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education progresses throughout the province, it seems
probable that the hold which this cold and cynical reli-
gious philosophy has over the heads and the hearts of
the more intelligent classes will gradually become weaker
and weaker.

Even the slight hold that true Buddhism now has on



the daily life of the people is mainly due to the fact of
education throughout all the rural tracts resting solely
with the monks {Pongyi) dwelling in the monastery to be
seen at the outskirts of each little village. Every boy
must attend a monastery. Here he learns by heart the
various religious precepts binding upon the laity, and
wears the yellow robe ; and here he is also taught to
read, to write, and to work out simple problems in arith-
metic. Hence, respect for his teachers and veneration
for the Assembly in general are infused into the young
male Burman during his early and most impressionable
years. As the monastic rules forbid a Pongyi to look
upon the face of any female, the girls have little or no edu-
cation, for the nuns i^Methilayin) are themselves illiterate,
and therefore incapable of imparting elementary instruc-
tion to girls. Though Buddhism acknowledges that
women have souls, yet it regards them as distinctly
inferior to men ; and no provision is made by it for
the education of girls. This in itself now contains a
danger which Buddhism will have to encounter, for in
Burma the girls and women are, as a rule, gifted with
greater ability and quicker wits than the boys and the
men ; and the religious philosophy which forbids the
recognized teachers of religion to look upon the face of
a woman, or to impart instruction to girls, must now, in
these days of progress in Burma, either voluntarily sub-
mit itself to radical changes of a most sweeping sort or
else undergo a process of gradual deterioration and decay
through the influence of lay schools and the educational
emancipation of women.

In all the large towns of Burma Government schools
are maintained, in which education is imparted according
to Western methods and ideas, and there are but few of
the smaller towns without lay schools as well as monas-
teries. Even in many of the larger villages a lay school
may here and there be found. These are all nuclei of
a progress that is bound in time to affect the religiousj
the political, and the social influence which the yellow-
robed monks of Buddhism still have over the people.
This monastic influence is considerably greater than the
religious power exerted by Buddhism over the Burmese,



but the gradual advance of civilization in Burma must in
course of time sap the political and social power of the
monks, and must thereby inevitably tend to lessen the
influence which Buddhism still retains over the daily life
of the Burman.


Chapter V


THE yellow-robed monks {Ra/ian) or priests {Pongyi)
of Buddhism in Burma stand out in bold relief
from the rest of the population. Like the lilies of the
field, they toil not neither do they spin ; and if they are
not also arrayed like one of these, at any rate they can
claim an advantage over the lilies in that they do not
require to produce their own raiment. Like the food
upon which they subsist, the robes worn by the monks
are the gift of pious almsgivers. Clad in picturesque
yellow robe the Buddhist monk is a daily object lesson
in humility and in withdrawal from the pomp and vani-
ties of this life ; for yellow is to the Burman a symbol of
mourning, affliction, sorrow, and humility.

These monks or priests were originally made known
to Europe by the Portuguese under the name of " Tala-
poinsl' probably a corruption of " Talapat " (or Tarapat
in Burmese), the name of the large fan made of the leaf
of the Talipat palm {Borassus flabelliformis), with which

^ Strictly speaking, there are neither priests, nor ?nonks, nor monas-
teries in Burma. Though Burmese Buddhism is an organized religion
in having an archbishop, bishops, and heads of religious houses, yet
there are no priests having the care of souls, nor are there monks
belonging to any priestly fraternity. The correct term for any member
of the Assembly would be simply the " religious " ; and in so far as he
voluntarily withdraws himself from worldly affairs and the society of
men other than those also "religious," he may be called a "recluse."
Wherever the word priest is here used it is intended to mean the
Pongyi or " great glory," the chief " religious " in any religious abode,
while the term mojik means any other Rahan or "perfect one" residing
in a religious building. In the same way the word monastery is just
as laxly applied to any edifice where any of these "religious " reside.



every priest shades his eyes in order to prevent pious
meditations being interfered with by beholding the face
of a woman when he walks abroad to collect alms or for
any other purpose. In Burma, however, they are termed
Poni^yi, " the great glory," or Rahan, " the perfect one."

Until the annexation of Upper Burma on January i,
1886, the King of Ava was the head of the Buddhist
Church in Burma. As the archbishop {Thdthandbaing,
or " possessor of discipline, instruction ") likewise re-
sided in or near the capital, it naturally followed that for
centuries Upper Burma, and the metropolis in particular,
has been the great stronghold of Burmese Buddhism
and the acknowledged fountain head of sanctity and
learning. On the accession of any king to the throne of
Ava it was customary for him to bestow the title of
archbishop on the priest in whose monastery he had
received his instruction as a boy. In this case the
nominee of the late King simply reverted again to his
previous status as a Pongyi or Rahan.

The archbishop formerly exerted much greater power
than he was allowed to possess after the accession of
King Mindon to the throne of Ava in 1853. Under
this monarch, who was not inclined to brook any inter-
ference with his political power, — and the priesthood or
" Assembly " had undoubtedly considerable influence
among the people, — the authority of the Thdthandbaing
was much more nominal than real. Formerly his juris-
diction extended to all the territories under the sway of
the King of Burma, and he sent emissaries to examine
and report on the state of discipline, to enforce rigid
obedience regarding the instructions to priests, and to
expel from the Assembly those who were found to be
unduly lax in the performance of their vows. During the
latter days of the court of Ava, however, the archbishop
was shorn of much of his former power, though otherwise
treated with the most illustrious and respectful attention.
The monastery in which he lived along with two or
three monks was more richly decorated than any of the
other monasteries, being covered both outside and inside
with gold leaf, as well as having its teak woodwork
richly carved. When, borne on a gilded litter and



accompanied by a large escort of priests and laymen,
he visited the palace on certain fixed occasions for such
special purposes as to remind the King of the Ten Laws
(Yazaddn), the practice of which is incumbent on a
king/ the latter quitted his elevated seat or dais and
seated himself almost but not quite on a level with his
officers of state and courtiers, while the archbishop took
the superior place vacated by his royal disciple. Behind
these outward signs of reverential deference, however,
there remained but little power. The Thdthandbaing
was no longer backed by the temporal power, or even
officially permitted to despatch his emissaries to super-
vise the manner in which the priests performed the
duties they had vowed to observe when ordained, or how
they attended to the religious education of the young
boys sent to their monasteries to receive instruction. As
there was thus no sort of central and supreme adminis-
tration, laxity has crept into the religious order ; and the
Assembly can no longer be considered the same austere,
ascetic body of voluntary mendicants as it was at the
time when Gaudama collected his Beikku or disciples
around him, or as it continued down even to very recent
times. But all questions involving points of difference
among priests were usually referred to Mandalay for
the decision of the archbishop. Thus, even during the
last days of the Court of Ava, the religious body still
possessed considerable political and social influence
throughout Upper Burma. Accordingly, as head of
the Assembly, the Thdthandbaing was in 1886 treated
with great consideration by the Government of India.
On the strength of assurances given by the latter not to
interfere with the religion of the country the archbishop
rendered good political service during the troublous
years immediately following the annexation, by exhort-
ing the Assembly to maintain a passive attitude and by
endeavouring to restrain the monks from what would

^ These Ten Laws are — (i) not to let anger overcome him; (2) to
be upright and honest; (3) not to be oppressive; (4) to be patient; (5)
to bestow alms freely; (6) to feed the poor; (7) to be gentle; (8) to
practise self-denial; (9) not to mix with the people; and (10) to be
pious and observant of religious ceremonies.



have been a very natural desire to use their religious in-
fluence in order to stir up the feelings of the population
against the British, who had dethroned their monarch
and annexed their country. His services in this respect
have often been depreciated by the remark that after all
they were not of much use : but if he had been openly
hostile, or had played false, the pacification of Upper
Burma micfht have cost Britain far more of her best
fighting blood, as well as of treasure and time, than
actually was the case between 1885 and 1890. And
there can be no doubt that he had more than once
strong temptations to adopt the latter course.

The Thdthandbaing died at Mandalay in January,
1895 ; but up to date no successor to the archiepiscopal
office has been recognized by Government. An election
was made by an assembly of local priests, but as it was
not unanimous Government declined to acknowledge it.
The choice fell on the Pakhan Sadaw, or bishop of
Pakhan, who is accordingly venerated as the archbishop
by the priesthood and the people.

The provincial head among the priests, corresponding
to a bishop in the Anglican Church, is the " district
ruler " {Gaing Ok) or "great teacher" [Sayddaw, Saddw),
who has jurisdiction over all the monasteries throughout
the towns, villages, and hamlets in his district. He settles
the little squabbles that occur from time to time in his
diocese, and passes judgement on probationers, monks,
or priests accused of breach of duty. With the present
lack of archiepiscopal supervision, sometimes even a
bishop is less unconcerned about mundane affairs than
he should be. A Saddw whom I was in the habit of
visiting in Mandalay in 1891 used frequently to show me
with great pride a very highly prized letter received by
him from Sir Frederick Roberts, whom he always pro-
phetically called " Lad Rabbat." And (alas for the
decadence in the observance of priestly instructions !),
he even showed it to and shook hands with my wife,
whom, with his permission, I had taken to see him and
his monastery.

The Pongyi or ** great glory " is the head of each
monastery (Kyaung), and therefore corresponds with an



abbot or superior. There are upwards of twenty-five
thousand Pongyi and monks throughout Burma, while
the total number of males connected with the religious body
is over a hundred and twelve thousand. He may live here
along with other monks {Rakan or "perfect ones ") like
himself, or else he may share the monastery only with
probationers and acolytes. The sole difference between
the Pongyi and the Rahan is that the former happens to
be the head of the monastery : but both are Rahan.
When an elder Pongyi speaks to a younger one he uses
the term Awatkaw, while the latter respectfully addresses
his senior as Bande.

Next below the Rahan in the religious order ranks the
Upazin, or probationer, who cannot be ordained or ad-
mitted into the Assembly till he has reached his twentieth
year. Previous to attaining the probationary position of
an Upazin the young ascetic must have lived for some
time as an acolyte.

The acolytes bear names [Shin, " lord " or " master " ;
Maunggyi or Koyin, "elder brother") indicative of the
respect entertained by lay adults for even a small boy
who temporarily dons a yellow robe while an inmate of
the monastery. It is incumbent on every male Burman
to spend not less than seven days in a monastery ; but in
order to perform this duty properly, and to get something
like the Burmese equivalent of the hall mark of a pass
degree at a University, the Koyin ought to spend at least
the whole of the three months constituting one lent {Wa,
from June or July to September or October) in practising
the austerities of the religious order, even although he
may have no intention of aspiring to become a probationer
and later on a monk. If he desire to become a candi-
date for the priesthood he wears a cord round his
neck previous to assuming the robe proper to the

Formerly it was the almost universal custom through-
out Burma, as also in Siam, to make boys enter the
monastery about the age of puberty, and to keep them
there for a year or two in order to give them a
fuller knowledge of the law and place them in the
best of positions for acquiring the merit requisite for



future existences. This event, called Shinpyu, is still
one of the great epochs in the life of a Burman (see
page 147).

According to the census of 1891, there were no fewer
than 15,371 monasteries throughout Burma, more than
two-thirds of which were in Upper Burma. This was at
the rate of one for every ninety-three houses, and aver-
aged more than two for each village and town. Within
these monasteries there were 25,507 monks constituting
the Assembly {Thinga) in Burma, 20,771 probationers,
and 45,369 acolytes. Of the last named, rather more than
one-half were then under fifteen years of age. Con-
siderably more than one half of the priests are to be
found in Lower Burma, while the majority of the
probationers and acolytes are to be met with in Upper
Burma. This is, however, easily explainable, partly on
account of the much larger population of Lower Burma,
and partly from the fact of Mandalay being the centre
of Buddhistic learning throughout Burma. But whereas
it is comparatively rare to find more than one pro-
bationer in a monastery in Lower Burma, it is no
uncommon thing to find several in the larger monasteries
of Upper Burma.

These ninety-thousand yellow-robed men, lads, and
boys constitute two and a half per cent, of the whole of the
Buddhist male population in Burma. Besides these, there
is the army of small boys [Kyazmg Thagale, " small sons
of a monastery " ; or Tabyi, " scholars, disciples ") sent at
about eight to ten years of age to be taught reading,
writing, elementary arithmetic, and some of the easier
formulae for repetition during religious meditation. For-
tunately for these youngsters, the multiplication table
{Kogyaung) only goes up the length of the sacred
numbers nine times nine. In addressing any ordinary
layman the priest, uses the term "great disciple"
{Tabyidaw) ; but if the latter has founded a monastery
[Kyaung), or built a pagoda (Payd), or performed some
other work of great religious merit, then he is addressed
as Kyaungtagd, Paydtagd, etc. Similarly, when a lay-
man communicates with any priest, either in writing or
in conversation, he addresses him as " Lord ' [Payd),



and speaks of himself as "your lordship's disciple"
(Payd Tabyidaw).

In addition to the recognized members of the Assembly
(Thinga), lay brethren [Pothudaw) are also to be found,
who lead a life of poverty and celibacy without aspiring
to religious eminence. Vestiges of the female order of
Rahan instituted by Gaudama, through the admission into
the Assembly of his aunt and foster mother, together
with 500 maidens of high birth, are also still to be found
in the nuns {Methilayin). They might, however, be
more correctly called lay sisters. They wear robes of
coarse white cotton or pale buff, and are usually middle-
aged or old women, who walk quietly along, often with
the aid of a stick, holding in their hands a rosary of
black wooden beads upon which they count their daily
tale of religious formulae. Among these nuns one
seldom sees any female who could be called a girl or a
young woman, or could be thought good-looking. They
enjoy little or none of the esteem and veneration paid to
monks. There can be no doubt, however, that if they
had been charged by the Law with the duty of giving to
little girls elementary instruction similar to that inculcated
into small boys at all the monasteries, they would have
been entitled to, and would probably have enjoyed,
a considerably higher position in the public estimation.

The religious community which may be found in a
typical monastery consists of the head monk [Pongyi), one
or more other monks {Rakan), one or more probationers
(Upazin), and perhaps several lads serving temporarily
as acolytes {Shin or Koyin) — leaving out of consideration,
of course, the " disciples " (Tabyi) or small boys under-
going instruction and discipline, who are often the most
charmingly mischievous and roguish little urchins ima-

The Pongyi or superior may either be appointed to the
monastery by the founder {Kyaungtagd) or else he may
be elected by the monks. When a Pongyi dies in any
small monastery near a jungle village, any other Rahan
may take possession without being invited to do so by
the founder. It corresponds to a deodand. Once dedi-
cated to the Assembly, it can be taken possession of by

VOL. II. 129 K


any member of that religious body. Should the villagers
object to this procedure on the part of a monk, then
they need not embrace the opportunity he gives them of
performing a work of religious merit, but may allow the
mendicant friar to starve in place of living, as most
Pongyi and Rahan do, on the Burmese equivalent to the
fat of the land.

Within his monastery the Pongyi or Say a (" teacher ")
has uncontrolled sway. He supervises the perform-
ances of all ceremonies, enforces obedience to the rules
of the order, sees that the ten precepts or religious duties
of a monk (Tkedin, Thila) are not transgressed or
circumvented, and maintains order and good feeling
among all the inmates of the monastery.

For the instruction of probationers and of all members
of the Assembly the multifarious duties and religious
observances prescribed are contained in a manual of
Buddhist priests {Patiniauk), the " supreme beatitude " or
" complete enfranchisement." The " basket " [Bidagat)
of the Buddhist scriptures is divided into three great
divisions — instructions (Thut) for the laity, instructions
{Wini) for the Assembly, and instructions [Abidamma)
for the Nat and Brama respectively abiding in the six
lower and the twenty higher celestial regions. The
priestly instructions are again subdivided into five sec-
tions, of which the first two (Paraziga and Pazeik) form
a code of ordinances relating to priestly crimes and
misdemeanours, and the third and fourth {Makawa and
Siclazva) contain rules and regulations for ordination and
miscellaneous ceremonies, while the fifth {Pariwa) is a
recapitulation of the four previous sections.

These instructions are all collected and codified in the
manual for monks {Patimauk), and it is prescribed that
the reading of this, or at any rate of parts of it, shall take
place by a certain number of the Assembly on all holy
days and festivals in a chapel ( T/iehi) specially set apart
for the performance of religious rites, such as ordination,
excommunication, etc. The Pati?iiatik is to the Rahan
very much what his breviary is to the Roman Catholic
priest ; and many of the monks can repeat by heart the
whole of the contents of their manual.



The sins of commission or omission which are detailed
in it number no less than 227, many of which are of the
most childish, trivial, and ludicrous nature. For these,
however, the punishments incurred are also childishly-
light. They include such acts of penance as walking up
and down in front of the monastery for a certain time
during the heat of the day, and carrying pots of water or
basketsful of earth a certain distance. Indeed, penance
of any severe nature corporeally is entirely opposed to the
whole essence and ideas of Burmese Buddhism. There
is, however, a "duty chapel" {Wzdkyaung), or a chapel of
penance, of a temporary or permanent nature attached
to the monastery for the use of monks in which the major
works of penance are usually performed during a month
( Tabodwe) corresponding more or less with February.

The 227 sins of the priesthood detailed in the Pati-
mauk are divided into seven main sections, of which only
the first two {Paraziga and Pazeik or Thmgadizeik) are
of any real importance. The Paraziga enumerates the
four unpardonable sins, which, if committed by any monk,
must be punished by permanent expulsion from the
Assembly. These include killing or directly causing
death, theft, fornication, and a vainglorious false profes-
sion of having- attained the status of a Rahat. On the
day of admission into the Assembly the probationer is
duly warned of these sins during the recital of the ordi-
nation service {Kammawd). No remission is possible if
any one of these four cardinal sins be committed. At
once the culprit is "deposed from religious duties," and
ceases to have any longer a place in the Assembly. All
other sins may be expiated by confession and penance,
but not any one of those four. Any backsliding with
regard to continence is visited by the laity, themselves
not exactly rigid moralists, with extreme severity. The
fallen and disgraced priest is ejected from his monastery,
stripped of his yellow robe and driven forth from the
village precincts, while his paramour becomes an equally
vile object and an outcast. In Upper Burma, until the
annexation, priests thus guilty of incontinence were some-
times publicly punished, even the death penalty being
occasionally exacted.



The second section {Thingadizeik) of the Patimauk
comprises the other thirteen major sins, which, Hke all the
remaining 210 minor sins, may be atoned for by confes-
sion and penance. Of these thirteen major sins the first
five deal with personal cleanliness and uncleanliness, great
modesty in public, confession of failings, avoiding of sin,
and the shunning of temptations ; while the remaining
eight consist of such offences as intending to erect a
monastery without the aid of a lay founder (Kyaungtagd),
placing the foundations of a monastery in any spot where
they are likely to destroy many insects, bringing false
charges of incontinence, persisting or assisting in sowing
discord among the monks, continuing despite admoni-
tions to transgress the rules in minor matters, and scan-
dalous behaviour such as giving laymen false accounts
of what goes on in the monastery.

The regulations binding upon monks with regard to
coming in contact with the fair sex are strict and circum-
stantial. They may neither look upon the face of a
woman, nor accept anything from her hands, nor travel
in the same boat or cart, nor remain even temporarily
under the same roof save when surrounded by some of
the younger inmates of their monastery. When men
and women meet at the monastery or the rest-house
[Zaydt) to hear portions of the law read on each holy
seventh day, the monks protect their eyes with their
large fans in the same way as they do when walking
abroad, lest their gaze rest on the face of a woman.
Even should a priest's mother fall into a ditch he is for-
bidden to stretch forth his hand to pull her out ; the most
he can do is to offer her the end of his robe or a stick,
and even in doing this he is ordered to imagine that he
is only pulling out a log of wood.

Confession (^P aw ay and) among priests and probationers
exists, it is true, though it is but little indulged in save by
monks of the strictest school, and by probationers in the

Online LibraryJohn NisbetBurma under British rule--and before; (Volume 2) → online text (page 12 of 41)