The Buddhist monastic order, whose members live according to strict rules (vinaya) and have the solemn responsibility of conserving and promulgating the teachings of Gotama Buddha. They are not "priests" in the sense of ministering to a congregation or serving as intermediaries between the human and divine worlds, although laypeople may acquire merit (Burmese, kutho) through donations (dana) to monks. Monks are also the primary teachers of the religion (dhamma) to laypeople. As highly respected exemplars of Buddhist wisdom and discipline, studying religious texts, the Tipitaka, and practicing meditation, their primary task is to prepare for entry into nibbana. Since at least the time of the Pagan (Bagan) Dynasty, they have been the most highly respected group in Burmese society. In contemporary Burma, they function as the most important social institution, with the possible exception of the Tatmadaw.
   Although "forest monks" often live a hermetic existence, most members of the Sangha live in monasteries (kyaung) in towns and villages throughout Burma. In 1988, they numbered around 300,000, including both rahan (ordained monks) and samanera (novices). The Sangha in Burma is divided into nine orders (gaing), of which the largest by far, containing almost 90 percent of all monks, is the Thudhamma. Of near equal importance is the Shwegyin sect, which was patronized by King Mindon. Differences between the orders are not so much doctrinal as interpretational, focusing on how the vinaya rules should be followed (e.g., the proper wearing of saffron robes). Members of the Sangha are often referred to as pongyi ("great glory"), while the head monk of a monastery, or a highly respected senior monk, is given the title sayadaw. Women cannot enter the Sangha, although those who aspire to a religious life often become the equivalent of nuns (silashin), without benefit of ordination. Like monks, they shave their heads and live according to strict monastic rules. Ordination of women was once practiced in Theravada countries but has died out.
   Historically, the relationship between the Sangha and the Burmese state has been complex, complementary, and sometimes antagonistic. In precolonial times, Burmese kings assumed responsibility for reforming or purifying the monastic orders and appointing a senior monk, the Thathanabaing, to oversee them. During the colonial period, the British policy of religious neutrality is said to have contributed to the monkhood's poor discipline and low quality at the time. Many monks, most notably U Ottama and U Wisara, became politically active. In May 1980, Ne Win convened the Congregation of the Sangha of All Orders to reassert state control over the monks. Although young monks participated in the demonstrations of Democracy Summer, the post-1988 military government has been largely successful in gaining the compliance of conservative senior members of the Sangha.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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