Letter from Burma 15
May 5, 1935
You asked about the Burmese religion, and what the missionaries are doing to convert the people to Christianity. I do not myself believe that the missionaries, though earnest, hard-working people, do any good. You cannot convert a Buddhist. If you talk to him of our religion, he will tell you Gaudama and Christ are one, and that the sayings and doings of the latter are but the utterances of the former, who lived some 700 years earlier. The majority of Burmese are Buddhists. People are expected to keep the basic five precepts and practise charity, morality, and meditation.
Most villages have a monastery and often a pagoda maintained and supported by the locals. Annual pagoda festivals usually fall on a full moon day, and robe offering ceremonies for monks are held both at the beginning and after the Buddhist Lent which coincides with the monsoons and during which sabbath is generally observed once a week. Children used to be educated by monks before secular state schools came into being.
The precepts they must adhere to are commitments to abstain from harming living beings, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication.
Whilst it is all but impossible to convert a Buddhist, the Karens, having no religion but
a legend that the true faith would be preached to them by people ruled over by a queen, have been converted by the dozens. So whilst the missionaries, chiefly American, all but starve on the pittance they get from their Societies when dealing with Burmese, those that
preach to Karens live in clover, as they are well supported by their converts.
I hope that answers your questions.