Myanmar’s Curious Quests for Karma

Karma is a concept known across the globe. Even non-believers talk about karma: “what comes around goes around” and “you reap what you sow” are just a few. This also the case in Myanmar.

Releasing Birds to gain Karma

But here in country, also known as Burma, they are very serious about it, and it’s an integral part of the life of the Burmese. You might be surprised how the Burmese get around obtaining this cosmic balance.

You will see these “vendors of Karma” across the country. Credit: Myanmar Travel Essentials.


You would not want to end up a dog in your next life, right?

Often found around temples, locals display cages full of little sparrows that have been caught with nets. As a visitor to the holy site, you can then back up your prayers by paying 50 cents or so to release a bird, the meritorious deed of which is deemed to get you an even better shot at a desirable reincarnation.You would not want to end up a dog in your next life, right

Quantity can replace quality

Here, close to our office in Mandalay, there is a shop run by a woman in her sixties. Sometimes she is busy with customers as a normal shopkeeper would be, but very often she is praying by repeating Buddhist mantras with her eyes closed. Here in Myanmar, meritorious deeds’ impact on your karma is proportional with the frequency with which you make them, so she keeps track of her prayers by using a little tally counter on her finger. Quantity, indeed, also has something to say.

The former head of intelligence of the brutal junta that ran Myanmar for decades, Khin Nyunt, had a negative balance on his Karma account.

Pagodas redeem the worst

You probably know of Myanmar’s former military junta that ran the country sovereignly until about 2011. These generals have a lot of blood and terror on their hands. General Khin Nyunt used to be the supreme leader of the military intelligence and surveillance of Myanmar’s citizens, but he was purged by his own in 2004. When he was released from prison in 2011, he told reporters that he would now like some privacy and that he would get busy building pagodas. By building these structures, he obviously believed he could take a shortcut to achieve some Karma.

A stupefying endeavor

There is always a way in Myanmar. From the impoverished to the super rich. The poor need to confine themselves to repeating their prayers and doing what they can for others with their meagre means. Meanwhile, the rich can do the same, but many of them also spend enormous amounts on colossal projects, one of which is said to be the tallest statue in world:


At 126 meters, this giant Buddha outside of Monywa, Bodhi Tahtaung, is a testament to how important donations are to the Burmese. It has been constructed exclusively by private donations.

Completed in 2008, the imposing Maha Bodhi Tahtaung rises to an awe-inspiring 129 meters, and around it people from all over the country are still busy building other structures of similar magnitude. You can reach this fascinating place on a 1-day tour from Mandalay. It is absolutely worth it – especially with the knowledge you have just acquired.

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