Imagining the Buddhist Ecumene in Myanmar: How Buddhist Paradigms Dictate Belonging in Contemporary Myanmar
Murphree, Daniel P.
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This paper argues that the model of an “Ecumene” will aid external interpretation of the Myanmar political process, including the beliefs of its leaders and constituents, the Bamar. Myanmar as Ecumene better articulates Bama constructions of society, including governance, in that it resituates the political process as a Buddhist enterprise, shifting “Buddhist nationalism” to an imagined “Nation of Buddhists.” It also provides the rationale for othering of religious minorities, such as the Muslim Rohingya or the Christian Chin. Utilizing ethnographic, historical, and textual source material, I show how the Bamar of Myanmar understand their relationship with the State, with one another, and with minority groups primarily through Buddhist modes of kingship and belonging. The right to rule is negotiated through the concept of “moral authority.” This dhamma sphere exists as a space to contest power legitimation, but requires the use of Buddhist textual and historical concepts provided in the dhammarāja or Cakkavattin model of Buddhist kingship, The Ten Virtues, the Jātakas, and the historical figures of Aśoka and Anawrahta. In order to do this, this paper develops a rubric for interpreting what a dhammarāja does. This has not been done before and will allow the reader the ability to evaluate whether or not any given government in Myanmar is operating according to a dhammarāja tradition. Based on the rubric provided and source materials, this paper concludes that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, presumed leader of Myanmar, imagines herself a Buddhist dhammarāja and the leader of a Buddhist Ecumene. The Bamar are concerned about the decline of dhamma and the retraction of a Buddhist land, and this concern provides a basis of support and concern for the current regime.