The nation-state of Myanmar is the westernmost and the largest in mainland Southeast Asia. (The country was formerly called Burma, and, as the sources here reflect, that name is still often used; this article will use both names interchangeably.) The overwhelming majority of Myanmar’s population of approximately 55 million people is Theravada Buddhist. Indeed, so closely aligned do Buddhists in the country see their religion and their identity that it is often said that “To be Burmese is to be Buddhist.” Such a claim, even though it excludes significant and vibrant non-Buddhist minorities, captures the truth that Buddhism has long comprised the dominant, if shifting and evolving, worldview that has bound together disparate ethnic and cultural groups in the region. Traditional Burmese sources date the arrival of Buddhism to the time of the historical Buddha, but, even limited to historical evidence, the record suggests that the dynamic and powerful role of Buddhism in the region stretches back at least to the early centuries of the Common Era. Developments over this extensive period of time have been complex and multilinear, with many transformations in beliefs and practices at different moments and in different areas. In short, Buddhism has never been monolithic in the country. As the sources in this article indicate, Buddhist ethnic and cultural minority groups, such as the Shan, Mon, and Wa peoples, have developed distinctive forms of belief and practice. Trade, cultural relationships, and conflicts with other kingdoms and countries, especially India, Thailand, and Sri Lanka, profoundly affected Myanmar’s forms of Buddhism, too, as did the arrival of modernity and British colonial incursions in the 19th century. Although, as this bibliography attests, much good work has been done on these intertwined civilizational and religious developments, much is still needed. The closing off of the country after the military coup of 1962 abruptly ended serious anthropological study that had only begun after World War II, and the relative inaccessibility of the country for much of the latter half of the 20th century meant that sustained scholarly attention in all disciplines from those outside the country was scant. At the same time, the Myanmar government’s self-induced isolation and impoverishment impeded Burmese scholars’ research. In recent decades, however, with the relaxing of travel restrictions and with relatively easier access to informants and historical records, study and research have begun in earnest again on all fronts, with, as this bibliography also shows, valuable results.
No single source can serve as a complete overview of Buddhism in Myanmar. Although not focused on Burma, Swearer 2010 provides perhaps the best initial introduction. Ray 2002, though useful, is dated and extends its survey only to the arrival of colonialism in the 19th century. Harvey 1925, Cady 1958, and Charney 2009 can be used together to cover the general history of Myanmar up to the present day. These works do not focus on Buddhism, but, given Buddhism’s important role in Burmese society, discuss it extensively. Bechert 1966–1973 provides much valuable discussion of Burmese Buddhism in the 20th century. Although old, Scott 1910 contains excellent descriptions and explanations of a wide variety of Buddhist practices and beliefs. Guillon 1999 provides an overview of the history of the Mons, an ethnic group of profound importance to Burmese history, who, at times, controlled large portions of the region and contributed much to its forms of Buddhism.
Bechert, Heinz. Buddhismus, Staat und Gesellshaft in den Ländern Theravāda-Buddhismus. 3 vols. Franfurt: Metzner, 1966–1973.
A detailed study from a comparative perspective of developments in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, particularly in the 20th century. The second volume focuses on Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand. The third volume (see Bibliographies) has a thorough annotated bibliography, along with historical documents.
Cady, John. A History of Modern Burma. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1958.
An in-depth history that provides much information on Buddhism’s role in Burmese society. It has a focus on the colonial and postcolonial periods but includes extensive discussion (pp. 1–121) of Burma (and its Buddhism) prior to the British takeover.
Charney, Michael W. A History of Modern Burma. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
A recent work that begins with British colonial rule. Focuses mostly on politics, but with mention of Buddhism within its analysis. Useful to supplement earlier histories and bring the discussion of Buddhism up to recent times.
Guillon, Emmanuel. The Mons: A Civilization of Southeast Asia. Bangkok: Siam Society, 1999.
Part One surveys Mon language and beliefs, and Part Two covers Mon history from the earliest known “protostates” up to the present day, covering both Thailand and Burma.
Harvey, G. E. History of Burma: From the Earliest Times to 10 March 1824, the Beginning of the English Conquest. London: Longmans, Green, 1925.
Although dated, a work of wide scope, drawing on Burmese sources, with much valuable information on Buddhism’s part in Burma’s history up to the early decades of the 19th century.
Ray, Niharranjan. An Introduction to the Study of Theravāda Buddhism in Burma. Bangkok: Orchid, 2002.
Covers the sweep of Theravada Buddhist history from Pagan to the arrival of British colonialism. Originally published in 1946, but still a useful overview that draws from Burmese chronicles and inscriptions.
Scott, James George. The Burman: His Life and Notions. London: Macmillan, 1910.
A good resource by Scott (Shway Yoe) for understanding a wide range of Buddhist beliefs and practices within Burmese culture in the early 20th century.
Swearer, Donald. The Buddhist World of Southeast Asia. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010.
Although it has an emphasis on material drawn from Thailand, the book provides significant coverage of Buddhism in Burma.
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- Abhijñā/Ṛddhi (Extraordinary Knowledge and Powers)
- Abortion, Buddhism and
- Ajanta Caves
- Ambedkar Buddhism
- Ancient Indian Society
- Archaeology of Early Buddhism
- Art and Architecture In China, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in India, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Japan, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Nepal, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Tibet, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture on the "Silk Road," Buddhist
- Asceticism, Buddhism and
- Awakening of Faith
- Beats, Buddhism and the
- Bhāviveka / Bhāvaviveka
- Bodh Gaya
- Body, Buddhism and the
- Buddha, Three Bodies of the (Trikāya)
- Buddhism and Ethics
- Buddhism and Law
- Buddhism and Marxism
- Buddhism and Modern Literature
- Buddhist Art and Architecture in Sri Lanka and Southeast A...
- Buddhist Hermeneutics
- Buddhist Ordination
- Buddhist Theories of Causality (karma, pratītyasamutpāda, ...
- Buddhist Thought and Western Philosophy
- Buddhist Thought, Embryology in
- Buddhist-Christian Dialogue
- Cambodian Buddhism
- Canon, History of the Buddhist
- Caste, Buddhism and
- Central Asia, Buddhism in
- China, Esoteric Buddhism in, (Zhenyan and Mijiao)
- China, Pilgrimage in
- Chinese Buddhist Publishing and Print Culture, 1900-1950
- Colonialism and Postcolonialism
- Compassion (karuṇā)
- Cosmology, Astronomy and Astrology
- Culture, Material
- Dalai Lama
- Demons and the Demonic in Buddhism
- Dignāga and Dharmakīrti, The Philosophical Works and Influ...
- Dizang (Jizō, Ksitigarbha)
- Drigung Kagyu (’Bri gung bKa’ brgyud)
- Dzogchen (rDzogs chen)
- Early Buddhist Philosophy (Abhidharma/Abhidhamma)
- Early Modern European Encounters with Buddhism
- East Asian Buddhist Art, Portraiture in
- Ellora Caves
- Emptiness (Śūnyatā)
- Environment, Buddhism and the
- Ethics of Violence, Buddhist
- Family, Buddhism and the
- Feminist Approaches to the Study of Buddhism
- Four Noble Truths
- Funeral Practices
- Gandhāra, Buddhism in
- Gelugpa (dGe lugs pa)
- Gender, Buddhism and
- Hakuin Ekaku
- History of Buddhisms in China
- Image Consecrations
- India, Buddhism in
- India, Mahāmudrā in
- Internationalism, Buddhism and
- Intersections Between Buddhism and Hinduism in Thailand
- Iranian World, Buddhism in the
- Islam, Buddhism and
- Japan, Buddhism in
- Korea, Buddhism in
- Kyōgyōshinshō (Shinran)
- Laos, Buddhism in
- Linji and the Linjilu
- Literature, Chan
- Literature, Tantric
- Local Religion, Buddhism as
- Lotus Sūtra
- Mahayana, Early
- Mahāvairocana Sūtra/Tantra
- Malaysia, Buddhism in
- Mantras and Dhāraṇīs
- Merit Transfer
- Miracles, Buddhist
- Modernism, Buddhist
- Monasticism in East Asia
- Mongolia, Buddhism in
- Mongolia, Buddhist Art and Architecture in
- Mārga (Path)
- Music, and Buddhism
- Myanmar, Buddhism in
- New Medias, Buddhism in
- New Religions in Japan (Shinshūkyō), Buddhism and
- Śāntideva (Bodhicaryāvatāra)
- Nuns, Lives, and Rules
- Oral and Literate Traditions
- Pagan (Bagan)
- Perfection of Wisdom
- Perfections (Six and Ten)
- Philosophy, Chinese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Indian Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Japanese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Tibetan Buddhist
- Pilgrimage in India
- Pilgrimage in Japan
- Pilgrimage in Tibet
- Preaching/Teaching in Buddhism Studies
- Psychology and Psychotherapy, Buddhism in
- Pure Land Buddhism
- Pure Land Sūtras
- Religious Tourism, Buddhism and
- Saṃsāra and Rebirth
- Self, Non-Self, and Personal Identity
- Sexuality and Buddhsim
- Shinto, Buddhism and
- Soka Gakkai
- South and Southeast Asia, Devatās, Nats, And Phii In
- Southeast Asia, Buddhism in
- Sri Lanka, Monasticism in
- Sōtō Zen (Japan)
- Stūpa Pagoda Caitya
- Suffering (Dukkha)
- Sutta (Pāli/Theravada Canon)
- Texts, Dunhuang
- Thai Buddhism
- Thích Nhất Hạnh
- Three Turnings of the Wheel of Doctrine (Dharma-Cakra)
- Tibet, Buddhism in
- Tibet, Mahāmudrā in
- Tibetan Book of the Dead
- Tri Songdetsen
- Uighur Buddhism
- Verse Literature, Tibetan Buddhist
- Vidyādhara (weikza/weizzā)
- Vietnam, Buddhism in
- Vision and Visualization
- Visualization/Contemplation Sutras
- Visuddhimagga (Buddhaghosa)
- Warrior Monk Traditions
- West (North America and Europe), Buddhism in the
- Wheel of Life (Bhava-Cakra)
- Women in Buddhism
- Women in the West, Prominent Buddhist
- Zen, Premodern Japanese