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The Culture of Giving in Myanmar: Buddhist Offerings, Reciprocity and Interdependence

Research output: Book/Report/ProceedingsBook

Forthcoming
Publication date5/03/2020
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherBloomsbury Academic
Number of pages224
ISBN (Print)9781350124189
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Despite having at one time been listed as one of the poorest countries in the world, Myanmar has topped a global generosity list for the past four years. The majority Buddhist population enjoy a close relationship with the monastic community, affiliating themselves with the running of local monasteries, and monks reciprocate by conducting various roles for the congregation, from giving moral advice to mediating in family disputes. The academic discussions of religious offerings, however, have often focused on a one-dimensional snapshot involving a monastic recipient (usually a Buddhist monk) and a lay donor, rooted in an assumption of a one-way flow of goods and services from the laity to the monastic community. This volume describes that such transactions in a Buddhist society are neither as dichotomous nor as unidirectional. Buddhist offerings known as dāna presents itself in layers of multiple ‘give’ and ‘receive,’ more akin to a circular movement of goods motivated by goodwill, passed on continuously in the moral sphere of merit to the next recipient who makes good use of the gift.
Myanmar today is undergoing a radical phase of political reform, alongside constant readjustment to the influx of global information, rapid communication and the rise of materialism. It has always been a generous society influenced by the Buddhist values of giving, but patterns of religious and social transactions are changing, and monastic members are expected to assume certain leadership roles in this new social and political milieu. Given that the country’s ‘third sector’ remains both underdeveloped and yet over-regulated, the chapter also poses a broader question of whether the monastic community could play a more active, albeit still non-political role, in Myanmar’s emergent civil society.