RANGOON — Fortune-tellers around the world tap into a natural desire to know what’s in store next, and the Burmese seem to be particularly curious.
Setting up shop around Buddhist pagodas, palm readers and astrologers in Burma’s biggest city are never short on clients.
“The Burmese are not superstitious, but they have extreme beliefs by nature,” said Myat Thukha, a young fortune teller who sees five clients a day in downtown Rangoon, outside Sule Pagoda. He said the majority of his clients believe in astrology, which makes use of the position of stars and planets to predict future events.
Thousands of astrology offices can be found surrounding the pagodas in Rangoon, and many more exist on roadsides around the city.
At Maha Wizaya Pagoda in Dagon Township, for example, more than 30 astrologers have set up shop, while another 20 astrologers have offices at Kodatkyi Pagoda in Sanchaung Township, with the floor price for honorarium at 1,500 kyats ($2).
Forty-year-old Aung Myo said he visited an astrologer to decide which business partner to choose for a new contract, while another client, Nay Myo, asked for advice selecting a career path after selling his farm.
“Some clients come when they are not doing well, and they ask for certain magical observances that can remove all unnecessary defects in the present and future,” said astrology expert San Hla Mya.
Nu Nu, 52, said predictions about the future—specifically concerning negative future events—allowed her to proceed with caution and deliberation, but she added that she did not fully rely on astrology.
“I accept astrology as one branch of study that I should admire, and I ask often about my children’s education, health and business,” she said. “As a Buddhist, I fully trust the consequences of my past actions, although I ask astrologers for help.”
Astrologer Aung Chit Po, who studied under prominent Burmese astrologist Min Theinkha, said about 80 percent of people in the country believed in astrology. “My room is regularly full with about 40 clients daily, and on Sunday about 100 clients come,” he said.
Not everyone is convinced, however. Soe Win, a taxi driver, said he had never visited a fortune-teller because he believed in the power of his own actions.
“Some Burmese ask for their fortunes because they want a source of hope or an exit from their adversity—some form of relief from their grief,” he said.
U Paing, 60, just opened his astrology office this month at Maha Wizaya Pagoda. “Most people come to the pagodas to alleviate their unhappiness and also to ask for fortune-tellers,” he said.
A resident from Thingangyun Township said she fully believed in astrology and had regularly visited astrologers in the past. More recently, however, she prefers reading the astrology section of weekly journals and daily newspapers.
Astrology expert San Hla Mya said his field of study dated back to before the time of the Buddha in India.
“Buddha recognized astrology as a form of worldly knowledge, not as the noble path, so the Buddhists who believe in astrology just for worldly matters cannot be against Buddhism,” he said.