants that triumphantly transported the Buddhist canon Tipitaka to the Kingdom of Pagan.
Theravada Buddhism means ‘the teachings of the elders’. This is a direct reference to the senior Buddhist monks. The followers of Theravada Buddhism believe that their school has retained the original teachings of Gautama Buddha. Its followers are expected to desist from all kinds of evil and to purify their minds by means of meditation. This is why Theravada monks spend most of their time in deep meditation or studying the ancient scriptures. Many beliefs and a further understanding of enlightenment and purification can be attained this way. When a monk reaches liberation he is called arhat, meaning worthy person. This is an honour and recognition of spiritual progress. This is the aim of all Buddhist monks.
The monks discipline themselves with the 227 precepts that are part of their monastic training. The most basic of these rules are the following:
– Avoid harming living things
– Avoid taking which is not given freely
– Avoid sexual misconduct
– Avoid lying, idle talk and harsh words
– Avoid intoxicating drinks and drugs that might lead to carelessness
There are no signs that Burma is going to change its faith or beliefs in the near future. Theravada Buddhism is going to be this way of life for thousands of years more. The pure respect of life has provided balance so far for millions so why can’t it continue to do so for generations to come.