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  • Writer's pictureAudrey Chin

The Difference between Religion and Spirit – A look through Burmese Lenses

Updated: Jun 10, 2022

Someone told me yesterday I was getting too religious and hence difficult to get along with.

That certainly caused me to go look in the mirror and consider my shortcomings. I was hoping that deeper spiritual growth would mean a kinder gentler me. Obviously, this person didn’t think so.

Possibly, in my pursuit of beauty, justice, truth I was becoming more legalistic and judgmental… Possibly, in leaving everything to a higher being up there, I had become irresponsible. Possibly, in my pursuit of the divine, I’d forgotten people, those nearest and dearest to me… Possibly, I had been pursuing the trappings of religion and left love and spirit out of the equation…

In Myanmar I saw the many facets of faith:

There is the ancient urge to worship material objects meant to represent the divine…

Mahamuni Buddha

… as evidenced in the  Mahamuni temple in Mandalay. This temple, which houses one of only 5 Buddha images made in his life, is believed to be imbued with the image of Buddha’s spiritual essence and venerated as an expression of Buddha’s life. Thousands of devotees flock to the temple, seeking answers to their prayers. Often, when a prayer is answered, or even before, devotees buy pieces of gold-leaf and paste them on the Buddha image as an offering.  Over the years, so many petitions have been made and answered that there’s now  a 9 inch layer of gold-leaf covering the body of this image said to represent the essence of Enlightened Man.

There is the building of cathedrals …

… bricks, mortar and gold so beautiful they do draw men’s eyes heavenward as the Ananda Paya temple and it’s beautiful Buddha meditative Buddha do

Bagan Ananda Paya 5
Bagan Ananda Paya 7

Mandalay Book Temple 4

There is the very human desire to codify all that’s been taught into a theology that human minds can understand …

… as seen at  the Kuthodaw Pagoda, with it’s 730 leaves and 1460 pages of the canons of Theravada Buddhism carved into 720 marble slabs.  A marvelous work by King Mindon to ensure that the teachings of the Buddha (the Dhamma) would remain etched in his country despite encroaching British rule.

Children Young Monks at ShweDagon
Mandalay Inwa Temple School

There is the formalization of religious life …

… as seen in the initiation of young Buddhist men, who are required to become monks for at least a week upon reaching puberty and before full adulthood.

And the doing of good works …

… as seen in a simple monastery school run for poor children.


In the marketplace … In the little huts the devout retreat to for summer meditation … In the hands of children building a temple of mud and flowers …

Shrine Nyaung U Market
Bagan Meditation Hut
Mandalay Inwa Children

I look in the mirror again, looking for that kinder and gentler self engendered by spirit. I look for pride and self-righteousness, perfectionism and anger. I give up. The trouble with a  flawed self trying to find the flaws is … we look with clouded eyes and what we see is clouded.

All I can do is leave the heart door open and hope to catch spirit as it flies.

Bagan Temple Rooftop 1 view

What do you think? How can each one of us be a channel for love and light? How can we avoid the trap of self-righteous judgment and pride? Leave a comment.

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