Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Immortals

The Immortals: Faces of the Incredible in Buddhist Burma

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 384
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Immortals
    Book Description:

    In 1952 a twenty-six-year-old man living in a village in Central Burma was possessed byweikza-humans with extraordinary powers, including immortality. Key figures in Burmese Buddhism,weikzado not die but live on in an invisible realm. From there they re-enter the world through possession to care for people's temporal and spiritual needs while protecting and propagating Buddhism. A cult quickly formed around the young peasant, the chosen medium for fourweikzaranging in age from 150 to 1000 years. In addition, theseweikzaappeared regularly in the flesh.The Immortalsplunges us into the midst of this cult, which continues to attract followers from all over the country who seek to pay homage to the weikza, receive their teaching, and benefit from their power.

    The cult of the fourweikzaraises a number of classic anthropological issues, particularly for of religion: the nature of the supernatural and of belief; the relations among religion, magic, and science; the experience of possession. It also provides a window on contemporary Burmese society. To contemplate both, the author adopts an unconventional approach, which itself reflects how anthropology uses description and the interpretations description occasions to make sense of what it studies. The writing makes clear both the indigenous take on reality and the work of anthropological understanding as it is being elaborated, along with the ties that connect the latter to the former. Mixing narration of the incredible with reflection on the forms religious experience takes,The Immortalsoffers us a way to accompany the author into the field and to grasp-to take up and make our own-the anthropologist's interpretations and the realities to which they pertain.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-5488-1
    Subjects: Religion, Anthropology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Series Editor’s Preface
    (pp. IX-X)
    George J. Tanabe Jr.
  4. Translator’s Preface
    (pp. XI-XIV)
    Ward Keeler
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. XV-XVI)
  6. Note on the English Edition
    (pp. XVII-XVIII)
  7. A Word to the Reader
    (pp. XIX-XXVI)
  8. Dramatis Personae
    (pp. XXVII-XXX)
  9. 1 From Belief to Believing
    (pp. 1-78)

    Tuesday, September 30, 2003, 7:00 p.m. The apartment, which is located on an avenue running along the moat of Mandalay’s palace, is suddenly plunged into darkness. The power’s out. Yan Shin, interrupting his story, asks his wife to light some candles. He resumes:

    “It was in 1998, at the time of the ceremony to put the finial on the Pagoda of Sighs [Lwan Zaydi, a religious construction put up in memory of someone who has died]. It was my job to get the finial there. We left Mandalay in two small vehicles. I was driving the one in front. My...

  10. 2 Being a Disciple, Fashioning a Cult
    (pp. 79-159)

    Sunday, August 24, 2003, 5:00 a.m. The driver and I enter the yard in our car, in the middle of one of the capital’s residential areas, not far from Inya Lake. It is still dark. A faint light can be seen in the front room. Major Zaw Win is waiting, ready to go.

    “The Buddha has succeeded!” Stepping jauntily, despite his seventy-seven years, into the car, the disciple pronounces the fourweikza’s motto and then comments to me, “It’s our passport for the trip.” Wearing a cloth skirt (longyi) and a thick yellow shirt over a sweater, he is wearing...

  11. 3 The Possessed
    (pp. 160-184)

    Monday, June 30, 1952, ninth day of the waxing moon of Waso, in the year 1314 of the Burmese era.¹ The day is drawing to a close. A large crowd has gathered both outside and inside the house of Police Inspector Nyein, in Minbu. People have come to hear Gyan, or rather U Nareinda. Theweikzasuddenly emerged in the young woman’s life six months earlier, putting an end to the illness—disquieting menstrual disturbances—that had been afflicting her. Since that time, he has possessed her on a regular basis, delivering sermons through her, his intermediary, with the aim...

  12. 4 In Quest of Invulnerability
    (pp. 185-241)

    Tuesday, January 27, 2004, 8:00 a.m. The monastery’s Willys jeep starts right up. The driver keeps it in good repair. Not that it is an antique: there are practically no original parts left in it. In the course of its repairs the jeep has been refurbished with parts found hither and yon or imported from India. A “miscellaneous” (supaung satpaung) model, remarks the driver wryly. In any case, Burmese do not have a taste for antiques. They are fans of new cars, preferably of Japanese make, of which they have long been deprived. Only a few foreigners, especially Anglo-Saxon veterans...

  13. 5 Trial by Fire
    (pp. 242-276)

    Thursday, February 19, 2004. It is about 1:00 a.m. when two officers of the law, coming from Minbu, arrive at the fourweikza’s monastery. The forces of order often carry out their operations in the middle of the night, especially when they concern state security. Surprise makes escape more difficult. In addition, a nighttime operation, because it takes place unobserved by the neighbors, safeguards against any attempted collective resistance. It is never really clear whether it is police officers or agents of the military intelligence ser vices who come to the monastery. The impersonal pronoun that Burmese use—“them”—labels...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 277-296)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 297-306)
  16. Index
    (pp. 307-316)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 317-323)