It has become clear that Myanmar has many unofficial gains or Buddhist orders, although the government officially recognizes only nine gains and banned the others in the 1980s. An ethnic Mon saṅgha has not only its unofficial orders as an example of the above but also pan-ethnicist movements that expanded their influence after the ban. This paper discusses how the pan-ethnicist movement occurred in the Mon saṅgha and achieved some amount of success during the period of the foundation of a Myanmar state saṅgha after the 1980s and yet, how the Mon orders have not become truly pan-ethnic.
The Mon saṅgha in Myanmar has the same structure as the state saṅgha: the majority of the saṅgha, Rāmañña nikāya, and the minorities, which are known as the stricter vinaya orders, Mahā Yen (Dhammayutti nikāya) and Shwekyin Mon. The Rāmañña nikāya is an unofficial order and does not have a hierarchical organization among its members. A question thus arises: Has the Rāmañña nikāya become a social entity, and if so, how?
The Rāmañña nikāya pariyatti group started its own annual examination for Mon monks in 1983 as preparation for the state paṭhama-byan, one of the official examinations on the pāli scriptures. The state saṅgha administration, on the other hand, introduced a Burmese language exam into the state paṭhama-byan examination around 1984. This change had significant impacts on the Mon saṅgha, because until then, Mon monks were able to study pāli books in their native Mon language and could take the state paṭhama-byan examination in Mon. As a result, it is said that many Mon monks boycotted the state paṭhama-byan examination and took the examination for the Rāmañña nikāya pariyatti group instead. The boycott ended when a Mon language exam replaced the Burmese language exam in the state paṭhama-byan. However, the annual examination of the Rāmañña nikāya pariyatti group still attracts nearly 1,800 examinees every year. Thus, it can be said that the Burmanization of learning Buddhism allowed the Rāmañña nikāya to become a sort of social entity through the annual examination on the pāli scriptures held by the pan-ethnicist group of Mon monks.
However, the Rāmañña nikāya is not completely pan-ethnic due to the following reasons. First, because the Rāmañña examination has the same content as the state paṭhama-byan and depends on its authority, this “pan-ethnicism” does not extend to the Mon saṅgha in Thailand. Second, because the other two Mon pure vinaya orders did not join in the above-referenced boycott, three Mon orders in Myanmar respectively hold their own annual examinations in preparation for the state paṭhama-byan, thereby heightening their group cohesiveness.