Buddhism seen fostering core bloc

Men gather to pray inside Mahamuni Buddhist temple in Mandalay October 6, 2015.
PHOTO: Reuters

YANGON - While the Dec. 31 launch of the ASEAN Economic Community is unlikely to create a unified market of 600 million people right away, four countries with a common major religion are expected to form a nucleus within the new economic zone.

Standing tall in central Yangon, Shwedagon Pagoda attracts both locals and foreign tourists, including many from Thailand. At some temples in the city, which is the former capital of Myanmar, three to five of every 10 foreign visitors are Thai. In fact, many Thais make pilgrimages to temples in Cambodia and Laos as well, while Thailand is a popular destination among people from neighbouring countries. This is because Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia all share Theravada Buddhism - a school originally spread from India - as a dominant religion.

Formation of a community is said to require a sense of cultural unity, including religion. As the European Union expanded with Christianity as the cultural backbone, Buddhism may play a key role in forging a community among the four countries in Southeast Asia.

Thailand already hosts 3 million to 4 million workers from neighbouring countries, including Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. The number is just shy of 10 per cent of Thailand's worker population.

Religion tends to spread in a way similar to transmission of economic activities, as religionists travel using roughly the same routes as merchants.

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