The Pre-Buddhist Religion of the Burmese. 8 1
individuals. The phenomenon, however, is widespread in the yellow race — -witness the existence of Taoism and Buddhism along with Confucianism in China, and Budd- hism with Shintoism in Japan — and only disappeared from Europe with the advent of Christianity. It is well known, for instance, that the Romans worshipped the gods of both Greece and Egypt side by side with their own. After the downfall of Roman political power there seems to have been a general craving for unity and universal government, as the only known means of obtaining and preserving peace. Religious dissenters disturbed the desired unity, and were regarded as the enemies of man- kind, for whom mere destruction was too mild a punish- ment. The notion of a supreme and universal ruler in the political world seems to have been paralleled by that of a supreme deity and an exclusive form of worship in the religious world.
In Burma the position is reversed. Both in pohtics and in religion the natural tendency is towards decen- tralization and individual freedom. It is true that Burma had a king, but he was regarded as a necessary evil. The central government was very weak, and hardly interfered at all with the life of the people. There was no feudal system, and no aristocracy. The real rulers were the village headmen, who were elected, though preference was usually given to the natural heir. When a headman became unbearably oppressive his people, in some parts of the country at least, packed up their few belongings and built themselves new houses with bamboos from the forest in the domain of another headman.^
So in religious matters the people had their own little gods, and the idea of a supreme deity was unknown to them. Whether, as has happened in some other religions,
1 When on tour in the Chindwin I came upon a village-tract which had contained several villages, but in which only one house was left, — the headman's.