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A look at the Burmese Buddhist Sangha involvement in politics : is the Sangha a political party?

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Author

Baker, Calvin Theodore

Date

2012

Degree

Master of Arts in Religious Studies

Committee

Guruge, Ananda W. P.
Chu, William

Abstract

The persistent and enduring political involvement of the Burmese Buddhist Sangha in Burma (Myanmar) as a religion characterizes it as politically significant. Historically the Buddhist Sangha in Burma has not exhibited a hands-off attitude toward Burmese governments. Actions of the sangha have ranged from silent support to aggressive opposition. On the surface, this political involvement seems to contradict the basic soteriological path the historical Buddha presented. This work looks at the historical sangha and both its influence on governments within Burma and the influence the governments have had on the sangha. It critically compares and contrasts sangha involvement with Buddhist teachings and provides justification or criticism from within and external to Buddhist doctrine. A brief overview of pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial Burma is presented to study the Burmese Buddhist Sangha's functional political evolution in juxtaposition with secular Burma. Historical evidence elucidates the culturally amorphous nature of the sangha; it also shows a lack of any political position by the sangha other than to ensure the continued existence of Buddhism in Burma and a government committed to the preservation of Buddhism in Burma. Other than religious preservation and the existence of a placating government, until recently, Buddhist politics seemed concerned with little else. However, since the total annexation of Burma by the British to the present day rule by the Myanmar Junta, history shows an increased concern with more than religious survival. From the research, the resultant political picture opens the conversation to analysis and response to the questions: “Are the political behaviors and views of the modern day Burmese Buddhist Sangha consistent with Buddha’s teachings and Buddhism?” “Is the Burmese Buddhist Sangha a political party?”

Degree Granter

University of the West

ISBN

9781321057102

Library Holding