More than 85% of the population of Myanmar is Buddhist. The most prevalent form of Buddhism is Theravada Buddhism. This was the form originally practised by the Mon people, who were converted to Buddhism by missionaries from India in the 3rd century A.D. Between the 6th and 10th centuries, another wave of missionaries from Sri Lanka arrived.

 Buddhism does not involve a belief in a god or gods. It is based on the teachings of the Indian Prince Siddhartha Gautama, who lived in the 6th century B.C. and became the Buddha or Enlightened One. He taught that suffering arises from desire, and that people can free themselves from suffering only by freeing themselves from desire. The eightfold path is a way to this goal. It consists of right speech, right action, right livelihood, right execution, right attentiveness, right concentration, right thoughts and right understanding. Buddhism also emphasizes compassion, equanimity and wisdom. The Buddha also taught that life is a cycle of births, and that nirvana (the liberation from suffering) comes only at the end of this cycle. 

Over the centuries, two schools of Buddhist thought have developed. Theravada Buddhists believe that each individual must work to bring about his or her own nirvana. Mahayana Buddhists believe that individuals cannot achieve their own nirvana, but can only approach this state. They believe that nirvana will come only when all people are ready for salvation. Most Buddhists in Myanmar are Theravada Buddhists.

Buddhists gain merit in life through worship, meditation, charity, pilgrimages, sponsoring the construction of a pagoda or becoming a monk. Buddhists ring a bell to let people know when they have performed a meritorious act. In Myanmar, every male is expected to spend some time in a pongyi kyaung (monastery) as a child and later as an adult. First-born sons quite often become monks.

Myanmar Buddhism is blended with elements of nat worship, a traditional religion from pre-Buddhist times. Nat worship is belief in spirits. Some nats are the spirits of important people who have died. Others are associated with particular places. Some nats protect people; others are destructive, possessing humans who then become outcasts. To ensure safety, people make offerings to the nats. They may also ask a Buddhist monk to exorcise someone who is suffering from spirit possession.
  Did you know?
Mount Popa is the spiritual home of the nats. It is a cone-shaped hill, 1,518 meters high, that was created by volcanic ash after an earthquake.