“This question has been puzzling and confusing to me all my life. Technically speaking, within Theravada Buddhism, the primary tradition practiced in Burma, there is no palpable importance attached to the notion of ‘God’ or the divinity of Buddha.
Sure, there are hundreds, if not thousands of gods and goddesses, including Hindu ones like Thuyathadi (Saraswati) or spirits like nat that the Burmese worship in times of need. But one interesting thing is whether God figures any role in Burmese Buddhism.
I think some of my confusion arose from my being lost in translation. While growing up, I always equated the Burmese word shi-kho (ရှိခိုး) with English ‘worship,’ which I felt was its closest equivalent. When I actually looked up shi-kho recently, it is defined as “to do obeisance; to pay homage.” Whenever my parents would say Phaya shi-kho or ‘Pay homage to Buddha,’ I would inherently think I was worshiping Buddha, like Christians would to God. This may be because I grew up in the U.S. and what I saw all around me, made me want to find equivalents in my own life. I probably fooled myself into thinking that Buddha chose who to punish (like the cartoons that showed God choosing who went to heaven), especially when I would pray “Andaye kin, bay shin” (အန္တရာယ်ကင်းဘေးရှင်း) or literally “Be free from dangers and clear of harm’s way.” I remember in the third grade, a presumably Christian girl taunted me for being Buddhist, that “Behind Buddha is the Devil,” something I will never forget. Maybe she assumed that all Buddhists worship Buddha as God (as some Mahayana Buddhists do) or that I was idolatrous. I guess in a way, I was a naive kid. It didn’t help that a variety of Burmese phrases like “Phaya ma lo” (ဘုရားမလို့, rough equivalent “Thank God!”) or “Phaya mo gyo pyit” (ဘုရားမိုးကြိုးပစ်, rough equivalent “I swear to God”) that led me to assume Buddha is God.” (Source: Does God Exist in Burmese Buddhism?)
After reading his article, I was left with a lot of thought on this issue. Sure, we have been told since we were young some of the things he mentioned in his article. For example, we were told several times in our childhood that Buddha will punish us if we behave badly. We were told into believing Buddha still exists somewhere in heaven. Many of my friends and family believe that Nirvana is a place where those who attain enlightenment go after their death. Most Burmese believe that there is spirit which leaves the human body after his death. Those are all wrong in Buddhism.
Many of us Burmese think Buddha and Christian God are more or less similar. Although most Burmese are Buddhists, most of them really not truly understand the true teaching and essence of Buddhism. Many of us, including me, are just nominal Buddhist, without truly understand the essence of Buddhism. Many Burmese Buddhists worship spirits in Burma, which are nothing to do with Buddhism. I see many people having a large shrines for spirits while a very small corner for Lord Buddha. However, many people in Burma still believe these spiritual believes which are different from the teachings of Lord Buddha. (As a result, the lates proposed constitution by the Burmese Military government even included the worshiping of spirits or animism as one of the major religions of Burma!)
- Burma and Buddhism by Aung San Aung San …During the present period of transition through...
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