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In principle, there is religious freedom in Myanmar, but Buddhists generally have a much easier time, for example finding a job with the government. Religious minorities, especially Muslims and Christians, have a hard time under the military regime. The United States applies the International Religious Freedom Act; in 2005 Myanmar was listed as a Country of Particular Concern.

Approximately 87% of the population adheres to Hinayana Buddhism. Hinayana or Theravada Buddhism is called the 'teachings of the elders'. The followers of Hinayana Buddhism consider themselves to be purer and more orthodox than the followers of Mahayana Buddhism, the other current in Buddhism. The hinayana Buddhists only recognise the original articles of faith from the Tripitaka (the 'Three Baskets', in which Buddha's teachings are recorded). Furthermore, each person strives for individual salvation, without the intervention of bodhisattvas (mortals who have attained enlightenment, but still remain on earth to show their fellow men the right path). Besides Myanmar, Hinayana Buddhism is mainly practised in Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Spirits or 'nats' play a very important role in the life of the Burmese. Nats are found in animism and predate Buddhism. According to animists, there are spirits in all people, animals and objects. Furthermore, everyone has a personal guardian spirit (ko-saung nat). Each house and house spirit and each village its own village spirit. There are 37 official nats, both good and bad.

Although spirits and superstitions have no place in Hinayana Buddhism, for many Burmese they are a valuable addition to Buddhism. To appease nats, they are offered sacrifices. The centre of nat worship is Mount Popa, east of Bagan. According to legend, the 37 nats live here. In various places in Myanmar, large festivals (nat pwe) are held every year in honour of a particular nat.

Superstition is also an important aspect of the daily life of the Burmese. In this, clairvoyants, soothsayers and astrologers are of great importance.

Every Burmese man is expected to join the Sangha, the Buddhist monastic order in Myanmar, at least twice in his life. The first time one joins is around the age of 10, the second time is just after the age of 20.

There are about 2 million Christians in Myanmar, mostly Protestants. Baptists form the largest group, there are also Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians. The Catholic community in Myanmar consists of approximately 500,000 people. The two archdioceses are Yangon and Mandalay.

The approximately 2 million Muslims live mainly in the western state of Rakhine and are constantly harassed by the regime there. For example, Muslims are denied Burmese nationality, only three marriages are allowed per village and land is regularly expropriated.

The more than half a million Hindus are mainly descendants of Indians who migrated to Myanmar during the colonial period.

Among the mountain peoples animism still occurs and the Chinese minority adheres to a combination of Mahayana Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism.


Buddhist 89%
Christian 4%
Muslim 4% Animist
Animist 1%
Other 2%


Hulst, H. / Birma: (Myanmar)
KIT Publishers/Oxfam Novib

K├Âllner, H. / Myanmar (Birma)
Het Spectrum

Myat Yin, S. / Burma
Times Books

Peterse, L. / Birma (Myanmar)

Reid, R. / Myanmar (Burma)
Lonely Planet


CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
Copyright: Team The World of Info