Religious Rituals of Nat (Spirits) Worshiping Among Burma
Myanmar is one of the biggest countries in Southeast Asia. They live under various political, ethnics and economic conditions. Buddhism is a main religion in Myanmar. ‘Myanmar has a population about 56 million and it is made up of 135 ethnic groups and eight national races. The ethnic groups are varying in language, culture and size. Population of 70% are Burma.’ Burma have retained the traditions, respect for the elders, reverence for Buddhism, Nat worship and they recognize the value of simple native dress. They appreciate ritual ceremony and festival because they are fun loving, having social life and every month has its own celebrate occasion among Burma. Since, there is no Buddhism among Burma who worshipped Nat(Spirits) and offer a sacrifice them. The influence of Nat(Spirits) on the Burma people is so strong and pervasive that the identify as the religion.
Historically, man has an intrinsic desire to want control what happens to himself to others and to the environment. The delusion of omnipotence is an innate to humanity and can be traced back to our first parents in response to the serpent’s challenge in the garden in Genesis 3. Man desires to be the center of the universe and to control everything and everyone.
This study to understand the history of Nats, the religion beliefs of Burma Nat worship, explaining the Biblical response to ancestor worship and the purpose of finding a way to share Gospel in Burma society. To explain the paper’s conclusion, the belief or practices of Burma Nat worship and concerned with new opportunities for communicating the Gospel and the expansion of Biblical truth to the variety of ethnic and cultural groups in Burma.
Aminism Among Burma
Burma folk religion points to the animistic religious worship of nat(spirits) and ancestors in Burma. A nat is a spirit or god who feature a human in shape that often preserve or defends objects, when people die, they can become nat(spirits). Nat(spirits) can be found in nature and things such as trees, rocks, river and ect. According to the tradition, there are thirty-seven leading Nats worshiped all over the country in Myanmar. All of the thirty-seven nats are ghosts or spirits of heroes among Burma. Khup Lian Pau demonstrate, According to animistic belief and practice, which hold sway even today among some Burma families, prominent topographical land march as mountains, rivers, and lakes all have their nats or gurdian spirits that have to be propitiated by people in local communities, and in the case of certain celebrated nats, by devotees from all over the country. The Burma who resort to astrology, alchemy or Nat worship do so for safety and success in their mundane life. The nat would inflict no harm, nay, he would even give his protection to those who recognized his suzerainty, and such recognition could be expressed by an offering of rice or fruit, a few words of supplication or a gesture of homage. The remains of the belief and rite has closely in Burma ways of life from Buddhism belief and strict Buddhists. The modern society effects to their belief and spirit worship, how the Nat play their roles and have relations under this context.
A Brief Background of Nat (Spirits) Worship
In the eleventh century, king Anawrahta established first Myanmar kingdom and made Buddhism the national religion. There were already in existence a number of primitive religious cults, which were Nat spirits, astrology, and alchemy. Especially, thirty-seven Nats are famous among Burma and worshiped all over the country in middle Myanmar. Thirty seven Nats were human beings who met violent deaths. However, there are two types of Nats Burma belief, they are lower nats and higher nats. Thirty seven nats are included in higher level and more powerful than the other nats.
Burma has strongly believed in these two type of nats as not separately and indifferently. Nats could contacted people in various way to communicate such as daily life movement, annual ceremonies and festivals which all of them could be probably held by attended people. Burma have seen Nats as the most powerful and beautiful person who can protect them from any unexpected circumstance, bad luck or some important situations in daily life.
Nat (spirits) worship has preserved its place in traditional culture as a mix of faith and trade. Nat(spirits) ceremonies not only the domain of believers but also give livelihoods for networks of mediums, organisers, musicians, transportation personnel and local arts and crafts industries.
They are like country fairs with a unique Burma twist that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. In fact all of the Nats at one time or another were unfairly executed by a member of the royal family. The home of the Nats is Mt. Popa in Central Burma and on the summit of this mountain shrines to all thirty seven Nats are found. As a result, today the thirty-seven leading nats are worshipped as the national pantheon by Burma in Myanmar, a little more about the thirty-seven nats shall be described in the next part.
Thirty-Seven Nat(Spirits) and Ancestor Worship
In a day to day life, nat(spirits) play the top role in a family prosperity, good health and happiness depend very much on how much nat(spirit) help in daily life. Each Nat has its own history or legend which places the Nat in an important or heroic role in Burma history. While some Burma regard Nat worship as mere superstition, most people do pay some attention to them and regard the Nat worship as a method of dealing with or solving the problems of this life. The following chart are thirty seven nats name and aspect of their duties,
- Thagyamin – The highest ranking nat in traditional Burma belief. 4. Shwe Nabay – She is Naga Medaw means dragon leader. According to traditional story, she was wife of Min Mahargiri.
- Min Mahagiri – The Lord of the great mountain 5. Thonbanbla – She was beautiful in three way within One day.She was younger sister of Min Mahagiri.
- Hnamadawgyi – She was a queen of the king tagaung, sister of Min Mahagiri. She is working under the law of his brother. 6. Taungoo Mingaung – Since death from violent muder, he was one of the main criteria for being inducted into the pantheon.
- Mintara – According to the story, he was protect the forest. 23. Maung Minbyu – He was protector of Bagan city.
- Thandawgan – According to the belief, he also protecter of forest. 24. Mandalay Bodaw – Lord grandfather of Mandalay, he was protect Mandalay city.
- Shwe Nawrahta – He is the one of nat in Burma pathone, He also protector of his’ district. 25. Shwe Hpyin Naungdaw – He live in Mount Popa, protect his place.
- Aungzwamagyi – He is commander of Bagan city. 26. Shwe Hpyin Nyidaw – He was brother of shwe hpyin naungdaw and also live in Mount Popa.
- Ngazi Shin – Lord of five white elephants. He has authority in southern upper Burma. 27. Mintha Maungshin – He was a young novice monk, he also protect Bagan city.
- Aung Pinle Hsinbyushin – Lord of the white elephant of aung pinle. He has authority in district of ave. 28. Mintha Maungshin – He also protector of Bagan city.
- Taungmagyi – Lord of the South. 29. Htibyuhsaung – Lord of the white unberalla. He also protect Bagan city
- Maungminshin- He was brother of taungmagyi. He was working together with his brother. 30.Htibyuhsaung Medaw – She was royal mother of Htibyusaung. She also proctet Bagan city.
- Shindaw – He was young novice monk, he also has authority in district of Innwa. 31. Pareima Shin Mingaung – He was accidentally killed by a hunter’s arrow while hunting deer. Anthen he became officially nat.
- Nyaunggyin – He died of leprosy. According to belief, he has healing power of leprosy. 32. Min Sithu – He also protector of Bagan city.
- Tabinshwehti – He was founder of taungoo empire. He could protect whoever belief him. 33. Min Kyawzwa -He is the guardian of drunkards and gamblers, and grants wealth to those he favours.
- Minye Aungdin – He died from excess of opium smoking. He was include in thirty seven nats. 34. Myaukhpet Shinma – She died in childbirth. According to belief, she was protect a child.
- Shwe Sitthin – Lord of white horse. He was golden warrior and protector of Bagan city. 35. Anauk Mibaya – She was western queen. According to story, she also protect a child.
- Medaw Shwezaga – She died heartbreak anthen she became nat. 36. Shingon and Shingwa – She also protect city of Bagan.
- Maung Po Tu – He was tea trader and he has authority in Shan State. 37. Shin Nemi – She is protector of child.
- Yun Bayin – He was king of Yun. He became a tributary king. He protect Mae Ku river.
The above nats name list are cited from Myanmar tranditional nats worship book. American Anthropologist Spiro says “the most important of the nats, and the most important of all the Burmese supernatural, are the thirty-seven nats. Therefore, Burma doing annual ceremony or festival for thirty seven nats. They offer their donations and enjoy themselves with the blessings of the spirits. They pray for prosperity, fame and luck for the next coming year. Obviously Nats could give satisfy answers for the people in contrast it has recognized that this creed would be finally decreased among the modernization and other kinds of developments. Buma believe that nats will protect them from every situation.
The big challenge to primitive religion spirituality and culture in Burma society came from the Buddhism. The consideration on the fundamental belief of Nats worship religion and the Biblical truth have provided a background for analysis and intersections between them. This section tries to explain the similarities and differences between nats worship and biblical response, as an attempt to hopefully map out possible strategie for mutual understanding between them.
Animism in the Background of the Bible
Animistic practices appear frequently in the Bible. The major source of beliefs and practices is the Bible, which is involved the Old Testament and the New Testament. Dave Johson explained in class presentation, ‘Animism is also know in some literature as primal religion or folk religion’. According to Harris ‘the basis of all religious thought is animism, the universal belief that we humans share the world with various extracorporeal, mostly invisible beings’. Since ancient times animism has been practiced and often mentioned in the Bible.
On this argument the Old Testament an the New Testament have a lot to say. The Old Testament described in 1 Samuel 28:3-19, the encounter between King Saul and the Witch of Endor is often understood to reveal that the living can communicate with the dead. From the previous Scriptures, God condemns any attempt to contact the dead. This passage appears to suggest that it is possible for the living to contact the dead. This passage is open to various interpretations but does not prove conclusively that the dead are able to communicate with the living. If Samuel were able to speak with King Saul, this was an unusual occurence of the special power of God and requires to be examined closely. In Daniel, the people worshipped and praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone (Daniel 5:4).
The New Testament also described the people who worshipped spirits, idols and other inanimated objects. In 1Corinthians 8:4-6 apostle Paul teaches ‘So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many gods and many lords). Today, animism extend in tribal religious movements, such as Buddhism and Nats worship among Burma. The practices of ancestor worship are regular threads around the world. That is based on the relationship between the living and the dead. The people informs their ritual practices. The belief that the dead will benefit from the actions of the living descendants. The living descendants are believed to rise protection and blessing in return for their reverence of the ancestor. In this article, I will try to identify scripture evidence that may help us to formulate such answers.
Spiritism is founded on the idea, that the living can communicate with the soul of the dead mediums. The Bible has a negative view of necromancy or consulting the dead. In case, all contact with the spirit world is express forbidden irrespective of the nature of the spirits concerned (Lv 19:26-31, Deuteronomy 18:10-12, Job 7:7-10, Isiah 8:18-20, Luke 16:19-31).
Leviticus 19:26 ‘Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it. Do not practice divination or seek omens'(NIV). Y Kaufmann explain, ‘the Scriptures consistently reject divination because it is founded on the notion that there is an intangible force (fate) which exerts an influence on the destiny of all things. It negates the omnipotence of God as the Sovereign creator’. This is evident in Deuteronomy 18:10-12. The Bible explicitly prevents any practices which have a secluded connection with any form of idolatry. Ancestor worship has the concept of divine epithet intrinsic, therefore clearly prevent by the Scriptures.
Isiah 8:19 ‘When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?’ (NIV). This Scripture is very clear about God’s view on spiritism. According to J D W Watts, the Scripture is translated as ‘Seek out the fathers’. This is a clear quotation to the practices of ancestor worship and the living believe that the dead ancestors have a bearing on their current earthly existence. This is a clear critism of ancestor worship.
Deuteronomy 18:9-14, ‘When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving to you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no-one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practises divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft or casts spells, or who is a medium of spiritist who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord and because of these detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God. The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practise sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so'(NIV). This Scripture explains major instruction on God’s view on practices associate with ancestor worship and divination.
Luke 16:19-31, Jesus’ account of the rich man and lazarus, this Scripture explains further insight into the condition of the dead and what happens after death. However, as verses 19 to -31 shows, this request was not granted. From this passage, we can understand that clear divide between the righteous and the unrighteous dead. The dead do not have freedom of movement as suggested by the underlying belief of ancestor worship. Anthen, the dead are not able to expend an influence on the lives of the living. It is clear that the dead cannot communicate with the living on any matter. The necromancy or communicating with the dead was recognized necessary propose that the phenomenon could be more of a problem and more prevalent than described in the Scriptures. However, the Bible does not support or inspire a relationship between the living and the dead.
Pentecostal Ministry Amongst Burma Nat(Spirits) Worshipper
The history of Christianity in Myanmar and the present condition of the country now claim that Christians in Myanmar indicate their identity as faithful citizens of their country as good Christian citizens. It may not always be easy as history has testified over and over again. How Christians should relate to their neighbors and engage the public has been an enduring question throughout the church’s existence for the last two thousand years. Many missionaries and church leaders tried to build steady-state church that remain forever strong in faith and ministry. But there is no spiritual steady-state neither in churches nor in individuals. Spiritual life like all forms of life involves the processes of health and illness of reinvigoration and decay. A church can remain vitally alive only as it periodically experiences times of life renewal. The success of missions to bridge the cultural gap between heaven and sinful earth, God became human and dwelt among us, eating our food, speaking our language, and suffering our sorrows yet without giving up his divine nature. Incarnation is identification but it does not deny who we originally are. We must become one with the people to whom we go in order to bring them the message of salvation.
Challenge to the Church
Communication is most important between communicator and receptor. Burma people have a nationalistic spirit and ever satisfaction themselves on being Buddhists, they never feel themselves poorer to any people of other faiths nor do they intend to subordinate their Buddhist faith to any foreign faith. Therefore, there was no other way for the missionaries to choose to present the gospel message in terms of the Burma form of reference. Communicator or missionary need to understand the form of reference of the Burma people and starts where they are.
The challenge of animism needs to include the following features and more. Animistic religion are easy to describe but others are more subtle. The challenge of animism will require a deeper study of cultures, world views and necessitate more patient biblical teaching. That need to embrace a missiology that makes a deep worldview level focus the norm. The dual dedication that is found in the church, by shallow evangelism that focuses on surface level cognition and behavioral change. The traditional evangelism paradigm has been adopted for global use with only super ficial adjustment made when used among non-Christian peoples. What is needed comprehensive discipleship training designed for specific peoples and contexts.
The Church needs to make a recommitment to long term missionary service as the most effective system for mission among Burma peoples. This recommitment mention the need for comprehensive and focus missionary education. In an era when missionary service is truly from everywhere to everywhere, missionary training must be specific to address the home culture contexts of the missionary. History shows that missionaries have struggled to address animism in their places of service because of their cultural baggage.
Today’s missionaries come from many cultures bring a wide range of cultural baggage that must be addressed in missionary education. In view of the wide reach of animism, I believe that presents one of the great mission opportunities of the 21st century. The similarities that unite the diverse peoples identified above present a thrilling opportunity. If it right for missions among animists the church could potentially reach billions of people. Traditional Burma style of thought and action has tendency to continuing and they want come change within tradition, rather than radical transformation.
Fellowship with Animistic Practitioners
If we want to build close friendship with someone, we need to approach them. I would like to present my experience in church community. I converted last three year ago and start to belong in Christian community. Every Saturday Iwent to the Church, sat alone and after church program finish everybody went back home each group. That’s a big problem relationship between Christian community and new believer. Because I’m converted from Buddhism background, I didn’t close with Christian religious, culture and practices so I haven’t friend my past time in church. I have many question in my heart, why they ignored me?. Day after day I was afraid my new behavior. When I study for this assignment, I was thinking how to approach and fellowship with animistic practitioners?. Because that’s very important for whole Christian to share good news.
Bible says, ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 28:19/ NKJV). According to Great Commission, we should fellowship with other people. In the present day, I became to understand that have responsibility to fellowship with other people, such as various kind of animistic practitioners to share Gospel. On the other hand, attending a church is not just stay alone but also a great part of fellowship and serving others. God is calling churches to represent Him in our societies, to minister to hurting people and to be alarm for social, moral, and animistic practices.
To conclude, this paper aim to understand the belief or practices of Burma Nat worship and concerned with new opportunities for communicating the Gospel and the expansion of Biblical truth to the variety of ethnic and cultural groups in Burma. Burma’s are known for their simplicity, honesty, generosity, hospitality and friendliness. Burma is a Union composed of more than one hundred different national races, each with its own culture and traditions. Burma has the fine tradition of preserving and uplift of traditional arts and culture for years countable by the thousand.
Burma’s cultural tradition has been the pride of its people. It is cultural heritage though bewilderingly complex, may be freed of it early origin in Buddhism, Hinduism, Islamic, Nat worship are Burma folk religion. Though the centuries have produced certain repetitive, enduring and identifiable worldview assumptions which form the basis of theoretical paradigm for understanding the tradition in Burma. The ethics is strong emphasis on ritual, propriety and morality.
Christians have to know that they are at war with gods of power. Nowhere are people free from the attack and the untruth violated by powers of darkness. Animism in its myraid forms and expressions infects every human structure. The Church is being challenged on all fronts, but that is nothing new. The powers of darkness are constantly at work to alienate man from anything and anyone which may bring him into a dynamic relationship with the God of the Bible. Their aim is to dehumanize humanity and ultimately to destroy it. The challenge to the Church is to rise up, to use the weapons placed at its disposal by God himself and to expose all powers as non powers before the Lord of the Church. The gods of power are many but they do not have authority. The Church has a delegated authority to continue the work initiated by Jesus Christ to call to account all powers and to declare and demonstrate that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God. The mission of our Lord is still the mission of the Church and the Church of Jesus Christ also affirms that ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor'(Luke 4:18-19/ NIV).
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