Update: 2013-02-16 06:15 AM +0630


Nat in My Classroom!

Using Spirit Worship to Infuse Southeast Asia into the K-16 Classroom

Marc Jason Gilbert, Department of History and Sociology, North Georgia College and State University, Dahlonega, Georgia, 30597, http://home.alltel.net/rshayd2785/

Downloaded and edited by U Kyaw Tun (UKT) (M.S., I.P.S.T., USA), and staff of Tun Institute of Learning (TIL) . Not for sale. No copyright. Free for everyone. Prepared for students and staff of TIL  Computing and Language Center, Yangon, MYANMAR :  http://www.tuninst.net , http://www.softguide.net.mm , www.romabama.blogspot.com

UKT 050115, 130211:
Burmese spellings in both Myanmar script and in Romabama and are included. Romabama spellings are within { }, and words within < > are regular English words.
   This is the second time I am going through this paper. I thank the author for not objecting to uploading his paper to TIL website. I have added new materials to his original paper.
   I was turning Romabama from a transliteration into a transcription when I first uploaded this paper. Many years have passed, and I have learned a bit of Sanskrit written in Devanagari script (Skt-Dev) and have learned quite a lot on the various Indian cultures, and I am incorporating the ideas on Devas, Asuras, Rakshas, etc. which go under the rubric Nat in Bur-Myan.


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Contents of this page

Spirit Worship: the Basics
Coming of the Great Traditions
  Buddhism : UKT caption for easy reading
  Hinduism :  UKT caption
  Confucianism and Taoism : UKT caption
    Taoism : UKT caption
  Islam : UKT caption
  Christianity : UKT caption
Case studies:
  Burma: Nats and the State

MJG footnotes

UKT references

UKT notes
All-Spirits Buddhism
Buddhist doctrine of no soul Coming of Buddhism into N. Burma
Cult of Bodhisattva Green death 
Guan-Yin aka Kuan Yin Nat-tiger, Were-tiger, Were-crocodile, and Undead
Nirvana or Nibbana Prayers of the living
Shiva's Linga Sufism
A world of Spirits Soul
Unseen Entities in our homes Wizard or Alchemist

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The word "Nat" used by M. J. Gilbert is a Bur-Myan word which is quite confusing to a Bur-Myan Buddhist let alone a Westerner. There are two kinds of Nats: the Higher Nats (Devas) and the Lower Nats (Spirits).

What many, especially those in the West, do not realized is that Burmese-Buddhists do not actually "worship" the Nats as they would the Buddha. They have a set of different terminology: feasts for the Nats - {nt-ka.na:}, place of residence - {nt-kwun:}. We do the signs of obeisance - kow-tow - which is what we do to an elder. In times of need we expect help from them as we would from a friend. And so it is always a good policy to have Nats as friends. Of course, there are exceptions among us who do actually worship the nats.

The Higher Nats, according to Buddhism, are those who inhabit the six celestial worlds all above the human world. The status of a Higher Nat is a very desirable thing to most of the Burmese except for a few. The exceptions are: those aspiring to for complete cessation of the cycle of birth-rebirth and those aspiring for Bodaw or Mahatma stage.

One entity among the Higher Nats, the {maar nt}, the arch-opponent of the Buddha, is also very confusing even to a Bur-Myan Theravada-Buddhist. We cannot say that he is the arch-enemy because the Buddha did not hold anybody to be his enemy.

The king of the highest Nat-heaven, the {maar nt}, considers every entity belonging to the Cycle of Birth and Rebirth (n-a.ra} to be his subjects, and does not want anyone to leave the cycle, whereas the Buddha is for leaving this cycle. Though he is commonly described as the <devil>, {maar nt} is very much unlike the Christian Devil who inhabits the nether worlds.

The Lower Nats, on the other hand, are inhabitants of the world ruled by one of the Four Guardian Gods of the World known as {sa.tu.ma.ha-raiz nt-ming:}. The status of a Lower Nat is not to be desired. In many ways they are held to be much lower than humans in the potential to be liberated from the Cycle. In this paper, the Nats (at least, the Bur-Myan Nats) referred to by M. J. Gilbert are the Lower Nats.

Myanmar-Buddhists are taught by the Bur-Myan Theravada-Buddhist Sangha not to be afraid of such pitiable entities, and if a Myanmar-Buddhist is dedicated to the Buddha, the Teachings, and the Sangha, he is beyond the pale of such Nats.

Before the establishment of what today are the religions of Southeast Asia (Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and Christianity), the peoples of the region had well-established religious belief systems. These belief systems focused, to a greater or lesser extent within each human community, on spirit worship. In the past, such spirit worship was the object of scorn among European colonialists and missionaries seeking to civilize these animist peoples and, conversely, it became the most favored object of Western anthropological researchers who sought in it primordial religious impulses no longer easily visible in the modernized world. [UKT ]

Today, the efforts by outsiders to interpret or represent the folk religions of Southeast Asia has itself become a leading cottage industry among analysts of post-modern culture. While Western scholars today debate the meaning of indigenous Southeast Asian beliefs systems, or, increasingly, the debate over their debate over the meaning of Southeast Asian indigenous beliefs systems, these systems themselves offer invaluable and accessible insights not only into the unique elements of Southeast Asian civilization, but into the universal elements of religious practice, including the evolution of belief systems via absorption of and adaptation to, new religious ideologies. [UKT ]

They also illuminate the relationship between church and state and the divine grace that attends the performance of moral and spiritual behavior. As spirit worship remains an active force in the daily lives of the people, continually shaping the relations between the living and the dead, the sacred and the profane, they offer a window into daily life in Southeast Asia.

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Spirit Worship: The Basics

Southeast Asian peoples have long believed that human beings lived in a world of spirits, which human beings joined upon death. Many of these spirits inhabit worlds unseen to the living, such as in cities at the bottom of rivers or in heavenly kingdoms. [UKT ]

UKT: It is not only the Southeast Asian peoples, but Europeans such as Ancient Romans believed in spirits before the Christians persecuted them to extinction. The ancient Romans believed in good spirits, Ma'nes, and the bad ones, Lemures. See Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manes 130211

The spirits of men and women who lived lives of great good or great evil can influence the lives of the living. They thus become the object of prayers designed to protect people from the bad spirits and draw support from the good ones. [UKT ]

For example, in Viet Nam, where warfare was often the norm, it became common practice for villages to venerate the memory of a military hero who had rescued the village from harm. Few people attained such status, but it is believed that all those who had joined the ranks of the dead, especially one's own ancestors, remained concerned with the affairs of those in the material world. Some need the prayers of the living to help them settle safely into their new spirit lives; others might act as guardians of a family's moral order. As historian Michael Aung-Thwin has noted, “belief in the presence of ancestors in the supernatural world is essentially a belief in the continuity of an individual soul after death.” fn01

UKT, 130212: The common English word "soul" should be used with care. The Buddhists do not believe in a permanent, indestructible Soul -- in the sense used by Christians and Hindus. Yet they do believe in an "aggregate" that is forever changing. This "aggregate" is known as {wi.ai}. It is this aggregate that passes from a dying entity to a new entity at the moment of death. It continues to change in the new entity. There is no part in the aggregate that could be called permanent. What the Buddhists believe is not a "soul".
   Note to Language students: The aggregate, {wi.ai}, written in this way is Bur-Myan. For definition, see MED2006-475. The akshara {a.} is Bur-Myan and is not co-joined to {wi.}. The Pal-Myan equivalent is a conjunct in which the first part of the syllable is pronounced as {wai~}.

Thus, all ancestors, not merely heroes, were honored by prayers and rituals performed by the living. These rituals were particularly important because a villager's ancestors were thought to linger in nearby waters, wells, farmlands and trees and their good will was considered necessary for prosperity. Many took the form of spirit guardians of the household, village gate, field or forest. [UKT ]

Most feared were the spirits of those who died before their proper time or without a proper ritual burial. These could become wandering souls with great power to strike fear and do harm; though some ghosts could serve as moral teachers to help the living on their way to better fates. [UKT ]

Over time, a shrine might be erected in honor of a powerful spirit and festivals were held during which spirits of the dead would walk among and be honored by the living, an event somewhat like that which takes place on All Hallows Eve in Europe, Halloween in the United States and The Day of the Dead in Latin America. http://daphne.palomar.edu/library/displays/October99/default.htm [UKT ]

So firmly entrenched were these beliefs that they have survived the waves of world religions that have swept across Southeast Asia over a period of more than two thousand years.


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Coming of the Great Traditions


The arrival of Buddhism from India and China posed little threat to the Southeast Asian world of spirits. [UKT ]

UKT 130212: Although I can accept the idea of Buddhism arriving in SE Asia via sea-routes, I cannot accept it for northern Myanmarpr. See my note on Buddhism in Northern-Burma .

Buddhists identify man's attachment to or desire for, the fruits of a constantly frustrating material world as the source of all unhappiness, pain, selfish acts and what Westerners call sin. This attachment ensures that, at a person's death, release from the material world (salvation) is impossible; thus the soul remains on earth and is thought to be reincarnated in an earthly host, such as the body of a new born child [or, even a new born animal]. Only by renouncing the world can salvation or nirvana be attained. Buddhists view nirvana not as a place, but as a state of grace, where attachment, frustration and sin are no more.

UKT 130212: There is a great difference in interpreting the idea of Nibbana or Nirvana by the Theravada Buddhists and Mahayana Buddhists. Based on this interpretation, we can even say that the two branches of Buddhism are separate religions: "Theravadism" and "Mahayanism". Because of this the Bur-Myan Buddhists, the "Theravadists" cannot tolerate the "Mahayanists". I suggest that even the idea of Nibbana-Nirvana be separately defined and shown with different orthographies.

Theravada Buddhists stress that [Nibbana] nirvana  can be best achieved by following the path pursued by the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama on his own journey towards enlightenment. His life is seen as a model of human achievement, not as the acts of a divine being. [UKT ]

Mahayana Buddhists stress that the life of the Buddha was not a quest for personal salvation, but an example of how to attain the salvation of all. All believers are capable of achieving to their own salvation, but they are also capable of using the divine state [not fully acceptable to Theravadists] such enlightenment yields to liberate those still enslaved by attachment and selfish desire. Mahayana Buddhists believe that, over time, many such teachers or their eternally compassionate spirits have touched the peoples of the world. These bodhisattvas (possessors of wisdom) {bau.Di.t} are known even by those yet to know of Buddhist tradition. They are the local or indigenous spirits venerated as noble ancestors, heroic leaders, and good spirits dwelling in sacred spots or in much loved natural phenomena, such as rain clouds.

It should come as no surprise that many Southeast Asian peoples quickly embraced the Mahayana variant of Buddhism. Mahayana teachings respected indigenous rituals and objects of worship and expressed values and ideas they already possessed. It also offered attractive new forms of rituals and community service through its open and popular version of temple activities and monastery life: Mahayana monks aided in public prayers, maintained temples, and performed private services for the people, such as comforting the sick and dying. Many Southeast Asians prayed for the help of bodhisattvas, who came to be seen as having a certain amount of power over much feared local spirits. [UKT ]

Theravada Buddhism was, however, no less successful. Even in its purest form, it had reached out to popular local deities and afforded a role for lay practice, particularly those rituals governing life passages (birth, coming of age, and marriage) and long identified with local fertility and family spirits even in its land of origin, India. [UKT ]

A Chinese variation on this theme, Kuan Yin [Guan-Yin}, the Goddess of Mercy, is worshipped throughout much of mainland Southeast Asia as a symbol of wealth and prosperity. Find more on Kuan Yin at http://www.csupomona.edu/~plin/ews430/buddhism2.html. [link not active -- UKT 130214]

Buddhism generally may have also been welcomed as it embraced the traditionally active role played by women in much of Southeast Asian religion. Women, who had frequently held high office in spirit cults and serve as spirit mediums to this day, played an important role in maintaining Buddhist institutions and were honored by the sons they contributed to the order of monks. The “otherworldliness” that Buddhism fostered also built bridges between local landlords and peasants. The rich were encouraged to identify with the sufferings of the poor as an act of spiritual merit. In short, Buddhist prayer and other practices furthered developed the people's sense community and offered immediate access to a source of strength that could support them in time of need in this life and salvation in the next.

The connection between Buddhism in India and China also meant that local people could, by merely merging Mahayana belief with their own, obtain access to the rich knowledge base of, and commercial opportunities provided by, these great civilizations. Classical Southeast Asia was largely ruled by royal patrons of Buddhism, who wisely acted to synthesize Buddhist philosophy with the indigenous spirit world. This synthesis, which reached a very high order in Burma, acted to strengthen the hold of the rulers on the ruled. In Southeast Asia, land was plentiful, but people were not. A king's dominion over the spirit world, or his association with it, was a powerful means to secure the loyalty of the people and their labor.

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Hinduism, which probably came to Southeast Asia via sea born trade, shared the religio-political stage with Buddhism during the region's classical period. As its capacity for synthesis of exotic religious traditions is unmatched in history, it is not surprising that, while its impact is most visible today in Bali, there are few corners of Southeast Asia where the language, arts, literature and liturgy of Hinduism has not left a mark on indigenous spiritual practice as well as on local variants of both Buddhism and Islam. For example, the sources of the best-known performance pieces of Southeast Asia are classical Hindu epics, even in Muslim Indonesia where the heroes are portrayed as “princes” rather than pillars of Hindu mythology and theology. [UKT ]

In Burma and Thailand, the nominally Buddhist cities of Mandalay and Bangkok have linga ['penis'] dedicated to the Lord Shiva. [UKT ]

UKT 130214
Theravada Myanmar Buddhist would be much ashamed if they were considered to be phallic worshippers. If only they were to know that the actual representation of the Shiva's linga they would be more ashamed. The Shiva's linga is shown as being stuck in the virginal of the Goddess Parvati -- a sexual act being performed in public!

The concept of sakti or divine energy embodied in such shrines affords an opportunity for Hinduism to embrace the simplest forms of animism. While sakti emanates from a Divine Consciousness, it can also be found in sacred trees and even in stones, as moviegoers may have seen in the George Lucas film, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Thus, the foundations of the cultural walls that exist between indigenous Southeast Asian spirit worship and classical Hindu practice is often difficult to discern. This may not be because of any act of unilateral or multilateral adaptation. [UKT ]

It can be argued that the Southeast Asian spirit world has roots in an early Austronesian or Maylay-Polynesian culture whose migrants traveled across Southeast Asia to the eastern fringes of India. Certainly, at the level of folk belief, some aspects of Indian and Southeast Asian spirit worship have much in common, if not common roots.

For a time, Hinduism, like Buddhism, lent political cachet to indigenous rulers. It is clear that in ancient Champa, among the Khmer and Thai peoples or across the Indonesian archipelago from Western Java to Bali, royal involvement in the rituals of Hinduism sustained Southeast Asian social and political orders until the 14th century.

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Confucianism and Taoism

Two other religious  traditions filtered into Southeast Asia via China: Confucianism and Taoism. The teachings of the philosopher Confucius emphasized the virtues of loyalty, courage, mutual respect and filial piety (devotion of the type expected of the son to the father). They stressed above all the promotion of public harmony, as harmony in the world of men (The Middle Kingdom) was related to the greater harmony of Heaven above and Earth below. All were part of a greater spiritual harmony, the Tao, in which all elements achieved perfect balance. [UKT ]

UKT 130215: How to pronounce the Chinese word Tao or Dao is a problem to a Bur-Myan. The word is now represented as {tauk}. The representation in Romabama seems to be easy: {tao}, but since it cannot be transcribed into Bur-Myan, this Romabama spelling is wrong. The solution I think of is to represent is with a killed-{wa.} as: {tauw}.

Confucius believed that this spiritual balance could be achieved by men not through “otherworldliness” but through the proper performance of ritual behavior or righteous conduct in all human relationships. The correctness of these teachings seemed to be reflected in the success enjoyed by China's then legendary first dynasties. Confucius hoped that new model emperors would arise whose behavior could again serve as mankind's example of harmonious conduct for his officials. [UKT ]

Examples of proper ritual conduct by all educated people would not merely inspire public servants, but also the heads of households and senior children who would themselves become models for family life as, it was believed, they had done in better times past. As Confucian philosophy was based on a political and moral order directly derived from ancient Chinese custom and practice, it made little headway in Southeast Asia beyond its immediate neighbor Viet Nam, which endured almost a thousand years of Chinese political domination. [UKT ]

However, since Confucius allowed that ancestor worship was itself a sign of proper filial piety, and Confucianism developed forms of worship that included household altars, joss sticks and fruit offerings, there was a more than adequate bridge between Confucian ideals and practice and the Southeast Asian spirit world. Further, wherever in the Southeast Asian world the Chinese went, they carried their own amalgam of folk beliefs and legends that were quickly woven into local tradition. These include the Chinese Earth, Sky and Kitchen Gods in Vietnam and the were-tiger [Nat-tiger, were-tiger, were-crocodile, un-dead in Myanmarpr] throughout mainland and island Southeast Asia. Much of this process was aided by the spread of Taoism to these regions.

UKT 130214: Perhaps similar to the Chinese Earth, Sky and Kitchen Gods, the Bur-Myan Buddhists believe that there might be Unseen Entities in our homes. Taking pity on them, we give them lighted candles which they might offer to the Buddha for advancement of their lot. See my note on Unseen Entities in our homes .

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UKT 130214: The founder of Taoism was Laozi, (fl. 600 BC) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laozi 130214

Unlike Confucianism, which promoted the harmony of the Tao through political and social behavior, Taoists sought to achieve this goal by personal meditation. Taoists came to believe that the study of the Tao could be aided by the study of nature, which, like human beings, was also part of the Tao. This focus led to a preoccupation with how the study of the spirit or life force (chi) within all things and its manipulation could lead to perfection in life (immortality) or in death (salvation by absorption into the Great Chi or Tao). [UKT ]

In time, Taoism became associated with popular forms of spirit worship in China and developed complex forms of medicinal practice, astrology and geomancy that were designed to increase the flow of chi in positive ways that would lead to peace, prosperity and even immortality. When introduced by the Chinese, many Southeast Asian peoples, particularly the Vietnamese, welcomed and adopted Taoist belief and practice much as they did Buddhism -- as a variation of their own folk traditions. And perhaps they were in a larger sense. Again, Austronesian culture may have spread through Viet Nam and China long before the birth of the Great Masters.

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UKT: What I know of Islam is just "hearsay", and I have no comments to make. -- 130214

Islam represented a clearly exogenous religious impulse whose monotheism would at first seem to be anathema to the indigenous spirit world, despite its acknowledgement of jinn. Much of Islam, however, came to Southeast Asia via Sufi mystics and pragmatic traders from India where Islamic values had made crucial adaptations to Asian religious practice, particularly the worship of Sufi saints. [UKT ]

UKT: See my note on Sufism .

Indeed, according to Indonesian legend, the first teachers of Islam in Java were endowed with supernatural powers. The Indonesian government has taken action against some shamanistic practices, but usually in areas where there is political tension that the government officially ascribes to such “backward” practices. Javanese enjoy worshipping at the shrines of Saints and do not hesitate to employ the services of a spirit practitioner (or dukun) when Western medicine fails them.

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UKT 130214: What are angels? Aren't they 'Spirits'?

Like Islam, Christianity might shun the belief in spirits, but in Southeast Asia, as in Mexico, indigenous interpretations of the veneration of saints and passion plays dominate. In the nominally Christian northern Philippines, respect is accorded the veneration of traditional anito (spirits), shamans number in the thousands and Catholic priests are powerless to stop cockfighting, a popular form of fertility worship among almost all Southeast Asians. In the Philippines, some Western authors speak of a “Folk Christianity” and a “ Folk Protestantism” with the exogenous religions focusing on “ultimate concerns” and the “traditional ceremonies are used to wrestle with everyday concerns'. fn02 On the other hand, at least one Indonesian Christian scholar has found in Ratu Adil, the Javanese messianic Just King figure, “a Javanese face of Jesus". fn03 Anthropologists have, in any event, found that in Java, at least in some theological respects, Adam and Eve and Vishnu are one. fn-04

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Case Studies and Classroom Exercises

Burma: Nats and the State

Thanks to the pioneering work of Michael Aung-Thwin, we are able to penetrate the multiple levels of spirit worship within the Buddhist context that has become closely associated with the Burmese State. In Burma, nats, as spirits are called, come in many forms. [UKT ]

UKT 130214: The Bur-Myan word {nt} means "someone who should be worshipped" whether out of respect, fear, belief, etc. Thus the Buddha may be described as a {nt}. The living king is a {nt}. Even the head of the household -- the father, the bread-earner of the family -- is a a {nt}. Of course, unseen ones, such as the Deva {d-wa.} (female: Devi), Asura, and Spirit are {nt}. Caution: don't call a live woman a {nt a.mi:}. This term is applied to a prostitute!
   If a female, such as the mother, the aunt, or the eldest sister is the provider, the term applicable to her is Devi {d-wi} or better {m-tau}.

There are localized ghosts, spirits that represent cultural icons, and ideological nats, which represent broader religious impulses. Thus, a good woman betrayed falsely can become enshrined as heroine nat. The spirit representing man's relationship with nature is enshrined as The Wizard or Alchemist. The Bodhisattva Aveloketshvara may appear as Lokhi Nat, a spirit of joy and prosperity, while Siddhartha Gautama Buddha is himself a nat.

UKT 050115, 130215
-- Buddha and Nat -- "Siddhartha Gautama Buddha is himself a nat." is one of the most misleading statements I have come across in this article. A nat is still in the Cycle of Births-Rebirths, while Gautama Buddha after {pari-nib~baan} is no longer in the Cycle.

UKT 130207:
-- The word "Lokhi Nat" used by MJG is probably {lau:ka.nat}. It is used as a simile for a peace-loving king.

{lau:ka.nat} - n. 1. a deity revered by the world. 2. celestial being noted for peacemaking, usually depicted in dancing posture with the feet holding timing cymbals. -- MLC MED2006-437

The rulers of Pagan, the capital of classical Burma (Myanmar) were careful to link the religions of Burma to traditional Burmese spirit world as they worked to consolidate the Burmese state. As Aung-Thwin writes, with the “process of political and religious integration, where Buddhism emerged as the dominant belief system in a centralized state, the need to unify the rest of society's numerous and scattered ancestral spirits and their cults . . . became compelling. fn-05 [UKT ]

Burmese rulers placed the Vedic deity Indra [UKT: refuted. See below] -- who was closely associated with Buddhism and a symbol of royalty in both the Hindu and Buddhist faiths -- at the head of a national pantheon of spirits composed of Thirty-Seven Nats. These became the “guardians of the state and royal family and guarantors of dynastic continuity." The pantheon was divided up to “represent one of the local ancestors and/or guardian spirits” each of who was given an actual fiefdom from the reigning king. Those of the King's subjects living in this fiefdom worshipped that nat throughout their lives, even if they moved elsewhere. fn-06

UKT 130215: Vedic deity Indra, or more properly the Hindu deity Indra, and the Buddhist Sakka {i.kra:ming:} are two very different characters. A close reading the literature shows the former to be a war-lord, a drunkard and a womanizer (an adulterer who goes after other people's wives), whereas the latter is a "saint".

It should also be noted that the word Indra stands for the "office of the king" of the lowest Deva world {d-wa. lau:ka.}. According to Buddhism there are other Deva worlds above the "Indra-dom" (glorified "kingdom"), and that of the {maar nt} to be the highest.

The thoroughness with which the Kings of Burma pursued the formalization of nat worship can be seen in the fact that by the 11th century Burmese Kings incorporated recognition of nats into Buddhist rites, over-ridding the Buddhist doctrine of no soul . [UKT ]

The seriousness in which they pursued this process is revealed in the fact that when a King or Queen died on the throne, golden images of the deceased royalty were made and displayed in the Hall of Ancestors three times a year. In effect, through veneration, they sought the status of nats themselves, and with good reason. The Burmese worshipped nats in an effort to get them to intervene in their favor. This was particularly true if the nat was the spirit form of a person who had died before their time, a condition known as a " green death" {a.saim:}, for these spirits were considered capable of great evil if not propitiated. Such spirits were, accordingly, greatly feared by the populace, all the more so if they were royal! As Aung-Thwin observed, if a king or popular hero died a green death his “malevolent spirit could affect the entire culture. ” fn-07

Of course, Burmese royalty recognized that it was through propitiation and veneration that nats were created: the longer the power of an individual spirit was respected, the greater its power and prestige. In what must rank among one of the more interesting chapters of religious history, Burma's kings, through the creation of the pantheon of the Thirty Seven nats, employed this process to their political advantage by using it to help co-opt political opposition. [UKT ]

UKT 130216: Using religion to political advantage is not only confined to Burma. We should look into how Emperor Constantine consolidated and expanded his power using Christianity as a means. No doubt Constantine was a devout Christian as Anawratha was Theravada, but there are strong parallels between the two in using religion. See: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/why/legitimization.html 130216

It appears that all [UKT: there are exceptions] the nats in the pantheon had died a green death and most of them had done so at the “wrongful” command of the King! [UKT: ]

UKT: An exception would be Htihpru Hsaung Nat. He did not have to die a violent death: he was old, and enjoying all comforts of a king thanks to his son King Anawrahta. So we should interpret "green death" as due to great attachment to something, someone, or some cause.

By elevating these to the level of national recognition, the Burmese Kings demonstrated their sensitivity to injustice and their righteousness in offering redress of grievances. Notably, the names of the nats in the pantheon could change over time to suit contemporary political needs, deeds and misdeeds, but the number was kept at thirty seven to reflect the stability of a spirit world in which each Burmese dynasty was represented. [UKT ]

UKT 130215: What is the significance of the numeral 37? It can be understood readily if we are to note that the number is 36+1. The numeral #1, is the increase due to Anawrahta's "appointment" of Sakka {i.kra:ming} to rule over the 36. So we must look for the significance of #36, or its factor #3.
   12  Zodiacal constellations
   12 months in a year
   12 gates in a city
   12 years for the planet-Jupiter to make one round of the celestial sphere, etc.

The pantheon of the Thirty Seven Nats thus offered the ultimate in continuity and organization, while providing “for the assimilation of disparate groups and individuals would might otherwise have been disconnected by time, place and social structure from one another, thereby bonding the society's past leadership with the present.” fn-08 Thus it was that in Burma, nats protect not only the bonds between the people and their rulers, but also the bonds between the generations of the living with their ancestors.

UKT: The creation of the pantheon of the Thirty Seven natsin Folk-elements in Burmese Buddhism by Dr. Htin Aung: -- flk-ele-indx.htm (link chk 130215). See in particular  " Anawrahta tries to suppress Nat-worship" (link chk 130215) and the subsequent " He finally allows it to survive with modifications" (link chk 130215)

Students can approach the royal aspects of nat worship in various ways. Younger students can examine the stories of how people came to be nats. Two of the most famous stories well illustrate the forces at work in nat formation. Shrines on either side of the gates of the royal city of Pagan are devoted to Maung Din De {maung-ting.t} and his sister Shwe Myak Hna {rhw-myak-nha} (known as Golden Face) who were put to death unjustly by a king. [UKT ]

Alternatively, students can explore the story of Popa Medaw {poap-pa: m-tau} (literally, mother at of Mount Popa).

She was the mother of two men who were given the fiefdom of the region around Mount Popa, and later wrongly suspected of betraying the king and executed by him. [UKT ]

UKT 130215: The two men mentioned above were military heroes {rhw-hpyi:l:} and his elder brother who after a campaign had been lapsing in their assigned duties. They were executed by their commander Kyansittha on disciplinary grounds. Much, much later, Kyansittha became one of greatest kings in Pagan history.

They can also explore the role of important nats in Burmese mythology: such as the Wizard or Alchemist (Zawgyi). [UKT: factual error] The Alchemist is a figure of great joy as he represents the relationship between man and nature, whose curative powers he employs as a salve to illness and a balm to human strife. [UKT ]

As he is also a stock figure in the rich and colorful tradition of Burmese puppetry, he can act as a door to a world of the imagination younger students will find beautiful as well as fascinating. Older students may wish to make a virtual visit the Alchemist's shrine on Mount Popa, on whose summit shrines to Burma's principle nats can be found. [UKT ]

A performance of Burmese puppetry is not beyond the capabilities of any class. Atlanta's renowned Center for the Puppetry Arts has the world's largest collection of materials on puppetry arts and information on Burmese puppetry (www.puppetry.org). On-line resources include a photographic file offering photographs of a set of the Burmese puppetry pantheon at http://www.myanmar.com/gov/puppet.html. The richness of Burmese Buddhism is discussed at a related site: http://www.myanmar.com/gov/tourist/rel.html. Students can also compare it with, or use as an alternate focus, the Indonesian puppet tradition (wyang kulit).

UKT: The Alchemist, {zau-gyi} should not be classified with Nats. He is never revered because of his sexual exploits. Those who are revered are the {waiz~za Bo:tau:} who are on a par with the Indian Mahatmas.

More senior students of wider Asian civilization will find a remarkable modern parallel in the evolution of Shinto in Japan from the diverse veneration of thousands of divine spirits called kami into a national cult called State Shinto from 1868 to 1945.fn-09 9

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The people of Thailand, like their Burmese counterparts, seamlessly combine Buddhism and spirit worship. This is most visible in popularity of the “tree-saving monks” of northern Thailand, which has recently attracted international attention. [UKT ]

The most visible evidence of spirit worship in that country is the ubiquitous Thai "spirit house". Spirits may act as guardians of a gate or a house, but they also dwell in nature and wise men and women offer their respect to them by creating homes for them, particularly where the natural environment has been harmed or obliterated by human beings. No visitor to Bangkok, or even to a traditional Thai restaurant in the United States, will have any difficulty in seeing these structures, festooned with offerings of flowers and votive figures. Fortunately, a rather wide door to has been opened onto the subject at http://infothai.com/wtcmcr/sprthous.htm. Students can easily produce a replica of a spirit house out of paper or of any kind of wood; popular in Bangkok today are stucco and concrete spirit houses. A model for a paper-cut spirit house can be obtained by writing to the author at mgilbert@ngcsu.peachnet.edu.

The world of spirits is omnipresent in the city of Bangkok. Migrants from the north bring their graceful teak spirit houses onto their apartment balconies while the city itself has a richly adorned linga, that potent Hindu symbol of fecundity and creative power, which in Bangkok serves (as does a similar image in Mandalay [UKT refutes]) to act as the city's guardian. Bangkok's Chinese community has its own guardian, Sam Po Shan (Sam Po Tai Shen in Chinese). This is the spirit-form of Admiral Cheng Ho, leader of the Ming naval expeditions to southern Asia. Appropriately enough, he also serves as the guardian spirit of travelers in Thailand and in Malaya, where he made earthly visitations in the 1400s.

Thailand does not have a spirit pantheon similar to the Burmese thirty-seven Nats. Instead, Thai kings represented themselves as rulers and patrons of all religions. This posture was well suited to the diverse peoples whose loyalty they sought to command. An element of Burmese spirit worship has recently made itself known in Thailand. [UKT ]

The Thai monarchy has recently been threatened by the political and economic turbulence that has wracked the Thailand. To their rescue, and to the rescue of the nation, has come an effort to deify, or raise to the status of a national spirit, Chulalongkorn, or Rama V, son of King Mongkut. Mongkut has been immortalized in the West in theater and film productions of the "King and I." His son, however, has always held an even greater place of respect among the Thai people for presiding with considerable wisdom and political aplomb over the modernization of the Thai nation. http://aseanfocus.com.au/gateway/thailand/1990sP6.asp. At its most recent hour of need, a popular movement has grown that is attempting to secure a higher spiritual status for Chulalongkorn.www.pscw.uva.nl/lets7/religion.html-scroll down to "A cult between Patronage and Civic Society." Though Thailand has no official pantheon of Nats after the Burmese example, it may soon have a supernatural dynastic figure that may also act as a guardian of national order and prosperity. www.chaipat.orgth/journal/dec98/eng/activity.html . Students can be asked to follow the Thai example by recommending "national spirits" for their own home nation.

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The "spirit worship" elements of Balinese Hinduism have received sufficient attention as to warrant little explication here. It may suffice to say that while the semblance of classical Hindu theology and ritualized forms of worship are apparent in Bali, among common Balinese it is the Hindu symbol and ritual that most often serves indigenous ends, or is superceded by indigenous concerns. [UKT ]

The most extreme departures include temples open to the sky, altars devoid of images, the emphasis placed the battle between good and the Rangda/Barong dance: the witch-widow Rangda bears a resemblance to the powerful Hindu deity Durga, but the Barong and her dance with him have little connection to Indian lore. These departures, as well as the more obvious links between Bali and India, offer the richest foci for course related activities. These include classroom assemblages of a Balinese temple and family compound or reproductions of Balinese spirit figures. Perhaps the most fruitful K-12 exercise would be reproductions of a room altar or the ngedjot, the daily offering.  More advanced students might write essays comparing Balinese funerals with their Indian and Western counterparts, the role of women in folk religion, or comparing Indian and Balinese modalities of worship of the chief manifestations classical Hindu spiritual reality, Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu (to which the Balinese add Sanghyang Widi, supreme god). Gateways to Balinese animism and material of great use in shaping classroom exercises can be found at http://bali-paradise.com/bali/culturecustoms.html.

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Javanese syncretism is the subject of many studies useful for student projects. Jean Johnson has prepared an excellent guide on this subject for both teachers and students entitled "Decoding Borobubur", available directly on the web at http://www.askasia.org/frclasrm/lessplan/100070.htm. Other sources, which address the Javanese synthesis of Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism in dance, music, and medicine (as well as the mariginalization of Christianity) can be found at the following websites: Of particular value is an old site which provides ditailed answers to two significant questions: 1) How have the people of Java integrated their indigenous religions with that of Hinduism and Islam? 2) What are some important symbols of this Javanese cultural synthesis? Other forms of Javanese symbolism may be found at the following website:





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Study Questions

The above discussion, the resources that follow and web-based scavenger hunts should enable students to address the following question. Define the terms animism, ancestor worship, shaman, guardian spirit, anito, faith healer, Bodhisattva, Rangda, Barong, and spirit possession. How are the indigenous religious beliefs of Southeast Asia expressed in ritual, music, holidays dance, puppetry or architecture? Can you identify an aspect of Muslim/Hindu/Buddhist/Christian belief or practice that suggests the presence of indigenous religious practice? What are some examples or the persistence of indigenous spirit traditions in the modern Southeast Asian religious practice? What role does spirit worship play in the daily lives of Southeast Asians? Discuss the role of women indigenous/exogenous religion in Southeast Asia. Discuss the process by which religion and politics became intertwined in Southeast Asia. Why would a people seek to venerate their ancestors? What aspects of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam or Taoism open a door to the inclusion of spirit worship? What forces act to exclude it? What are some forms of spirit worship in Southeast Asia that bear comparison to those in Africa, Europe, the Americas or your own neighborhood?

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Infusing the spirit world of Southeast Asia into any curricula may depend upon the availability of several components: Teacher-training materials, visual aids, test banks, exercises and in-classroom activities. It is intended that, in time, all the materials mentioned above, a bibliography, a filmography, original videotaped programming and a Web resource directory will soon be housed at the Teaching World History in Georgia Web Site. This Web Site resides on the NGCSU Department of History and Sociology Homepage at www.ngc.peachnet.edu/Academic/Arts_Let/History/deptweb/index.htm. The slides employed in this presentation will also be available on the Teaching World History in Georgia Web Site.

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Teacher Aids

There are some useful teacher oriented materials in print. The Southeast Asia Outreach Program of the University of Hawaii has series of workbooks for each nation in Southeast Asia geared at the secondary and post-secondary level that features excellent background material on the Southeast Asian Spirit World for students and teachers. These workbooks also feature tests, maps, bibliographies and exercises. They are available through e-mail via cseas@hawaii.edu. They can also be obtained by calling (808) 956-2688 or by Fax (808) 956-2682.

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Bibliography of books, films, and web resources

Beatty, Andrew.
Varieties of Javanese Religion: An Anthropological Account. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Most recent work on Javanese religion.

Dang Nhat Minh, dir.
When the Tenth Month Comes (90 minutes) is a striking 1984 35mm black and white Vietnamese film about a woman struggling to raise a child with a husband who is missing in action. A little light comes into her life when a local schoolteacher, who is helping her to keep her husband's likely death from her son and aged father-in-law, falls in love with her. At a key moment, the village god aids her by providing a kite for the child (or was it the schoolteacher?). The final resolution of the story comes only when the child, who runs away, finds a passing group of soldiers who bring a moving climax to the film. The centerpiece of the story, however, is its exploration of the Vietnamese day of the dead (held during the Tenth Lunar Month) when the departed visit the living. During the festival, the wife finds the spirit of her husband and he tries to bring some peace into her world.

Dundes, Alan, ed.
The Cockfight: A Casebook. Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1994. This edited volume includes the “first person account” of an illegal Balinese cockfight by anthropologist Clifford Geertz that is very accessible to students (see below for another source for this essay). Geertz's work can be employed along side a companion essay in this work by Scott Guggenhiem on cockfighting in the Philippines.

Fadiman, Anne.
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: a Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures. New York: Noonday Press, 1998. Also on video. Excellent introduction to Hmong culture and spirit worship. Focus is the study of a Hmong family's response to the tragic illness of a daughter.

Geertz, Clifford.
Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1972. Reprinted from Daedalus, vol. 101, Winter, 1972. Delightful story of an illegal cockfight that may be better at narrative than scholarly analysis, but useful all the same.

Geertz, Clifford.
The Religion of Java. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974. Most recent edition of classic source which, while scholars find it dated and methodologically flawed, is still a useful introduction to the subject.

Henry, Rodney L.
Filipino Spirit World. Manila: OMF Publishers, 1986. A good introduction to the “folk” basis and continuing practices of Filipino Christians as seen from a Christian perspective.

Krantz, Claire Wolf.
“On Their Own Terms,” in Art in America 84, no. 7 (1996): 35-. Surveys the impact of animism and western painting on Indonesian art.

Rodrigue, Yves. Nat-Pwe: Burma's Supernatural Sub-Culture. Translated by Roser Flotats. Paintings of the “Thirty-Seven Nats” by Noel F. Singer. Gartmore: Kiscadale, 1992. Good illustrations; short on analysis. Now available in paperback via Amazon.com.

Spiro, Melfor E.
Burmese Supernaturalism. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1996. Latest and revised edition of classic 1978 standard anthropological study of Burmese spirit worship. This and the work of Sir Richard Temple (see below) are the most useful resources on nat worship.

Sastroamidjojo, M. S. A.
“A Physicist Looks at the Javanese Shadow-Puppet Performance” at http://www.mallard.org/more/javapup.htm. While the title conveys some of this article's interdisciplinary content, it conceals its loving and deeply spiritual look at the inner workings of a wayang kulit performance that students will find interesting and informative.

Temple, Sir Richard Carnac.
The Thirty-Seven Nats: A Phase of Spirit-Worship prevailing in Burma. London: Kiscadale, 1991. Reprint of classic study by a famous colonial official who respected indigenous cultures enough to collect their testimony on indigenous religious practice, but not enough to support their efforts to achieve full self-government!

Terrada, Alice M.
Under the Starfruit Tree: Folktales form Vietnam
. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1989. Contains folktales that often touch upon the role of spirit worship.

Thanegi, Ma.
The Illusion of Life: Burmese Marionettes. Bangkok: White Orchid Press, 1994. An excellent introduction to the topic with illustrations. Available through the Asia Society in New York.

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Web Resources

Asean Focus Group: http://aseanfocus.com.au/gateway/thailand/1990sP6.asp

Bali Culture and Customs Life-Cycle: http://www.bali-paradise.com/bali/culturecustoms.html

Buddhism 2: http://www.csupomona.edu/~plin/ews430/buddhism2.html

Central Javanese Gamelan: http://www.medieval.org/music/world/java.html

Day of the Dead: http://daphne.palomar.edu/library/displays/October99/default.htm

Decoding Borobudur: http://www.askasia.org/frclasrm/lessplan/l000070.htm

History and Sociology at NGCSU: http://www.ngc.peachnet.edu/Academic/Arts_Let/History/deptweb/index.htm

Javanese Puppets: http://www.mallard.org/more/javapup.htm

Java's Art of Classical Dancing: http://home.wxs.nl/~bvg-s/JavArtCD.html

Materam Kingdom: http://www.joglosemar.co.id/mataramking.html

Religion and Culture: http://www.myanmar.com/gov/tourist/rel.html

The Puppet Theatre in Myanmar: http://www.myanmar.com/gov/puppet.html

WTCMCR-The Thai Spirit House: http://infothai.com/wtcmcr/sprthous.htm


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MJG Footnotes

fn01. Michael Aung-Thwin, Pagan: The Origins of Modern Burma (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1985): 53. fn01b

fn02. See Rodney L. Henry, Filipino Spirit World (Manila: OMF Publishers, 1986).
- fn02b

fn03. Gani Wiyono, “Ratu Adil: A Javanese Face of Jesus,”
at http://www.apts.edu/jam/99-1/99-1-gwiyono.htm
- fn03b

fno4. Andrew Beatty, “Adam and Eve and Vishnu: syncretism in the Javanese slametan,” in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 2, no.2 (1996): 271- fn04b

fn05. Aung-Thwin, Pagan: 55 fn05b

fn06. Aung-Thwin, Pagan:55 fn06b

fn07. Aung-Thwin, Pagan:53 fn07b

fn08. Aung-Thwin, Pagan:56 fn08b

fn09. Carmen Becker, “Shinto and the Sacred Dimension of Nature”
  at http://www.shinto.org/2-2-e.html fn09b

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UKT references

American Heritage Talking Dictionary (AHTD)
Childers, R.C.,
  A Dictionary of Pali Language, Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co, London, 1909, 5th impr: 1974
U Hoke Sein,
  The Universal Burmese-Englsh-Pali Dictionary, 1st ed., {meiz~zu-tha.ka. sa-p}, Yangon, 1981
U Khin Maung Than,
  Traditional Nat Cult (in Burmese), 2nd ed, {pin-wa:roan sa-p}, Yangon, 2001
Klein, W,
  Burma, Apa Productions (HK) Ltd, 1981
Min Rama (U Ohn Maung),
  Thirty-seven Nat Puja (in Burmese) {a.theing:a.wun: sa-p}, Yangon, 1992
Min Si Thu,
  Early History of Nat-worship in Myanmar (in Burmese), {shw-daung:taung sa-p},
  2nd printing, Yangon, 2004.
U Myat Kyaw and U San Lwin,
  A Pali Myanmar-English Dictionary (UMK-USL) of the Noble Words of the Lord Buddha,
   Myanmar Language Commission, 2001
Pali Text Society (PTS), Pali-English Dictionary, Oxford, 1999 reprint
U Ba Than Myanmar Razawin (approved school text}, 1st printing 1929, 8th printing
  by {eis~hsa-tha.ya.} press, 1964
U Kalar Maha Razawin Gyi (in Burmese) Hanthawaddy Press 4th printing 1962
U Po Kya Thirty-seven Kings (in Burmese), 1st printing 1937, 2nd printing
  by {pa-ra.mi sa-p} 1999, pp.146
U Sein Pe, Method of Nine-god Puja (in Burmese),
  {shw-ti~-sa-p-teik}, Yangon, 1982
U Than Hsw, Historical Pagan Pagodas (in Burmese),
  {sa-p-bi-maan} Press, Yangon, 1975
Dr. Than Tun, Ancient Myanmar History (in Burmese),
  {ma.ha-da.gaon sa-p htoat-w-r:}, Yangon, 1969
The Glass Palace Chronicle (in Burmese), (GPC-Bur)
  Mandalay Royal Printing Press, 1829. 4th printing in 1993 by Information Ministry, Myanmar.

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UKT notes

-- a collective term for Nats, Treasure-guardians, Ghosts

UKT, 050115, 130212: 

UKT: Because I need a collective term, I will use "All-Spirits" similar to "All-Hallows".
See Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halloween 130212

These are all spirits to the Western mind. Yet to a Bur-Myan, they are quite different. One thing that is common to all is that they had died greatly attached to "see-able" world. If they had died with a grudge against a person, mostly their enemy, they would become Nats; if attached to property had buried they would become Treasure-guardians; and some unspecified thing such as an idea, a person, an animal, and even a tree they would become ghosts.

Now that they are spirits, they would be under the rule of one of the Four Guardian Gods of the World. Of the three, Ghosts {a.r:-tis~hs} are those who suffered most -- they are still suffering the pains of being killed or dying under duress. They have hideous appearances (if only you could see them) and are always "starving" unless somebody "feeds" them: they always suffer from the pains of hunger.

The most favorable are the Nats (properly the Lower Nats  belonging to the group of 37 nats.).

The next are the Treasure-guardians {OAc~sa-saung.}.  are beautiful beings (if only you could see them) and live quite pleasurable lives. They are mostly females. Most of them had not died violent deaths and are guarding the treasures they had owned and which they had hoped to use some time in the future. Or they had hidden the treasure to be used when the next Buddha appeared.

All these Spirits are still attached to sensual pleasure, and from time to time look forward to having sex, and would go after a living person of the opposite sex and finally lured the living to death, so that they could be   together.

Go back all-spirits-note-b

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-- UKT, 050115, 130211

There are two great schools of Buddhism which at the present time are quite different from each other though they both stem from the teachings of the historical Gautama Buddha. The Buddhism that is practiced in Myanmar or Burma is the Theravada school of Buddhism which is quite different from the Mahayana school that is practiced in China and in Tibet. When I read this paper, I am reading from the point of view of a Theravada Buddhist.

However, since I am  a material scientist and a skeptical chemist, and I have been critically analysing my traditional beliefs so much so, that, I believe in only the first, the second and arguably the third sermons. The rest, I hold them with an open mind -- not to believe without evidence is just as bad as to believe.

The first sermon, gives me a picture of Siddhartha (a former prince, but now a hermit) rejecting all "authorities" and "beliefs", and starting from a clean slate of mind to discover a universal truth. He came up with an altruism: "all sentient entities (human, animals, or whatever) is not free from mental suffering".

This Law is the Principal of Suffering. With law, he had rejected the idea of an Allah, a God, and a Creator as nothing but axioms which cannot be verified. After coming up with this law and the next -- on the question of "a permanent principle" that is not changeable and non-destructible which is commonly known as Atta, and coming up with some corollaries, he realized that he had gained insight into the nature of things, and that he had become a Buddha, the enlightened one. Because his clan name was Gautama, he became known as the Gautama Buddha. He was born of human parents, he went through a life of physical suffering -- suffering from diseases and physical injuries, and he died a natural death. He was cremated and only bits of bones remain. To me he was one of the scientists who I could admire, and his teachings are just pure science.

Go back Buddhism-note-b

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The Buddhist doctrine of no soul

UKT 130215:

Buddhism recognizes that there is {wi.ai} which is "an ever-changing aggregate" (not permanent) something akin to "soul" which passes from a dying person to the new-born. The {wi.ai} is very different from the Christian or Hindu idea of a permanent "soul".

An interesting question has arisen at one time whether a {wi.ai} can split up into two or more, thus giving rise to more than one new-borns. The actual case was related by my mother of a monk who underwent a NDE (near-death-experience).
See Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Near-death_experience 130215

The monk came back, but at the same time a male child was born. This male child claimed himself to be the monk, and could recognized the monk's personal belongings to be his -- a sign taken by the locals to be that the child was the reincarnate monk. But the monk had recovered and was living. So the local wisdom was that the {wi.ai} had split into two. 

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Coming of Buddhism into Northern-Burma

-- UKT 050115, 130211

The question of introduction of Buddhism into Myanmarpr was never an issue in my mind until I stumble along into the Akshara form of writing -- technically Abugida.

Linguistically Burma (English spelling using Latin Alphabet: Eng-Lat) was and still is populated by Tib-Bur (Tibeto-Burman) speakers. This area stretching form Afghanistan in the west, through Nepal in the middle, into northern Myanmarpr, enjoys a unique weather system due to the Himalayan range cutting off the cold northern polar winds.

Then sometime in ancient times IE (Indo-European) speakers crossed over to northern-western India, and the Dravidian speakers came in from the south of India in hordes to subjugate the Tib-Bur speakers. Burma was protected by high north-to-south mountains in the east, and some what less-high north-to-south mountains in the west. Large armies, especially with the war-chariots, could not come in. Humans, in small companies of even one or two have been travelling on foot in this area since the evolution of pre-humans and possibly Homo erectus (my presumption in the Pondaung-Ponnya area).

Gautama Buddha was born in the Tib-Bur speaking area in Nepal and died just across the border in India. So I can very well say that Buddhism was never introduced into northern Burma -- it developed in our general area. It is quite probably that the Buddha himself had looked east into northern Myanmarpr from the mountains in Manipur. All through out human history, humans have been tracking on foot along this area.

It is recorded in Bur-Myan (Burmese speech written in Myanmar script) chronicles that a king, King Abiraza, from northern India had come into northern Myanmarpr to found the Pyu Kingdom of Tagaung long before the Burmese Kingdom of Pagan came into being. Since it is definitely easier to come on foot from northern India to northern Myanmarpr there is no reason why Buddhism should have to come via ship.

It is probable the King Abiraza had participated in the Battle of Ten Kings in Ancient India long before the birth of Gautama Buddha and was fleeing from the new comers. See Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Ten_Kings 130212

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Cult of Bodhisattva

-- UKT 050115, 130211

The idea of a female Bodhisattva as used by Mahayanits, such as KuanYin  and Tara, especially the Tara of the Tantra Buddhists is not acceptable to Theravada Buddhists of Myanmarpr. The religious reform brought about by King Anawrahta in the 11th century and his persecution of the Ari-monks to extinction was due (my presumption) to the introduction of Tara by the Tantric Buddhists into the Buddhist kingdom of Pagan. A female, as scantily dressed as Tara of Sri Lanka was nothing but an erotic sex-object for the males to enjoy sexually.

Yet many Myanmar-Buddhists, especially the males, aspire to be bodhisattvas before the attainment of Nibbana. It is not the principal aim of a Theravada-Buddhist. For the females, who aspire to become a bodhisattva, is to become a male first. The females can attain Nibbana straightaway and the idea of becoming a bodhisattva is nothing but Self-aggrandizement -- just a form of conceit.

Because of this attitude, the Mahayana School "looks down" upon the Theravada School calling it the Hinayana or the Lesser Vehicle much to the chagrin of the Theravada-Buddhists. In fact, Hinayana is considered to be a derogatory term. To the Theravadims, the Mahayanists are just Self-promoters.

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Green death

-- UKT: 050115, 130216

This translation of the Burmese word {a.saim:} to "green" is a typical error done by non-Burmese and by those Burmese who try to play with words. The Bur-Myan word {a.saim:} when used together with {} or "death" is not to be translated as the color green but as <untimely>. Thus, {a.saim:} is not "green death" but "untimely death". When a person dies of an {a.saim:} or "untimely death", he or she dies with a great attachment to life or with an intense hatred towards the person responsible for his or her death. Such a strong "feeling" usually results in the person becoming a ghost or a nat of {sa.tu.ma.ha-raiz bon}. Such a nat is also called a {nt-saim:} which could literally and erroneously be translated as a "green nat".

I have been asked how I would interpret Jesus dying on the Cross and his subsequent appearances. It was meant to put me in a bind, for the questioner already knew my answer, which I would have to give in spite of my love and admiration for the young man who died with the last words:  and

Matthew 27:46 (King James Version). And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying,
Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?   that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Mark 15:34 (King James Version). And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying,
Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?   which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

with a loud cry giving up his Spirit.

See Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sayings_of_Jesus_on_the_cross 130215

What about describing Virgin Mary's Grotto as a {m-tau nt kwun:}? http://www.all-about-the-virgin-mary.com/betania-apparitions.html 130215
With apparitions being described, I have no choice but to vocalize things that I do not want.

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Guan-Yin aka Kuan Yin

UKT 050115, 130214: 

Guan-Yin aka Kuan Yin is not revered in Myanmarpr. Those Bur-Myan who have heard about this entity are mainly of Chinese descent. She (or formerly a "he") is just another goddess (or god) of the Mahayana Chinese.

At the end of the above para, MJG has given a link on Kuan Yin: http://www.csupomona.edu/~plin/ews430/buddhism2.html. The link is not active due to a change in spelling of "Kuan Yin" to "Guan-Yin" "who switched from a male in India to a female figure in China and Japan, becoming the Goddess of Mercy with the Chinese name Guan-Yin and the ..." under the title "Love" and the Eastern spirit: a philosophic ..."
http://www.csupomona.edu/~jis/1995/ding.pdf 130213

Instead of Guan-Yin, an entity revered by Theravada Bur-Myan is the Vedic Mother-goddess (I emphasize Vedic -- not Hindu -- in spite of whatever "grab-god" Hindu religionists would say), is {m-tau u-ra~a.ti.}. She is not considered to be a {bau.Di.t}.

Mother-goddess {m-tau u-ra~a.ti.} never was a male. She is the personification of the Vedic river Saraswati of the Rig Veda which was made into a Hindu text by the Grab-god Hindu religionists. Here we should note that the Vedic words were so unpronounceable by the Skt-Dev speakers of the IE linguistic group, that Panini had to codified Vedic into Classical Sanskrit. I hold that Vedic was the religion of the original inhabitants of India -- the Tib-Bur speakers -- and it preceded Buddhism (and Hinduism).

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Nat-tiger, Were-tiger, Were-crocodile, and Undead

-- UKT 050115, 130214 

Nat-tiger or the tiger-vehicle of the Nat {si:tau-kya:}, particularly that of {rhw-hpyi:l:} is a very much feared animal. It is supposed to be a real animal in the service of the Nat, who is a womanizer. If he wants a woman, even when she is already married, he must have her. Anybody who offended the Nat {rhw-hpyi:l:} can be "carried" off, either physically or in an "unseen way" by the Nat-tiger -- in other words, the offending person die. As story of this nature is told about one of 37 female-Nats, {m-U.}. The following is what I know of the story: I still have to check further.

M U {m-U.} was a beautiful village woman in one of the northern Myanmar villages during the Pagan period. She was already married to a forester. The Nat, assuming a human body came in the guise of a young man, came to her loom. She true to her husband, spurned off the advances of the Nat {rhw-hpyi:l:}. The would-be adulterator sent his tiger who promptly carried her off. She died - obviously eaten by the animal, with the result that she herself became a Nat. She, as a Nat became the mortal enemy of Nat {rhw-hpyi:l:}. She, now a Nat, went to her husband and took his {laip-pra} or "soul". He died and now they are happily united as husband and wife in the Nat-world.

For definition of {laip-pra}, see:
- n. 2. incorporael part of a human being, spirit -- MED2006-455
The idea of {laip-pra} should be compared to that of the Tibetan Bardo  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bardo 130214

Were-tiger, {a.mn:kya:} is a human being who because of his Left-handed knowledge or 'black magic' can turn himself into a tiger and attack a villager (in the hills of northern Myanmar.}.

Were-crocodiles are real crocodiles which have grown so large, over 9 cubits, large that they came to have the magical power to assume a human form, marry a human-woman and have human-children. There is a local story told in the environs of Rangoon of the crocodile {nga.mo:raip}, who had children by a human woman and who had live in the area of the {kyeik-weing:} pagoda. A very large creek east of Rangoon still bears the name of {nga.mo:raip}. This is a Mon-Myan story which has been Burmanized so much that I still need to go after more details. It appears that {nga.mo:raip} and his kind were not to be feared. He was in the service of King Okkalapa -- the legendary ruler of Rangoon or Dagon as it was called. He used to carry the son of the King on his back across the Rangoon river to the Syriam-side to see his lover princess who was born as her dead mother was about to be cremated. Even though she was a princess, because she was born in a cemetery, she had her palace in the cemetery.

The crocodile, {nga.mo:raip}, had crocodile enemies. A vicious enemy of his was a female-crocodile who had lost one of her fore-fingers in a previous fight with {nga.mo:raip}. Seeing {nga.mo:raip} with the prince on his back in which condition, {nga.mo:raip} was vulnerable she approached. {nga.mo:raip} asked his royal passenger to get into his mouth, so that he could swim faster. With the prince safe in his mouth, and with his mouth shut, he swam fast to escape. He did, but being very tired, he forget about the prince. The king not seeing his son, called up {nga.mo:raip}, who remembered to open his mouth. The prince, without much air in the crocodile's mouth was drawing his last breath. He died. At the news the Syriam princess also died of broken heart. There were two funeral pyres, one on the Rangoon side for the prince, and another on the Syriam side for the princess. The smoke from the pyres rose into the air and got mingled and then disappeared. It was a lovely tragic story which I have heard many times as a child.

The Kyut or "Un-dead" {kyt} (the term "Un-dead" is my own coined word) are those who died as a community -- a whole village -- in the matter of one or two days due to an epidemic like pneumonic plague. Since, no one got a burial, none even noticed that they had died. They came back to "to life" and came to possess material bodies after sun-down and went on carrying their daily lives until dawn. Some of them, might got out of their village, visit the real living and some even got married to the living and have children -- their kind. They live a normal "life" in their material bodies, until a Right-hand magician comes along, and tells them that they are dead. Then they "died" suddenly and the bodies which they just had turned into bones.

An unknowing traveller, just after sundown might come to a such a village, and enjoyed the villagers' hospitality and might sleep there. In the morning he would find himself among the ruins, and only then he would realized that he had been in a {kyt}-village. It seems that these {kyt} are harmless and we should pity them.

It is said that the area of present Nay-pri-daw is the area of {kyt}-villages.

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Nirvana or Nibbana

-- UKT 050115, 130212 

The statement "Buddhists view nirvana not as a place" needs to be commented on. At least in Myanmarpr, many usually get confused over the definition of Nirvana (Sanskrit) or Nibban {nib~baan} (Pali-Myan) because of popular statements like {nib~baan rhw pr} "the Golden Country of Nibban". Practically, a person attains nirvana when he or she is really free from Greed, Anger, and Ignorance (which I have narrowed down to Sex & Pride for ease of understanding by the Westerners). He or she is totally then "detached" from everything including the very idea of a permanent Soul.

Nirvana or Nibban is defined by the Third Principle of Buddhism: "the state of Cessation of Attachment".

The following is how I understand the Four Noble Truths
or (in my parlance) the Four Principles of Buddhism:
1. Principle of Suffering: Every sentient being is not free from mental suffering.
2. Principle of Cause: Suffering is brought about by Attachment.
3. Principle of Cessation: Freedom from Attachment is freedom from Suffering.
4. Mode of Cessation: Eight aspects are: proper livelihood, proper endeavor, proper attitude, etc.

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Prayers of the living

-- UKT, 050115, 130211

The phrase "the prayers of the living" needs a bit of clarification. Some Burmese-Buddhist prayed to the Spirits to help them in certain ways to help them in  their daily lives. A common prayer would be to bring in customers to their business, to their shops, to punish their enemies, etc. This is what I understand by "prayers to". This attitude is frowned on by the Theravada Buddhist clergy saying that these Spirits are powerless: it is only the teachings of the Buddha that could improve our lives. Then there is another kind of "prayer", and that is to be directed to some higher entity or Law to help a particular spirit such as the one who had recently died. This type of prayer, the "prayer for" the dead, or prayer for the spirit is sanctioned by the clergy.

It is believed by the devote Myanmar Buddhists, that whenever the living (not necessarily the close relatives) do a religious act and call on those in the spirit world to rejoice in the act, and if an inhabitant of the {sa.tu.ma.ha-raiz Bon} could "rejoice" and say "well-done" or {ha-Du.} three times, his status would improve eventually promoting him to a Higher Nat world.

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Shiva's Linga

-- UKT 050115, 130211

What is Linga or Lingam? Not wishing to upset my Hindu friends, let's see the dictionary meaning:

लिङ्ग liṅga -- n. penis
   -- Online Skt Dictionary: http://spokensanskrit.de/index.php? 130213
= ल ि ङ ् ग --> {laing~ga.}

So that leads us to translate Shiva's Linga as "Shiva's penis". Now let's see who this Shiva, a divinity, really was. He is supposedly a Vedic Deva, but in the oldest Rig Veda hymn, Gayatri Mantra, he was not mentioned. There was one entity Sva: , who have been "interpreted by Hindu religionists as Shiva. It is to be noted that these religionists have included Gautama Buddha, an atheist holding the Anatta view, as one of the reincarnations of Vishnu-deva, and so we need not bother about these "grab-god religionists" who would readily say "the god you are worshipping is just one of our minor gods." Whoever Shiva was, it is preposterous to imagine that you would find an "erect penis" in public in Mandalay, a devout Buddhist city.

I cannot imagine what had led M. J. Gilbert to state that "the nominally Buddhist cities of Mandalay and Bangkok have linga dedicated to the Lord Shiva". What he had mistakenly maintained as a linga is nothing but a sign post with a crown to shed off the rain-water. To the Myanmar-Buddhists, the Hindu deity Siva is just one of inhabitants of the Deva Loka, who is still very much an inhabitant of the Cycle of Births-Rebirths, and who has to escape the Cycle. Siva to the Myanmar-Buddhist is {i-wa. nt} who is under the rule of {i.kra:ming:}.

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-- UKT: 130214

Those who are interested in this sect of Islam should read about the Sufi dargahs in Myanmarpr, and about the last Mughal Emperor of India who died in 1862 in exile (by the colonial British Raj) in Rangoon. He is regarded as a Sufi saint. See Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bahadur_Shah_II 130214

A general account on Sufism:
From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sufism 130214

Sufism or taṣawwuf (Arabic: تصوّف ‎) is defined by its adherents as the inner, mystical dimension of Islam. [1] [2] [3] A practitioner of this tradition is generally known as a ṣūfī (صُوفِيّ). [UKT ]

Sufis believe they are practicing ihsan (perfection of worship) as revealed by Gabriel to Muhammad, "Worship and serve Allah as you are seeing Him and while you see Him not yet truly He sees you." Sufis consider themselves as the original true proponents of this pure original form of Islam. [UKT ]

They are strong adherents to the principal of tolerance, peace and against any form of violence. The Sufi have suffered severe persecution by their coreligionist brothers the Wahhabi and the Salafist. In 1843 the Senussi Sufi were forced to flee Mecca and Medina and head to the Sudan and Libya. [4]

Classical Sufi scholars have defined Sufism as "a science whose objective is the reparation of the heart and turning it away from all else but God". [5] Alternatively, in the words of the Darqawi Sufi teacher Ahmad ibn Ajiba, "a science through which one can know how to travel into the presence of the Divine, purify one's inner self from filth, and beautify it with a variety of praiseworthy traits". [6]

Classical Sufis were characterised by their attachment to dhikr (a practice of repeating the names of God) and asceticism. Sufism gained adherents among a number of Muslims as a reaction against the worldliness of the early Umayyad Caliphate (661-750 CE [4]). [UKT ]

Sufis have spanned several continents and cultures over a millennium, at first expressed through Arabic, then through Persian, Turkish and a dozen other languages. [7] [UKT ]

"Orders" ( ṭuruq), which are either Sunnī or Shī'ī or mixed [8] in doctrine, trace many of their original precepts from the Islamic Prophet Muhammad through his cousin and son-in-law 'Alī, with the notable exception of the Naqshbandi who trace their origins through the first Caliph, Abu Bakr. [9] Other exclusive schools of Sufism describe themselves as distinctly Sufi. [10] Modern Sufis often perform dhikr after the conclusion of prayers. [11]

Some mainstream scholars of Islam define sufism as simply the name for the inner or esoteric dimension of Islam. [1] Ren Gunon in Insights into Islamic Esoterism and Taoism (Sophia Perennis 2003) contended that Sufism was the esoteric aspect of Islam supported and complemented by exoteric practices and Islamic law. [UKT ]

However, according to Idries Shah, the Sufi philosophy is universal in nature, its roots predating the rise of Islam and the other modern-day religions, save for perhaps Buddhism and Jainism; likewise, some Muslims consider Sufism outside the sphere of Islam. [1] [12]

UKT: More in the Wikipedia article.

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A world of spirits

-- UKT , 050115, 130211

At least to me, a Theravada Myanmar-Buddhist, this statement by M. J. Gilbert needs to be explained. The Cycle of Birth-Rebirth is made up of 31 {Bon} or worlds, which are believed to be stacked one above the other in the Cosmos. All the inhabitants of the 31 {Bon} are subject to "Suffering" {doak~hka.} and "Pleasure" or "Enjoyment" {hu.hka.}. Even the inhabitants of the highest {Bon} still undergoes "Suffering" albeit to a minimal extent, whereas even the inhabitants of the lowest {Bon} or hell can still enjoy "Pleasure" to a miniscule extent.

The human world is a balanced world with equal amounts of "Suffering" and "Enjoyment". Above the human world are the so-called "Pleasure" worlds because there is more pleasure than suffering, and below the human world are the "Suffering" worlds because there is more suffering than pleasure.

To a skeptical scientist like me, many of the 31 {Bon} are beyond our senses and can be ignored. We live in a world of human beings and animals. The humans belong to the human {Bon} and animals to the animal {Bon}. The human {Bon} is more desirable than the animal {Bon}.

The word "animal" needs to be explained. An animal is defined as one who knows only three things: to eat, to sleep (or rest), and to mate (or have sex)". The "human" is a bit more -- he knows all the three things the animal knows, plus, how to discern what is "good and proper" from what is "bad and improper". Doing "good and proper" leads to more "good and proper" -- an advancement, and doing "bad and improper" leads to more "bad and improper" -- a descent.

The only thing which we should bother is a human can be reborn into an animal world and vice versa. Or, a human can be "reborn" into one of the 29 unseen worlds (the existence of which is scientifically unproven). Nats belong to the "unseen world". The Higher Nats belong to the Nat-worlds proper or Deva Loka {d-wa. lau:ka.} -- i.e. the Pleasure world, whereas the Lower Nats belong to to a much lower world or worlds ruled by a {sa.tu.ma.ha-raiz nt-ming:} where there is slightly more "Suffering" than "Pleasure", and hence is not to be desired.

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-- UKT  050115,

One of the mysteries of Buddhism, particularly the Theravada Buddhism, is Atta {t~ta.} which is loosely translated by the non-Buddhists as the Soul. Buddhism rejects the theory of Soul as irrelevant and maintains that since no permanent Soul can be "found", the existence of a Soul is nothing but a figment imagination. This is the Theory of Anatta {a.nt~ta.}. I have been asked many times if there is no such thing as a Soul, that is reborn into the next existence. The simplest and, therefore, which is controversial, is that the Soul is not permanent, and what had transmigrated is just a very temporary (not permanent) non-Soul.

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Unseen Entities in our homes

-- UKT 050115, 130215 

Though many in Myanmar believe that there are bound to nats everywhere, they do not venerate them, but care for them. And to show our care, on the third night during the Lighting Festival of Thitingyut, lighted candles are given to them -- those who live in or around the house: the kitchen, the pot in which uncooked rice is stored, the drinking water pot, the stairs, large trees nearby, water-well, and even the latrine (out-house). The candles are given to the nats so that they can make an offering of light to the Buddha and thereby gain merit. This essence of this custom is make the humans feel that they are far superior than the lowly nats.

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Wizard or Alchemist 

-- UKT 050115, 130215 

The alchemist who has obtained supernatural powers is a Zawgyi {zau-gyi}, He is still a man: a superman. He must have sex occasionally. However, since he can no longer stand the smell of a human female, he must resort to "robots". There are trees in the forest that bears fruits with strange shapes and sometimes these fruits resemble a human female of perfect form. He plucks this fruit, and with his magical power make it become alive. He can then have sex with her, until she, the fruit, rots. However, such trees are scares and not all fruits of perfect shape, and there are always one than one {zau-gyi} ready pluck it. There were "fruit-fights" among {zau-gyi}.

The {weiz~za} or Wizard is more advanced than the sex-starved {zau-gyi}. He doesn't need sex anymore. Such {weiz~za} have control over lowly {nts}, ghosts, and living witches and warlocks. The emblem of {weiz~za} is the Swastika. There are two kinds of {weiz~za}: those of the Left-hand path with the Left-handed Swastika (the forerunner of the Nazi Swastika), and those of the Right-hand path with the Right-handed Swastika -- the Swastika of the Jains.

The Swastika was the emblem of the ancient Harappans of the Indus-Saraswati civilization of India. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indus_Valley_Civilization 130214
See Folk Elements in Burmese Buddhism by Dr. Htin Aung, on Cult of Alchemy (link chk: 130214)

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