Buddhism and Its Influence On Culture in Myanmar and Vietnam

Buddhism is a religious and philosophical system, originating in India 6th C BC from the teachings of Sidartha Gautama (the Buddha) and later spreading to China, Burma, Japan, Tibet, and parts of Southeast Asia, that holds that life is full of suffering caused by desire and that the way to end this suffering is through Enlightenment that enables one to halt the endless sequence of births and deaths to which one is otherwise subject. These teachings were written posthumously in the Pali scriptures

Theravada Buddhism, the more conservative of the two major schools of Buddhism, emphasizes personal salvation through one’s own efforts (merit-making) and a non-theistic ideal of self purification leading to nirvana, enlightenment. Theravada Buddhism is dominant in Myanmar (89%) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism_in_Myanmar

The other great school is Mahayana Buddhism which emphasizes a common search for universal salvation through faith alone. The Vietnamese (75%) practice primarily an inclusive, syncretic form of Mahayana Buddhist tradition called Tianti which contains an eclectic symbiotic mix of Taoism, folk religion, and Chinese spirituality. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism_in_Vietnam

In Myanmar, any male can enter a monastery for short periods of meditation and prayer observing the order’s schedule, or devote one’s whole life to the practice of observing some 250 precepts for obtaining enlightenment. There are an estimated  600,000 male monks and 30,000 female religious in Myanmar who are held in high regard by the populace. The males, some as young as 5, can be seen carrying bowls and begging for food and money. Some sport cameras and iPads. Their day starts at 0400 with prayer,  a light breakfast, and studying Holy Scripture. They may be found walking barefoot with their bowls around 1100hrs begging for their last meal of the day. All Burmese monks  wear a dark red cover over one shoulder. The females wore a pink cover, often with a folded red cloth over their shaved heads, possibly as protection against the sun. We did not see females begging for food.

Evidence of Buddhist practitioners in Vietnam, on the other hand, was much less evident. We saw no begging for food, none walked barefooted, they wore a light gray wrap and shaved their heads.

The Buddha images have characteristics in common. The cranial protuberance symbolizes wisdom, spirituality, and the attainment of enlightenment. The mark in the center of his forehead refers to supernatural wisdom. The downcast eyes symbolizes energies that are focused away from the mundane world. Elongated ear lobes is a reminder that the Buddha was once a prince who wore heavy jewelry. The golden robes symbolize spiritual rather than world wealth. The limbs and fingers are usually elongated. An upturned left palm symbolizes meditative calm, while the right hand touches the earth, calling upon it to bear witness. The lotus position with both feet turned up is the pose of meditation. The standing and reclining Buddha are variations on the theme. One of the largest centers for making Buddhas presently is in Mandalay where statues are made from marble, bronze, or brass.

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