Where people believe in wizards

In this file photograph taken on July 14, 2016, visitors and devotees tour Myanmar's landmark Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon.
PHOTO: AFP

Although it might seem unbelievable, Buddhism and magic have long been uniquely linked in Burma.

"I can see your future and that of everyone I meet," smiled U Aung Baung, as the gilded dome of the legendary Shwedagon Pagoda glistened behind him in the night.

"But, you have to start following Buddhist precepts before I can tell you anything."

I had come to the country's most sacred Buddhist site in search of the weikzas, so-called wizard saints who act as the embodiment of the spirit world.

Those modern-day sorcerers are said to acquire their powers through Buddhist teachings and meditation, as well as spells and alchemy, and locals seek them out for everything from curing afflictions to improving career odds.

I wondered; as the country continues to open up to the world, can these traditions survive?

"I find it hard to accept that they exist," said a Yangon MP who asked not to be named, fearing it would make him sound superstitious. "But I've seen them do things that cannot be explained."

My taxi driver was more effusive. "Of course, I believe in wizards," he said. "Three times while I was praying, they have appeared to me in visions and helped me make important decisions."

In fact, weikzas are so ingrained in Burmese society that weikza tazaungs, special shrines worshipping famed weikzas, can be found at Buddhist temples throughout the country.

This is where aspiring wizards come to meditate and where people come to pray for magical help.

I'd met U Aung Baung at the Shwedagon's weikza tazaung, whose impressive size and important location makes it a particularly holy spot for weikzas.

He told me that he's 93 years old and has been training to become a wizard for 37 years.

"To become a wizard, you have to follow Buddha's moral rules and practice a special form of meditation.

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