When visiting Myanmar, you'll quickly see how much Buddhism integrates into every aspect of life in this incredibly religious country. We've listed some of the most interesting facts about Buddhism in Myanmar which it's improtant to pay attention to, but will also make your trip to Myanmar that much better for understanding.
1) Horoscopes and Zodiac Signs
Astrology is a big deal in Myanmar, with most practising Buddhist’s strongly believing in horoscopes. In Myanmar, horoscopes are based on the day of the week, which means that the day an individual is born on is extremely important.
In total there are eight zodiac signs (represented by animals) that make up this horoscope, one for each for of the week, while Wednesday actually has two.
Monday is a Tiger
Tuesday is a Lion
Wednesday Morning is an Elephant
Wednesday Afternoon is a Tusk-Less Elephant
Thursday is a Rat
Friday is a Guinea Pig
Saturday is a Dragon
Sunday is a Garuda (a mythical bird that is half human and half bird)
These zodiac signs are often used to help name the child (a name that is associated with the zodiac sign), and also it is believed that they can determine an individuals personality.
Most pagoda’s will have a special corner for each of these zodiac signs and they are often referred to as the “birthday corner”. Individuals will generally visit the pagoda and pay respect to their birthday corner (or zodiac sign) by pouring water over the animal and carrying out devotional acts.
Throughout the year, there are many festivals that take place in Myanmar, with most of these being related to the Buddhist calendar.
One of the most important is the Thidingyut Festival which takes place at the beginning of October. The story goes that when the Lord Buddha returned after 3 months of lent, he was welcomed with candles and colourful objects to greet him. During this “Lighting Festival” it is common to see many lamps lit, fireworks going off, manmade balloons being released into the sky with lanterns or fireworks attached and a general sense of celebration throughout Myanmar.
Another important festival is the Thingyan Festival or “Water Festival”. This takes place in April and signals the start of the New Year in the Buddhist calendar. During the 5-day celebration water is thrown on individuals throughout the country as a way to wash away the previous years bad luck and sins. It’s the biggest festival in Myanmar and well worth being a part of.
3) Novitiation Ceremony
The Novitiation Ceremony is another important part of Buddhism in Myanmar. The ceremony is a ritual that all male Buddhists must go through and signals there growth from boy to man.
It is usually celebrated in the months of March and April, with the first day seeing the male boy paraded around his local pagoda dressed in ornate clothing. All of the family will take part in this part of the ceremony, walking alongside the carriage and carrying alms bowls, fans and the all-important robe.
Once they family have paid homage to the sacred spirit of the pagoda, the boy will have his head shaved as a sacrifice of vanity. This signals the first step the boy will make in becoming a novice monk.
After the ceremony, the boy will spend a short period of time at their local monastery, learning about important Buddhist teachings. Once this period has finished the boy will return to his family a man.
4) Courtesy in Myanmar
When visiting Myanmar it is important to know that images of the Buddha, practising monks and nuns are highly respected. As a result it is important for all visitors to show respect to all aspects of Buddhism while visiting Myanmar. Even touching a monk or nun (and their robes), can be seen as disrespectful.
It’s important to remember some simple things such as do not point your feet at any Buddhist imagery. In fact it’s probably best to not point your feet at anything as they are seen as “unclean”. It is also important to remove socks and shoes at religious sites and to wear appropriate clothing at these locations. Too much skin being shown will also certainly result in you being turned away.
Almsgiving is done throughout Myanmar, on every day of the year. You might not recognise the word, but you’ll almost certainly recognise the practise. In the early morning, often before sunrise, monks and nuns will line up along streets and walk slowly down them with an alms bowl in hand. Locals will come out onto the streets and present alms to the monks and nuns. This can include rice, curries and desserts which are spooned into the alms bowl, but will traditionally not include money. Once the donation has been made, the individual will then receive a blessing.
6) Mythical Lions
Mythical Lions, known as “Chin The” will often be seen at the entrance of religious sites such as pagodas and temples. They will almost always come in pairs. In Myanmar lions are noted for their bravery and are thus considered the perfect guardians for these religious sites and will face outwards away from the building, much like you would expect a guard to do. See if you can spot these gracious creatures during your next visit.