Religions and Beliefs


The Burmese culture is largely influenced by Buddhism and that of the Mon people who established the Burmese writing system. Other influences are also remarkable, such as Chinese influence, since the Burmese ethnic group originated in Yunnan, a region in southwestern China. There are many similarities with other countries in Southeast Asia as well. Later, British and Western influences came to change the language and education.

Three major religions are present in Myanmar: Theravada Buddhism, Christianity and Islam.

Buddhism is practiced by about 85% of the population in its Theravada tradition, mixed with local beliefs. Theravada Buddhism was introduced by envoys of King Ashoka in the 3rd century BC. 10 years later, the Mahayana appeared in areas bordering China. The Vajrayana followed. These 3 Buddhist schools coexisted until the reign of King Anawrahta (1044-1077) who opted for the Theravada and tried to restore this religion in its purest original version. It did not really succeed since it allowed the cult of Natsin the sanctuaries (from the moment when Buddhism predominates). He created an official list of 37 Nats. The Nats are revered spirits. Most of the 37 Nats are human beings who have experienced a violent death and have attained the title of Nat, much like the Saints of Christianity, for various reasons. This cult of spirits is mainly practiced by the Burmese ethnic group and in rural areas (many houses have altars of Nats). King Anawrahta would have liked to suppress them because the Nats have human characteristics, desires and needs, considered as failing for traditional Buddhism. By tolerating them, he avoided seeing the entire Burmese population turn away completely from the Buddhist religion. This is what makes the originality of Burmese Buddhism today.

4% of the population are Christians (Kachin, Menton, Kayin, Eurasians), and 4/5 of them are Protestants. This religion was imported by European missionaries in the nineteenth century.

4% of the population is Muslims (Sunni) (probably underestimated). Islam reached Burma around the 11th century, but it never managed to gain a foothold beyond the Arakan coast from Bangladesh to the Irrawaddy delta.

Another 1% follows Hinduism.

The others are of different faiths, including Animists and Chinese Religions .


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