Though Buddhists make up less than 1% of the French population, the Buddhist community is represented by various ethnic groups with a French convert minority. The presence of Vietnamese and Cambodians Buddhists in France reflect the French colonization of those nations and the resultant cultural affinity, as well as refugee populations that arrived in France during the 1970s during the reign of the Khmer Rouge and during the Vietnam War. However, Chinese migrants represent the largest segment of French Buddhists.
Close to 90% of people in Myanmar today are Buddhist, and virtually all of them practice Theravada Buddhism. This branch of Buddhism adheres most closely to the oldest texts in the Buddhist tradition and generally emphasizes a more rigorous observance of the monastic code than other schools of Buddhism. Theravada Buddhists ultimately aim to be released from the cycle of suffering, samsara, and to achieve nirvana. To achieve success in this world—and to advance to enlightenment in subsequent rebirths—they must build positive karma, or merit.
The military government’s decision to raise oil and gas prices in 2007 led to widespread discontent, ultimately culminating in the short-lived Saffron Revolution. Buddhist monks were centrally involved in these protests; the color saffron alludes to the traditional color of monks’ robes. Higher oil prices placed a greater burden on an already-impoverished Burmese populace.
The Sangha is the Buddhist monastic community, comprised of Buddhist monks and nuns. Although Buddhist monks and nuns traditionally renounce the responsibilities of family life, they do not remove themselves completely from society. Rather, they exist as part of an economy with lay Buddhists, who offer the monks material support in exchange for religious teachings and positive karma, or merit. As such, the Sangha can have a tremendous legitimizing force as a source of merit for individuals who make offerings to them.