Buddhism and Relief in Myanmar: Reflections on Relief as a Practice of Dāna

  • Carine Jaquet
  • Matthew J. Walton
Part of the Contemporary Anthropology of Religion book series (CAR)


In this chapter, we examine some ways in which Buddhists in Myanmar conceptualize, justify, and practice humanitarian relief.1 The most recent and striking example of this was after Cyclone Nargis hit the country in May 2008, an unprecedented natural disaster that left an estimated 140,000 individuals dead or missing and led to the largest ever relief effort in Myanmar. While Theravāda Buddhism provides a common framework, people may interpret the Buddha’s teachings differently with regard to contemporary practices of relief. Some interpretations suggest that a monk’s place is not in humanitarian operations, but rather in withdrawing from the material world since secular issues should be the concern of laypeople. This might be especially true in Myanmar at a time when the sangha (community of monks) faced severe repression from the government in the aftermath of the so-called Saffron Revolution of 2007. However, monks and laypeople more frequently draw on Buddhist beliefs and practices to justify and frame relief aid. The idea of dāna (donation/generosity, giving) is an important influence on their practices and understandings of relief.


Civil Society Moral Standing Social Donation Relief Work Relief Operation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Works Cited

  1. Badgley, John H. 1965. “The Theravāda Polity of Burma.” Tonan Asia Kenkyu 2 (4): 52–75.Google Scholar
  2. Brac de la Perrière, Bénédicte. 2009. “An Overview of the Field of Religion in Burmese Studies.” Asian Ethnology 68 (2): 185–210.Google Scholar
  3. King, Sallie B. 2009. Socially Engaged Buddhism. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.Google Scholar
  4. Kumada, Naoko. 2004. “Rethinking Dan á in Burma: The Art of Giving, Buddhism and the Spirit Cult Revisited.” Paper presented at Stanford University, May 22–23.Google Scholar
  5. Queen, Christopher S., Charles S. Prebish, and Damien Keown. eds. 2003. Action Dharma: New Studies in Engaged Buddhism. London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon.Google Scholar
  6. Rozenberg, Guillaume. 2010. Renunciation and Power: The Quest for Sainthood in Contemporary Burma. New Haven, CT: Yale University Southeast Asia Studies.Google Scholar
  7. Schober Julianne. 2011. Modern Buddhist Conjunctures in Myanmar: Cultural Narratives, Colonial Legacies, and Civil Society. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.Google Scholar
  8. Seekins Donald M. 2003. “Rangoon’s Changing Buddhist Landscapes: ‘Pagoda Religion’ and Military Rule in Burma’s Capital City.” Paper presented at the Asia Political International Studies Association, November 27–30.Google Scholar
  9. Spiro, Melford E. 1982. Buddhism and Society: A Great Tradition and Its Burmese Vicissitudes, 2nd edition. Berkeley, CA: University of California.Google Scholar
  10. Taylor, Robert. 1982. “Perceptions of Ethnicity in the Politics of Burma.” Southeast Asian Journal of Social Science 10 (1): 7–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Tosa, Keiko. 2009. “The Cult of Thamanya Sayadaw.” Asian Ethnology 68 (2): 239–64.Google Scholar


  1. Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. 2009. Listening the Voices from Inside: Myanmar Civil Society’s Response to Cyclone Nargis. Phnom Pehn, 215. Google Scholar
  2. International Crisis Group. 2008. Burma/Myanmar after Nargis: Time to Normalize the Relations. Asia Report No. 161, Yangon and Brussels (October 20, 2008), 39.Google Scholar
  3. South, Ashley, Malin Perhult, Nils Carstensen, and Susanne Kempel Delta Area Study. Local to Global Protection in Myanmar (Burma), Sudan, South Sudan and Zimbabwe. 2012. Humanitarian Practice Network, Network Paper Number 72. London, February 2012: 8–11.Google Scholar
  4. Tripartite Core Group. 2008. Post-Nargis Social Impact Monitoring: November 2008. Yangon, 69., accessed June 27, 2011.Google Scholar
  5. Tripartite Core Group. 2009. Post-Nargis Social Impact Monitoring: June 2009. Yangon, 93. pdf, accessed May 24, 2011.Google Scholar


  1., accessed June 10, 2011.
  3., accessed December 10, 2011.

Copyright information

© Hiroko Kawanami and Geoffrey Samuel 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carine Jaquet
  • Matthew J. Walton

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations