Burma has a population of 50 million people, 135 ethnic groups and over one hundred languages and dialects. The country gained independence from Britain in 1947 and has been ruled since 1962 by highly repressive and authoritarian military regimes.
The religions of Burma
The majority of the population are Theravada Buddhists. There areminorities of Christians (mostly Baptists as well as some Catholics and Anglicans), Muslims (mostly Sunni), Hindus, and practitioners of traditional Chinese and indigenous religions. According to government statistics, almost 90 percent of the population are Buddhist, 4 percent are Christian, and 4 percent are Muslim; however, according to the USA department of state, these statistics mayunderstate the non-Buddhist proportion of the population.
The country is ethnically diverse, and there are correlations between ethnicity and religion. Theravada Buddhism is the dominant religion among the majority Bamar ethnic group, and among the Shan and Chinese minorities. Christianity is the dominant religion among the Kachin and the kayah ethnic groups. Islam and Hinduism are practiced mainly byIndians. Traditional indigenous religions persist widely in popular Buddhist rituals, especially in rural areas (Dingrin, 2001)
In much of the country there also is some correlation between religion and social class. Non-Buddhists tend to be better educated, more urbanized, and more business oriented than the Buddhist majority (Schober, 2008).
The Theravada Buddhism
Most of the Buddhist followsthe Theravada form of Buddhism. Literally, it means “the teaching of the elders”. It is the oldest surviving Buddhist school. Mainly of the non-Burmese groups follows this philosophy, but their beliefs and practices can present some differences, mainly because they include animistic elements, reflecting the beliefs which predated the introduction of Buddhism.
The Buddhism has a huge influencein the Burmese daily life. Between age of ten and sixteen, most young Burmese men and some young women become Buddhist novices and go to live in a monastery. Most of them stay in the monastery a short time then return to the secular life, but some of them become fully ordained monks. If they want to become a monk, they have to be free of debt and certain disease, have the permission of theparents, agree to follow the disciplinary rules of the monkhood, and not become involved in secular life. While monks are expected to lead a life of aestheticism, they have important functions in the community (Carbonnel, 2009). According to the USA state department, the number of Buddhist monk, including novices, is more than 300,000 persons (roughly 2 percent of the male Buddhist world population).The traditional Burmese calendar is composed of twelve months, and for each one a festival corresponds. Most of them are related to Burmese Buddhism. The local Paya Pwè (the pagoda festival) is the most important one. Thingyan, the water festival, marks the New Year in April. Buddha images are washed, and monks give alms. It also includes dancing, singing, and theatrical performances. Kason in Maycelebrates Buddha's birth, enlightenment, and entrance into nirvana. In July, a ceremony marks the start of the three-month Lenten period and commemorate Buddha's first sermon. It is during this period that young males become novices. During the lent, the monks stay in their monastery. Lent finishes in October, and three days festivities celebrate the return of Buddha from heaven. Many marriagesare held at this time (there were not allowed during the lent). Official public holidays include also some Christian and Islamic holy days.
Officially, there is no state religion, but in practice the Government shows a strong preference for Theravada Buddhism (Walton, 2008).
Buddhist doctrine is taught in all elementary schools. And even if it is not compulsory the government do its maximum...