Esoteric Theravada Buddhism in Burma/Myanmar

  • Niklas Foxeus Stockholm University
Keywords: Burma, Theravāda (Buddhist school), Meditations, Esotericism, Fundamentalism -- Buddhism, Social movements, Liberation movements, Colonialism and neocolonialism, Postcolonialism


The achievement of independence in 1948 was in many ways a watershed in Burma’s history. At this time, a variety of Buddhist movements emerged that were part not only of a ‘Burmese Buddhist revival’, in which even the government was involved, but also a general re-enchantment of Asia. In the period following World War II, projects of nation-building and further modernization were implemented in many newly independent Asian nation states. The theories of modernization adopted by the rulers had presupposed that a new, rationalized and secularized order that had set them on the path of ‘progress’ would entail a decline of religion. However, instead there was a widespread resurgence of religion, and a variety of new, eclectic religious movements emerged in Southeast Asia. In the thriving religious field of postcolonial Burma, two lay Buddhist movements associated with two different meditation techniques emerged, viz.; the insight meditation movement and the concentration meditation movement. The latter consisted of a variety of esoteric congregations combining concentration meditation with esoteric lore, and some of these were characterized by fundamentalist trends. At the same time, the supermundane form of Buddhism became increasingly influential in the entire field of religion. The aim of the present article is to discuss how this supermundane dimension has reshaped the complex religious field in Burma, with particular emphasis on the esoteric congregations; to present the Burmese form of esoteric Theravāda Buddhism, and to situate the fundamentalist trends which are present in these contexts.
Jan 1, 2013
How to Cite
Foxeus, N. (2013). Esoteric Theravada Buddhism in Burma/Myanmar. Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis, 25, 55-79.