Champions of Buddhism, III.3


III.3 (8)

Being an Exorcist in Burma

Guillaume Rozenberg


pp. 189, 213 exorcism as therapeutic itinerary

p. 189

There is "put forward the possibility of an evil aggression and advise to consult an exorcist, competent for both divining and conjuring the evil."

p. 213, n. 1

"For the detailed description of a therapeutic itinerary, see Coderey (2009).When the aggression is perpetrated by a specific kind of spirit belonging to the category of the Thirty-Seven Lords, ...

a specialist possessed by such spirits (nat gadaw) ... may deal with the attack." {Often, the Natha ('Refuge') deity will not desist until the afflicted mortal shall have made a commitment to become, and thereafter to serve as, a servitor or agent of such Natha, whether by becoming possessed or otherwise.}

{This is likewise the general procedure in Siberian shamanism : the "aggression" is actually a punishment of a violator for neglect of religious duties, which neglect will be detailed via the voice of the spirit speaking through the mouth of the possessed specialist, describing the particular duties neglected, and indicating how, by propre devotional rites, to make compensatory amends.}

Coderey 2009 = Ce'line Coderey : "Maladie et practiques the'rapeutiques en contexte bouddhique arakanais (Ouest de la Birmanie)". ASE'ANIE 24:33-60.

p. 190 definition of exorcism?

"Exorcism serves an instrument ... constitutes a struggle, with a Buddhist underpinning, against evil whose manifestations represent a reversal of Buddhist values." {"Buddhist" values are litterally those glorifying the the waking-state (/buddha/ 'awake') : but shamanic religion (AmerIndian and the like) sheweth that the waking-stage is an unreal and delusive plane-of-existence. Therefore "Buddhist values" themselves need to be exorcized.}

{a very misleading assetion! Actually, Occidental litterature of exorcism, as written the expert exorcists, ofttimes describeth the process as having little to do with "evil" or with "values", but as remedying situations wherein some Netherworld divinity, having been enticed to leave out of the Netherworld via portals opened (inadvertently, by some blundering mortal) in an Abyss, hath been become lost in an unfamiliar world inhabited by material-plane-bodied beings (mortal humans); and is seeking to return to the Netherworld, but unaware of how to find any return-path into it. The exorcist is a person having spirit-guides who know the way back into the the Netherworld via an Abyss : therefore the exorcist is able to proffer such a service to strayed Netherworld entities, who are glad to take advantage of the service.}

p. 191 "exited alive"

"Master Pyu required Pwint to assist him in a procedure to remove his old body (a standard procedure that is meant to [enable to become] a ... weikza and therefore to attain a kind of quasi immortality). Pwint was to watch over a coffin in which Master Pyu would stay enclosed for one month. ...

The operation was realized successfully and when Pwint opened the coffin at the end of the period, it was empty --

{Many Taoist hagiographies have this ending -- an exhumed coffin found to be empty.}

Master Pyu had become a weikza and had "exited alive" (ashin htwet)."

p. 191 names for the congregation

"Pwint ..., thanks to what he had learned from {by having been praeternaturally empowered to perform by} Master Aye and Master Pyu, ... founded a congregation (gaing) named Eiksa-thaya Maheikdi Zay to endow people, through an initiation procedure, with the faculty to treat ... snake bites.

At the end of the 1950s, the compound term "Shweyingyaw" was prefixed to the congregation's name by by its then[-]commander (gainggyok), Master Han, Pwint's successor. It is under the abridged denomination of "Shweyingyaw" that the congregation ... experienced spectacular growth ... at the turn of the 1970s ... . ... The cohesion of such a loose assemblage rests upon the cult of the weikza -- Aye, Pyu, Pwint, and Han --

regarded as ... watching over its members."

{Though it may well be that the is.t.ha-devata-s (personal deities) of those cult-founders are performing any watching-over.}

pp. 192-3 vocation (calling) to become an exorcist

p. 192

"The would-be exorcist, with the exception of the congregation founder, is not elected, that is, he is not pushed to the role through the cmpelling intervention of some invisible entities (for instance, some weikza who would manage to affect is existence in one way or another), an intervention that would lead by reaction ... to his accession to the office. ...

p. 193

Much more trivially, their start often derives from an individual inclination (wathana) for exorcism. ... Sometimes, the future exorcist sees his curiosity aroused and his calling unearthed by ... witnessing an exorcism of a relative ... . Sometimes, he himself falls prey to an instigated ill and undergoes an exorcism".

pp. 193-4 initiation & apprenticeship

p. 193

"To be initiated into an exorcists' congregation is usually called, in Burmese, pyinnya thin. Pyinnya (pan~n~a) means ... "skill, craft." {It is derived from Skt /prajn~a/ (cognate with /prognosis/), usually translated 'wisdom'.} Thus, pyinnya thin- is ... "to learn a trade." [p. 214, n. 10 : "The only scholarly description {in English} of an initiation procedure in a weikza cult is to be found in Niklas Foxeus's work (Foxeus 2011:172-7)."] However, ... the candidate ... is nonetheless expected to assume immediately ... apprenticeship ..., with the help of the congregation's exorcism handbook(s) he may be given by his master, the observation of his master's exorcist practices, and his ... experiences in treating ... . His art of exorcism slowly develops from on-the-job training. ...

p. 194

On the one hand, the master provides an esoteric representation to the candidate

for immediate ingestion. He draws the representation beforehand on small pieces of mulberry pulp paper,

{In ingesting mulberry leaves, the candidate is naturally considered to be accepted by, and assimilated into, the good graces of the silkworm-deities, such as Lei-zu, "worshipped as the Sericulture Goddess" (HChM, s.v. "Leizu", p. 164).}

using red ink (vermilion) in[to] which a grain of the congregation's mixture {i.e., its distinctive alchemic elixir} has been added. ... This drawing ... has the shape of

a pagoda (stupa)."

{symbolicly representing a silkworm's cocoon?}

HChM = Lihui Yang & Deming An : Handbook of Chinese Mythology. ABC-Clio, 2005.

pp. 194-6, 214 denoting of rank within the congregation by a bodily tattoo

p. 194

"the master tattoos an esoteric representation at some place on the upper part of the candidate's body, above the waist. At most levels {status-ranks}, there are in fact two or three representations. Altogether, within the nine initiation levels,

p. 195

19 or more dissimilar representations are tattooed, each at a different place. The tattoo is done with red ink (vermilion) ... . The master uses a long (often 18-inch) metallic stylus or pricker (sok) ... . He dips the stylus in the liquid and then literally stings the representation on the candidate's skin".

p. 196

"The representations are more in line with the tattoos for protection and invulnerability (comprising an injection of the {chemic amalgam} mixture too) long used by the Burmese."

p. 214, n. 11

"On the various kinds of tattoos in the Burmese context, ... (much less widespread today than they used to be in the 19th century) ... for individual protections, see Scott (1963:39-47)."

Scott 1962 = James George Scott (Shway Yoe) : The Burman, His Life and Notions. NY : W.W. Norton & Co.

p. 196 potency & faculty

"each weikza cult develops its own esoteric ... idiom in part by ... a widespread set of symbols that may be ascribed singular meaning within the cult -- these idioms serve as a mode both of recognition and distinction between weikza cults. ...

Explanations by ... masters or in the congregation booklets regarding the meaning of this or that verse ... essentially amount to a statement of both the extraordinary faculty it confers upon the individual, for instance the faculty of being invulnerable to attacks by evil entities (kaya theikdi), and the source of the faculty, which is a benevolent invisible being, be it some weikza or other entities."

pp. 196-7 dependence of efficacy of exorcism on ingestation of an alchemic elixir by the exorcist

p. 196

"In the eyes of Shweyingyaw members, the root of their faculty of exorcizing is ... the congregation's mixture {amalgam-elixir}. Indeed, the representations are deemed to be

p. 197

ineffective without the mixture they are associated with in any initiation operation. Even more, from the instant the mixture has been incorporated ..., the individual holds the faculty of exorcizing and may exercise it at will and successfully. ... Everything happens as if the mixture {elixir}, with the alleged diffusion in the whole body, were the most appropriate element to realize and signify the necessary change {alchemic transfiguration} within the individual's body."

p. 198 proxy for weikza

"The faculty of exorcizing belongs to the guardian weikza of the congregation. The exorcist acts and speaks for the weikza who, following initiation, have granted him, as it were, a power proxy. He is, according to a term commonly used by exorcists, a "representative" or "substitute" (koza) of the weikza. [p. 214, n. 12 : "See also the reflections by Niklas Foxeus (2011:274-8) on the "delegated authority" of the members of the weikza cult".] He may give orders (ana) in their name. He will for instance command that, in accordance with "the order of the weikza" (weikza i ana), ... spirit come and possess ... so as to question it on the motives ... and obtain from it the end of the ill."

pp. 199-201 inviting deities to come and to perform an exorcism at the behest of the mortal exorcist

p. 199

"Shweyingyaw exorcists, at the start of an exorcist se`ance, formally "invite" (pin-) ... {deities} ... . ... Thus, the weikza and other guardian entities make some potency available to the exorcist whose initiation has enabled him to officiate as their human relay ... . They ... communicate authority and effectiveness

p. 200

to his actions. Where the exorcist feels that this potency must be mobilized directly ..., he has the possibility to call on the assistance of a specific entity, in accordance with the situation. ... On the other hand, the exorcist, because he represents the weikza, has authority over

a group of inferior entities to which he can give instructions (instead of requesting help).

{These entities are aequivalent to the praeternatural spirit-helpers (recruited by the shaman's divine spirit-guide) much-employed in Siberian shamanry.}

These entities are ... spirits (nat) named after the invisible weapon they master : "owner of elephants" (hsin-paing), "owner of fire" (mi-paing), "owner of

p. 201

ropes" (gyo-paing), etc. {This would be ap;proximately aequivalent to the /Is`/ (or alternatively, /Is`a/) 'Owner' category of deities, and is related to the /Is`ana/ and the /Is`-vara/ categories of deities, all named in S`aiva enumerations of deities in various categories.}

p. 202 prohibition of adultery

"An individual who receives the Shweyingyaw initiation commits himself {or herself}, from the very first initiatory level, to abide by ... vows (thitsa) : not to eat bovine meat, not to have sexual intercourse with any woman except for his wife {or, in the case of a woman, not to have sexual intercourse with any man except for her husband}."

{These are regulations distinguishing Daks.ina-acara Kaula practice (and Daks.ina-acara Kaula litterature) from Vama-acara practice (and Vama-acara litterature). The Ari religion of the S^an States is not entirely in accord with Daks.ina-acara.}

{In both Vama-acara Kaula and Vama-acara Vajra-yana ritual practice, ritual adultery isgenerally required of participants, in order to maintain the communistic-sharing principle of the religion. Such communistic ritual sharing by temporary exchange of spouses is a feature of all the older tantra-s, both Astika (Varn.a-As`rama Dharma) and Bauddha : in all such cases it would appear to be of ultimately Taoist provenience, derived from the peculiar variety of Taoism practice exclusively in the S^an-tun paeninsula, perhaps taken from the indigenous Yi (or I) tribe which antiently inhabited that paeninsula.}

p. 203 indignity with a congregation; mutual ignoring of other congregations by congregations themselves

"It is considered a great indignity -- a sort of insult to the congregation's knowledge (pyinnya) -- for a fully initiated individual as well, to a lesser extent, for the master who initiated (hence the latter's prudence), to come down in infringing the congregation's discipline."

"Members of a given congregation most often conspicuously ignore the other exorcists' congregations and their activities. Exorcists' congregations form an archipelago of insular {i.e., mutually isolated} communities".

p. 204 saying one's rosary

"Exorcists are especially prone {wont, habituated} to engage in the practice of ...

telling beads."

{saying one's rosary, mechanically repeating a prayer over-and-over, sliding a pierced bead along its string with each such repetition -- this is also done in some S.uwfiy cults}

{Mechanical rote-repetition of the exactly the same words (with no improvization permitted) could tend to be stifling to the piety, and may therewith be calculated to promote crass hypocrisy.}

p. 205 perseverance by exorcists

"An exorcist cannot refuse to treat a patient, whoever and whatever the circumstances. ... Perseverance equally plays its part : a cure may extend over several days, weeks, months. In the time of his greatest fame, the exorcist monk ... received patients daily from 2 p.m. ... . People queued to consult him, and he often officiated until 10 p.m. When an especially serious case occurred, he could go the whole night till dawn."

p. 205 absence of any fixed fee to be paid to an exorcist

"An exorcist, in accordance with the principle of altruism (saydana), would not ask for a fee. ... The wealthiest families may spend hundreds of thousands, if not millions{,} of kyat in (ineffective) medical care before coming to an exorcist, whereas, after the latter performed his office, they may donate him a few thousand, at best tens of thousands{,} of kyat."

pp. 206-7 authorization to initiate other persons may be granted to an exorcist by that exorcist's initiator-master

p. 206

"initiation can be and usually is conferred by a single individual on the condition that, sometime after he[, the initiate, shall have] received the nine levels of initiation, he has been {shall be} authorized to initiate in his turn. [Such] Authorization, which renders the initiate [on whom the authorization is conferred] a complete exorcist in the eyes of his peers, is given by a senior fellow, either the exorcist's immediate master or [by] some [other] master belonging to the genealogy {parampara, lineage-of-transmission} of his master (his master's master, etc.). ...

The master simply hands over [to the initiate who is being therewith authorized] the necessary elements (a piece of the weikza's {alchemic-amalgam} mixture), designs of the esoteric representations, stylus) to the new initiator. ...

p. 207

Once he accedes to the possibility of initiating others, an exorcist, should he have a sharp ambition, will progressively tend, thanks to his freedom in giving initiation, to create his own clan autonomous from the rest of the congregation -- what ... exorcists call groups (ahpwe), families (mithazu) or lineages (anwe) within their congregation ... . The ambitious exorcist's growing authority will manifest itself in the increasing number of his disciples ... . And the more an exorcist has [in the way of] disciples, the more he is in a position to live on {subsist by deriving adequate livelihood from} his congregational activity ... because it is not the practice of exorcism that feeds the exorcist but the material and financial support provided by his disciples. ... Eventually, the leader ... will establish his own annual gathering in honor of the congregation's guardian weikza."

p. 208 an exorcist's continued deference to that exorcist's own initiator-master

"In dealing with his disciples, an exorcist will refer to his own master by emphasizing this master's superiority over himself and the respect he accordingly owes him. One's master has, by definition, greater dominion (hpon) than oneself. One of my exorcist interlocutors, every time he tattoos an esoteric representation on a candidate's body, makes [aloud?] the vow that the representation be in fact tattooed by his (deceased) master ... . The message that is communicated to the candidate/disciple is ... : he [the candidate/disciple] should always honor his master as the latter honors his [own]."

p. 209 overdependent non-ownership

"the exorcist turns out to be both overdependent (on the weikza, on their mixture, on discipline, on his master) and self-supporting (through spirituality and commitment).

His power is characterized by non-ownership, limitation, conditionality, fragility, and vulnerability".

p. 210 helper-spirits helping the spirit-possessed exorcists (of the Natha-cult) do so by entring the exorcist's body

"The possession specialist's faculty of exorcizing relies on an invisible {but possibly visible to some sensitives/psychics/pneumatics} entity that temporarily comes and dwells in his/her being, replacing his/her conscience so as to express itself and actualize its potency through him/her."

{This might suggest that any such helper-spirit, after being summoned to the rite, will temporarily in effective control over some portion[s] of the conscience-field of the exorcist during the rite. This conscience-replacement might be somehow aequivalent to the Aztec deity styled Tloque Nahuaque ('Close Vicinity'); it could be to some degree also true of deities in attendance at most other religious rituals quite generally, regardless of specific religion.}

{Without more specific information concerning interactions of conscience-field with specific maya-kos`a-s (vibrationally concentric consciousness-fields) and/or (mutually semi-separated consciousness-fields, mutually-linked by subtle cords), it would not be feasible to describe the internal processes involved with such modes of exorcism-practice in greater detail. More details than are readily available in published litterature may be personally known, however, to some individual founders of vidyadhara-informed congregations.}

p. 210 alleged nature (actually a sort of slander) of shamanry

"the shaman's faculty of exorcizing relies on his/her capacity to undertake a journey into the invisible, notably in quest for

human souls stolen by invisible {not invisible to a shaman visiting those deities' worlds, however!} entities feeding on them." {This "entities feeding on them" is not any event dealt with by any shaman's travelling into another world; but is instead a parasitized haunting (McC:EH, p. 101), which is dealt with quite differently (McC:EH, p. 132).}

{This allegation by the author is a gross misdescription. In Siberian shamanry, the praedicament requiring a shaman's travel into another plane-of-existence is explained thus : the souls of mortals divinely arrested and imprisoned are of persons who have neglected, perhaps through ignorance, some religious duties which may have been divinely enjoined on their ancestors a number of generations earlier, and are now being strictly enforced. The shaman's duty is, by visiting the deities arresting and imprisoning the mortals, to discover what those religious duties are, and to promise on behalf of, and as surety for, said mortals, that the duties will be scrupulously observed, before release of the arrested-and-imprisoned mortals can be effected.}

McC:EH = Josephine McCarthy (with Peter McCarthy) : The Exorcist's Handbook. Golem Media, Berkeley (CA), 2010.,_6-8.htm

pp. 210-1 the general nature of Roman Catholic exorcism

p. 210

"The Catholic priest's faculty for exorcizing seems indeed [Ferber 2004, pp. 65-6] to his personal spirituality. Catholic doctrine deems the efficacy of exorcism to be non-mechanical ... . ...

p. 211

The exorcist's spiritual state then becomes a crucial parameter to explain


{or rather, that of the Order of Angeloi involved in effectuating the task}

support of the exorcist's office. ...

What appears common to the Burmese Buddhist exorcist activity and the Catholic exorcist activity is a distinctive mode of relation with

invisible entities,

{Although these entities -- both the strayed entities who have come out of tunnels in the levels of the Abyss, and the mal>akiym/angeloi (led, according to the Qabbalah, by Sandalpown), who have the responsibility of conducting the exorcized entities back into their Abyss-tunnels (McC:EH, p. 114) -- may be invisible to the ordinary congregation-membres, nevertheless they are commonly visible to priests conducting Angelic Mass in, e.g., the Holy Order of MANS, the religious order most renowned in Occidental religious caerimonial as efficacious in success with exorcism.}

differing from possession and shamanism."

Ferber 2004 = Sarah Ferber : Demonic Possession and Exorcism in Early Modern France. London : Routledge.

p. 211 absence of direct 2-way communication betwixt the exorcist's and the spiritual entity being exorcized

"unlike both possession {becoming possessed by a deity during a caerimony invoking the deity} and shamanism, in the interface [viz., exorcism] situation the officiant -- the "interfacer" so to speak -- remains on a separate plane {i.e., the gross waking-world material plane} from the invisible entities {which are invisible only to someone lacking the subtle-body activation to see them}, whichever {and wherever} they are. He/she is neither temporarily seized {the word could be /displaced/, instead of "seized"} by another being as in possession, nor

capable of incursions into the invisible as in shamanism.

{Do note that the worlds entred by shamans are by no means at all times "invisible" to themselves, but are seen, heard, and interacted-with by the dreaming shaman while visiting them in a dream-body.}

Correlatively, the interfacer is not "elected" by invisible entities ... .

{Anyone capable of communicating with those entities would also be elected by them; the mere "interfacer" is incapable of either.}

Second, what is manifested in the interface situation is restricted to the potency of invisible entities.

{By this word "potency" is intended the fact of the spirit's communicating with the person being exorcized : a useless sort of "potency", or else to be exorcized would not be sought.}

Nothing shows through, in the interfacer's action, of these entities' words, appearance or behavior.

The relation established with the invisible is imperceptible, even in the course of the interfacer's office."

{This fact is, surely, strong evidence that this Hinayana-style "interfacer's office" is an unreal fiction, very unlike the experiential reality of spirit-mediumship and of shamanic services.}

p. 215, n. 19 an medium's apt facility for asking pertinent quaestions of a spirit-guide while that spirit-guide be in intimate communication with the medium

"the medium may nevertheless, under a more or less developed state of trance, hold a dialogue with the spirit that rides him or enters his head, and ask it questions ... (Heusch 1971)."

{This sort of occasion might possibly furnish convenient opportunity for the exorcist's also asking the intimately-communicating spirit-guide to explicate the interrelations and interfunctionings of the various consciousness-fields, maya-kos`a-s and/or}

de Heusch 1971 = Luc de Heusch : "Possession et chamanisme" Dans :- Pourquoi l'épouser ? Gallimard (programme ReLIRE), 1971. ("Possession and shamanism" In :- Why marry ? Gallimard reread program, 1971) [listed at ]


Be'ne'dicte Brac de la Perrie`re; Guillaume Rozenberg; and Alice Turner (edd.) : Champions of Buddhism : Weikza Cults in Contemporary Burma. National Univ of Singapore Pr, Singapore, 2014.