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Mahyna Buddhism in Myanmar

By

Ven.Lokamitra Bhikkhu

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Contents:
Union of Myanmar Map
Introduction Combining Buddhism Two divisions of Mahyna People profess Mahyna Buddhism Avalokitesvara, or Loka Nat Worship in Myanmar Definition Name of Avalokitesvara Kuan Yin Bodhisattva People of Myanmar and Lokanat Maitreya Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara and Maitreya Tara Conclusion Cited Works

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Union of Myanmar Map

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Introduction:
The Mahyna and other allied cults (e.g., Mantrayna and Tantrayna)

were introduced into Burma from Bihar and Bengal, during the rule of the Pla and Sena dynasties; this is indicated not only the account of Trantha but also by archaeological finds from Pagan. Tantric or Mahyna spread out in 5th or 6th AD in upper Burma. Aris(ariggaka) established Mantrayana and Tantrayana in Upper Burma in 10th 13thAD. The Mahyna was first introduced in the Koki land by the pupils of Vasubandhu from which time it continued to exist uninterruptedly. This finds an indirect confirmation in the statement of the Burmese chronicles, e.g., of the Hmannan, to the effect that the religion (Buddhism) gradually grew weak from the reign of king Thaittang (c.516-523), founder of the city of Tampavati (Thamahti, near Pagan), and because there was no Pitaka or sacred writ, only the doctrines of the Ari lords at Thamahti were generally adopted.

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Combining Buddhism
By the 9th century the Pyu of northern Myanmar were combining

Theravada with elements of Mahyna and Tantric Buddhism brought with them from their homelands on or near the Tibetan Plateau. When the Barmar of Bagan supplanted the Pyu they inherited this amalgamated form. During the early Bagan era (11th century), Bamar king Anawratha decided that the Buddhism practised in his realm should be purified of all non-Theravada elements, a task he set for Mon monks captured by his armies in Thaton, southern Myanmar. Although Burmese Buddhism was never totally rid of Mahyna, Tantric, Hindu and animist elements, his efforts were remarkably successful in bringing the Burmese around to a predominantly Theravda world-view.

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Two divisions of Mahyna


The domain of Sanskrit Buddhism in Myanmar is divided in

two divisions as follows: (1) Lower Burma (2) Upper Burma (1) Lower Burma with its political centre at the Pyu capital of Prome and later on at the Talaing capital of Thaton. The Mahyna in Lower Burma was introduced from Eastern India, more definitely from the Magadhan region, the intercourse having been maintained by sea which was probably the easiest route to reach the ports of peninsular Burma (2) Upper Burma with its centre at Pagan. The Most flourishing period of the Mahyna and allied cults in Pagan and other centres of Upper Burma must have begun from the ninth century (from the region the Pla king Dharmapla, according to Trantha), and lasted until at least the end of the thirteenth.

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People profess Mahyna Buddhism

Today the majority of Buddhists in Myanmar belong to the

Thervda sect; those who profess Mahyna Buddhism comprise fewer than 1% virtually all of whom are of Chinese descent.

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AVALOKITESVARA IMAGE

Myanmar

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Om Mani Padme Huum image

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Bodhisatta Loka Nat Kuan Yin Mae Daw (Buddha Image on her Headdress is Amithaba Buddha)

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Avalokitesvara, or Loka Nat Worship in Myanmar


Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisatta is the most revered Deity in

Myanmar. Loka Nat is the only Mahayana Deity left in this Theravada country that Myanmar displays his image openly, not knowing that he is the Mahayana Deity appearing everywhere in the world in a variety of names: Avalokitesvara, Lokesvara, Kuan Yin, Kuan Shih Yin and Kannon. The younger generations got lost in the translation not knowing the name Loka Nat means one and the same for this Bodhisatta known in various part of the world as Avalokitesvara, Lokesvara, Kuan Yin or Kannon. He is believed to guard over the world in the period between the Gotama Sasana and Mettreyya Buddha sasana. Based on Kyaikhtiyoe Cetiyas inscription, some believed that Loka Nat would bring peace and prosperity to the Goldenland of Myanmar.

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Its historical origin has been lost due to artistic creativity

Myanmar artist. The Myanmar historical record shows that the King Anawratha was known to embrace the worship of Avalokitesvara, Loka Nat. Even after the introduction of Theravada in Bagan, Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, Lokanattha, Loka Byuhar Nat, Kuan Yin, and Chenresig, had been and still is the most revered Mahayana deity, today.

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Definition Name of Avalokitesvara


The name Avalokitesvara has its root meaning as "he who hears

the sounds of the world". The great vow of Avalokitesvara is to listen to the supplications, and cries for help from those in difficulty in the world and to provide them with aid. He takes many different forms....male, female, four-armed, thousandarmed, human, non-human, teacher, student...whatever expedient means are needed to help people most effectively. People in Myanmar believed that he brings peace and prosperity to the world.

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Kuan Yin Bodhisattva Kuan Yin Bodhisattva, an emanation of Amida Buddha's compassion, is sometimes referred to in the West as the Goddess of Mercy. (Note: Avalokitesvara means "Kuan Yin" in Sanskrit, the language of early India, from an earlier time he was depicted as a male figure. "Kuan Yin" (Chinese); "Kannon" (Japanese). The original Avalokitesvara is known by different names in different part of the world; he is known as Avalokitesvara in Mahayana Buddhism and is named as Lokesvara in Thailand and Cambodia and Kuan Yin Pusa in China and Vietnam. In the early history of Myanmar, Bagan is believed to have been founded in the years 849-850 AD by the Myanmar, the Northern region of Myanmar followed theMahayanaBuddhism.

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People of Myanmar and Lokanat To the people of Myanmar Lokanat is the symbol of peace and prosperity and his figures are displayed prominently in our art, culture and her Theravada religion. The role of the Lokanat as peacemaker is based on a fascinating legend handed down through the generations.
The term Lokanat in popular usage today is also said to be

derived from the name of a deity named Lokanahta, which is the combination of two Pali words, Loka, meaning people in general and Nahta, meaning heavenly being. So the Lokanat was originally the title of the deity who is believed to keep eternal watch over the world.

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To be continued

The Lokanat is the favorite subject of Myanmar's sculpture and

painting. In fact many will say that the Lokanat is the logo of the visual arts in Myanmar. Its graceful figure is also frequently seen adorning the Myanmar traditional saing-waing (traditional orchestra), for he is regarded the patron of the performing arts as well. In fact, the Lokanat stands for peace and harmony, happiness and joy and all that is right and good. The figure is often placed in a prayer chamber or throne room. A Lokanat figure has been placed in the foreground of the Thihathana Throne now on display at the National Museum. Thus, for the Myanmar people, the Lokanat is a symbol of peace and the essence of our art and culture. His image in gold is displayed at the most sacred place at the spire of the most sacred Cetiya, Kyaikhtiyo in Thaton, Myanmar.

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Maitreya Bodhisattva image

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Maitreya Bodhisattva
Maitreya is the only Bodhisattva worshipped in Burma both by

Hnaynists and Mahynists; worship seems to have been very popular. In Burmese inscriptions he is frequently mentioned as Metteya, the Pli form of his name; the supreme wish of the founder of a pagoda or other religious edifices, and the donors of lands, or books or other monastic necessities is to behold Metteyya, as in the Shwekugyi inscription of king Alaungsithu, or to obtain salvation in the presence of the Lord Buddha Metta, as in the inscription of the Lady Acakrwam, daughter of Trilocandranma Mahdevi Sumll, queen of Jayasura. Bodhisattva Maitreya also figures in a few PliSanskrit inscriptions on votive tablets of king Anawrahta and other important personages of Pagan.

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Maitreya is also mentioned in certain short Talaing inscriptions written on the walls of some the temples of Pagan, along with Lokesvara or Avalokitesvara. The image of Maitreya in a monastic garb, very similar to that of Gautama, is still very common in Burma. One or two single images of Maitreya are also known in Burma. The Mahmuni image of Arakan, a gilt image of huge proportions possibly represents Maitrey; at least there are two early Burmese chronicles, the Mahrja Van Tawkri (vol.1,p.209) and the Pagan Rj Van Thit (Mss.no.918 of the Bernard Free Library, Rangoon), which state that it is an image of Maitreya.

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Avalokitesvara and Maitreya


In Burma as elsewhere these two Bodhisattvas are often placed

on both sides of the Buddha as his attendants or cauri-bearers. In fact, examples of stone reliefs with similar representations are so numerous, both from Hmawza and Pagan, that they can hardly have exclusively belonged to the Mahayana. In some instances these relief forms an integral part of the decoration of temples belonging to the Theravada. Evidently both Avalokitesvara and Maitreya were adopted, no doubt as subordinate deities, in the Theravada pantheon (if Thervada can be said at all to have a pantheon) of Burma, in the same manner as Indra and Brahma of the Brahmanical pantheon were in the early Hinayana.

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Tara
A few images of Tara are also known from Burma. A small

bronze image of the goddess has been found near Manawgon village in Myothit township of the Magwe district. She is seated cross-legged on a lotus throne with her right hand in varada-mudra and her left which is in vitarka-mudra holds the stalk of a lotus-flower. She wears anklets, bracelets, armlets, a necklace, earrings and a crown. Her hair is arranged in a kot on the back of her head.

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Another image of Tara which is now preserved in the Ananda

Museum, Pagan, can be easily recognized by her attitude.

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Conclusion:
The Mahyna and other allied cults (e.g., Mantrayna and

Tantrayna) were introduced into Burma from Bihar and Bengal, during the rule of the Pla and Sena dynasties. Tantric or Mahyna spread out in 5th or 6th AD in upper Burma. Aris(ariggaka) established Mantrayana and Tantrayana in Upper Burma in 10th 13thAD. The domain of Sanskrit Buddhism in Myanmar is divided into two divisions:(1) Lower Burma (2) Upper Burma. For those who profess Mahyna Buddhism comprise fewer than 1% virtually all of whom are of Chinese descent. Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisatta is the most revered Deity in Myanmar. To the people of Myanmar Lokanat is the symbol of peace and prosperity.

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Cited Works:
Steven Martin, Mic Looby, Michael Clark, Joe Cummings

.Myanmar (Burma), (Craft Print International Ltd, Singapore:) 2005. Web:http://kk.docdat.com/docs/index-453718.html accessed on 29/08/2013.

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