Buddhism is one of the world's most prolific religions, dominating in much of mainland Southeast Asia, and influential as well in South Asia, East Asia and parts of Russia. There is also a Buddhist diaspora spread across most of the world and a renaissance of interest in the West since the late 1960s and 1970s.
History and philosophy
|“||Form is emptiness and emptiness is form||”|
Buddhism is a religion founded around 400-500 BCE by Sakyamuni Buddha. According to tradition, Prince Siddharta Gautama (the Buddha's former name) was born in Lumbini as heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Sakya (in present day Nepal, near the Indian border). He was raised in the palace with the best luxuries money can buy, but shut off from the outside world by his father, the king. One night, he sneaked out of the palace and saw four sights that had a profound impact on the rest of his life; an old man, a sick man, a dead man and an ascetic. As a result, he discovered that a life of luxury did not lead to peace of mind, and that the rich, like the poor, still suffer the torments of old age, sickness and death. He therefore renounced his titles and abandoned his wealth in order to seek a way that could lead all beings, without discrimination, to freedom from suffering. He spent six years experimenting with the various common methods of the day, but to no avail. Finally, at the age of 35 and while meditating under the bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya, he awoke to the insights he had been seeking. The essence of the Buddha's discovery are categorized in his first teaching that was delivered to a group of five ascetics at the Deer Park in Sarnath and is called the Four Noble Truths. The Buddha devoted the rest of his life to spreading his teachings, and finally passed away in a copse of sal trees at Kushinagar. He was believed to be over 80 years old at the time.
On the other hand, while historians generally agree that the Buddha himself was an actual historical figure, there has to date been no evidence on his actual date of birth and death, or of any of the events associated with the traditional accounts of his life story.
For many centuries, Buddhism was the major religion in India, and was supported by many great kings. Ashoka (273–232 BCE), the third Mauryan emperor, was probably the most famous. He ruled most of the Indian subcontinent from his capital city of Pataliputra, modern day Patna. Some sources portray him as a wicked, fierce, and extremely violent monarch in the years before his conversion. Asoka embraced Buddhism and became a follower of the cause of Dharma (right behaviour, translated in Ancient Greek as ευσεβεία- respect for human sufferings) after he repented, following his victory over the neighboring empire of Kalinga (modern Odisha), which was so costly in lives that it caused him to turn his back on imperialism and concentrate on bettering the world. Asoka left a large number of inscriptions on rocks and pillars, as Achaemenid rulers had in Iran. Asoka’s inscriptions witness his change of heart. Almost all of the emperor's edicts deal with the Buddhist concept of Dharma/Ευσεβεία. He abolished the death penalty and showed respect towards all living beings, becoming a vegetarian and saying that rearing and killing animals for food violates the Dharma cosmic law.
Ashoka's inscription in Delhi-Topra Pillar summarize his efforts for the promotion of the Dharma and the dispatch of missions which established Buddhism within his kingdom and beyond. He was responsible for the spread of Buddhism in a major way, as he is known to have sent Buddhist missionaries to Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, China, Mongolia, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Syria, Iran, Egypt, Greece, Italy and Turkey. He also had stone-carved Buddhist pillars with inscriptions or animal figures erected, apparently throughout his realm — 19 of these, including those at Sarnath and Prayagraj, survive to this day. Buddhism's influence in India waxed and waned over the next millennium, and during the 6th and 7th century CE support was mostly confined to Southern India. However, perhaps the single most significant blow to Buddhism in India occurred in 1193 when Turkic Islamic raiders burnt the great Buddhist center of learning in Nalanda (in current-day Bihar), and by the end of the 12th century it had all but disappeared from the lowlands, though it continued to thrive in the Himalayan regions and in what is now Sri Lanka. However, the Buddha was incorporated into the Hindu pantheon: many Hindus consider the Buddha to be an avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu.
Buddhism as a philosophy and religion can roughly be divided into two schools: Theravada and Mahayana. The Theravada school which spread to Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and the Dai ethnic minority in China promotes personal liberation from suffering, whereas the Mahayana, which is prevalent in China, Japan, Taiwan, Korea and Vietnam emphasizes the liberation of all beings. The Vajrayana school, which is prevalent in Tibet, Bhutan and Mongolia, and often called Tibetan Buddhism, is an offshoot of Mahayana and differs from it only in method, not philosophy. A common thread throughout all Buddhist schools is the cultivation of wisdom, compassion for all living creatures and the principle of ahimsa (non-violence) as a basis of interacting with the world, and the total rejection of religious conversion. All schools of Buddhism recognize karma (the law of cause and effect) as the creator of our illusory universe, which Buddhists refer to as samsara, and reject the notion of a creator God. Buddhism generally aims to follow the "middle path", in which one does not go out of the way to inflict suffering on himself, but at the same time does not indulge in material pleasures. The ultimate goal in all schools of Buddhism is to attain enlightenment as the Buddha did, which is believed to be reached when one is successfully purged of all emotional attachments and selfish desires.
For the most part, relations between the different schools are peaceful, with no history of major armed conflict between them. It is also not uncommon for followers, or even monks of one school to visit temples belonging to other schools to offer prayers.
Unlike many other religions, Buddhism does not have a holy book with the authority of the Bible in Christianity, the Koran in Islam or even the Vedas in Hinduism. The Tripitaka, also known as the Pali Canon, is generally regarded as the oldest surviving Buddhist text, and is considered canon by all schools of Buddhism. The Mahayana school also regards some additional texts, known as sutras, to be canonical. Buddhism also does not demand exclusivity, so in many places, Buddhism is syncretised with other local religions to one degree or another.
While some Buddhists, such as the Tibetan Buddhists, have a hierarchy of lamas, Buddhism does not have a centralized governing body, and most Buddhists do not recognize any single pope-like figure.
Common images and symbols
- Buddha Sakyamuni. Obviously the most common image at Buddhist monasteries, and statues show the Buddha in a various number of postures, though the most common of these depicts the Buddha sitting in lotus posture with the finger tips of his right hand touching the ground.
- Tara (only in Vajrayana monasteries). This female deity can be depicted in a variety of colors, though green or white are the most common. Green Tara represents the Buddha's enlightened activity. White Tara represents compassion.
- Padmasambhava also known as Guru Rinpoche (only in Vajrayana monasteries, especially those of the Nyingma school). An eighth century sage credited as the founder of Vajrayana Buddhism. The most common images portray him in a sitting posture, wearing an elaborate hat and with his right leg lowered slightly. His eyes are wide open and appear to be gazing into the distance.
- Prayer wheels (Tib: mani) (only in Vajrayana monasteries). There are several types of prayer wheels, and the following are some of the most common: copper wheels mounted in walls surrounding monasteries and stupas, and large wooden wheels standing alone near the gates of monasteries. In addition, there are small hand-held wheels that are carried by devotees. All prayer wheels are rotated in a clockwise direction and with a sincere motivation to benefit all beings. In this way, they are considered an effective means of developing a generous and pure mind.
- Swastikas. Commonly seen at temples, they are used in Buddhism to represent peace and the dharma. While the swastika is associated with Nazism in much of the Western world, its use in Buddhism predates Nazism by thousands of years, and does not represent anything close to Nazi ideals. They continue to be used in much of Asia as a sacred symbol.
- Vesak (also spelled Waisak, Wesak; Sanskrit: Vaishakha; Pali: Vesakha) is the most important of the Buddhist festivals, commemorating the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha in the Theravada tradition. In the Mahayana tradition, it commemorates the enlightenment of the Buddha, with Buddha's birthday and death anniversary being celebrated on separate days. The event is observed on the full-moon day of the lunar month – usually in April or May, except in some countries like South Korea and China where the day is fixed. The day is observed as a public holiday in many Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia and Singapore.
- New Year — first full moon in year (usually in February).
- Modlam Chenmo — 8th-15th day after lunar new year.
- Guru Rinpoche's Birthday — 10th day of the 6th lunar month.
- Chokhor Duchen — 4th day of the 6th lunar month (usually July). Celebrates the first sermon given by the Buddha Sakyamuni after enlightenment.
- Asalha — first full moon of 8th lunar month (usually July). Celebrates the first sermon given by the Buddha Sakyamuni after enlightenment.
- Buddha's birthday — celebrated on the 8th day of the 4th month of the Chinese calendar in the Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese tradition, on 8th April or 8th May in the Japanese tradition, and on the second Sunday of May in Taiwan.
- Guan Yin Festival — celebrated four times a year in the Chinese tradition, on the nineteenth day of the second, ninth, sixth and eleventh months of the traditional Chinese calendar, in honour of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. Many otherwise non-vegetarian Chinese Buddhists will eat only vegetarian food on these days, and Chinese Buddhist temples will often have festivities, including stalls where you can purchase vegetarian food.
Cities and other destinations
Below are listed some of the most notable Buddhist sites in the sub-continent.
The Buddhist Circuit is a route following the footsteps of Gautama Buddha starting from his place of birth to his place of death.
- Bodh Gaya, Bihar — the place where the Buddha Sakyamuni attained enlightenment.
- Ellora and Ajanta, Maharashtra, India — spectacular rock-cut cave monasteries and temples, holy place for the Buddhists, Jains and Hindus.
- Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh — the site where Buddha reached Mahaparinirvana and was cremated
- Rewalsar, Himachal Pradesh — a sacred lake associated with the Buddhist sage Padmasambhava. A popular pilgrimage site for Tibetan Buddhists.
- Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh — the place where the Buddha first taught the Dharma.
- Sitagarha Hill, Marwateri Basin, Sitagarha Hill, Jharkhand — The site of a major Buddhist shrine and stone carved stupa dating from the Mauryan Period.
- Diamond Triangle (Odisha) — A collection of Buddhist archaeological site comprising Ratnagiri, Udaygiri and Lalitgiri, along with a few minor sites.
- Rajgir — A site in Bihar
- Nalanda — Site of a Buddhist university.
- Boudhanath Stupa, Boudhanath — a large stupa with relics of a past Buddha.
- Kathmandu Valley — Boudhanath town is home to one of the largest Buddhist stupas in the world. Swayambhunath, also known as the Monkey Temple, is the most sacred among Buddhist pilgrimage sites.
- Lumbini — the birth place of Sakyamuni Buddha.
- Pharping, Kathmandu Valley, one of the most sacred sites associated with Guru Rinpoche.
- Bumthang Valley — the valley is considered the spiritual heart of Bhutan and contains many sacred sites, including the famous Kurjey Lhakhang in Jakar.
- Taktshang Monastery, (Tiger's Nest), Paro — a monastery associated with Guru Rinpoche. It is one of Bhutan's most sacred places.
- Trongsa — home to the largest "dzong", monastery-fortress classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Anuradhapura — the first capital of Sri Lanka, now a UNESCO World Heritage, was longtime a center of Theravada Buddhism. A few miles away the village of Mihintale marks the site where Thera Mahinda, the eldest son of Emperor Ashoka, met the Sinhalese king Devanampiya Tissa and converted him to Buddhism.
- Polonnaruwa — An ancient city, capital of a powerful Sinhalese kingdom from 1070 to 1284 CE. Its ruined palaces and temples, declared a World Heritage Site, testify to the glory of Buddhism during the Medieval period.
- The Temple of the Tooth, Kandy — a temple housing a tooth that came from the mouth of Lord Buddha and is considered Sri Lanka's most sacred site.
- Taxila, Punjab — a major site with relics of the Buddha, including teeth and bone fragments, and many stupas and monasteries
See also: Sacred sites of the Indian sub-continent
- Ayutthaya — Former capital until it was sacked by the invading Burmese in 1767, visitors can today see the ruins of various temples dating back to the period. Some notable ones include Wat Phra Si Sanphet (วัดพระศรีสรรเพชญ์), the former royal temple during Ayutthaya's time as the capital, and Wat Mahathat (วัดมหาธาตุ), the site of perhaps Ayutthaya's best-known image of a Buddha head trapped by the roots of a banyan tree.
- Bangkok — Features the reclining Buddha of Wat Pho (วัดโพธิ์), possibly the largest reclining Buddha in the world. Also features the Emerald Buddha in the royal temple Wat Phra Kaew (วัดพระแก้ว), which is regarded by Thais as the holiest Buddhist temple in their country, and a popular destination for pilgrims. There are also numerous Chinese-style Buddhist temples to be found in Bangkok's Chinatown, the most famous one being Wat Mangkon Kamalawat (วัดมังกรกมลาวาส). Chinatown is also home to Wat Traimit (วัดไตรมิตรวิทยารามวรวิหาร), a Thai-style Buddhist temple that is home to a famous Buddha statue made of solid gold, the largest solid gold Buddha statue in the world.
- Chiang Mai
- Phra Pathommachedi — the oldest stupa in Thailand. The name meaning is "the first sanctuary of this land". According to prominent archaeologists, the temple, had been built around the year 193 BCE, twenty years after emperor Ashoka, sent a mission in Suvarnabhumi (modern days Thailand) to expand Buddhism in South East Asia
- Bagan — Former capital of the Bagan Kingdom, the first centralised kingdom to unify much of modern-day Myanmar under its rule. While it was toppled by the Mongols by the early 14th century, the landscape continues to be dotted by thousands of temples that were constructed during that time. Among the most important temples in Bagan include the Ananda Temple (အာနန္ဒာ ဘုရား), named after the Buddha's most prominent disciple, and the beautiful golden Shwezigon Pagoda (ရွှေစည်းခုံဘုရား).
- Bago — Former capital of the Mon Hanthawaddy Kingdom, today it is home to the Shewemawdaw Pagoda (ရွှေမောဓော ဘုရား), the tallest stupa in Myanmar and a famous reclining Buddha at the Shwethalyaung Temple (ရွှေသာလျှောင်းဘုရား).
- Kakku — Known for the Kakku Pagodas, a complex of over 2,400 stupas crammed into a small area side by side with each other, and a major holy site for the indigenous Pa-O ethnic group. All visitors to the pagoda complex must be accompanied by a local Pa-O guide.
- Mandalay — Features many prominent Buddhist temples, including the impressive Shwenandaw Monastery (ရွှေနန်းတော်ကျောင်း), which was part of the royal palace before being moved to its current location and converted into a Buddhist monastery, and known for its intricate teak wood carvings. Also features the Kuthodaw Pagoda (ကုသိုလ်တော်ဘုရား), the site of the world's largest book, and the Mahamuni Temple (မဟာမုနိဘုရားကြီး), Mandalay's holiest temple and home to a gold-leaf covered Buddha statue that is the most highly-revered statue in the country.
- Besides Mandalay, the nearby towns of Sagaing, Amarapura, Innwa and Mingun also have several prominent temples.
- Mrauk U
- Pindaya — Known for the Pindaya Caves, a vast limestone cave filled to the brim with Buddha images, which is an important pilgrimage site for the indigenous Dano ethnic group.
- Yangon — Home to the impressive Shwedagon Pagoda (ရွှေတိဂုံဘုရား), widely regarded as the holiest Buddhist temple in the country and a major pilgrimage destination. The smaller Sule Pagoda (ဆူးလေဘုရား) serves as an oasis of calm in what is otherwise one of the busiest parts of the city. Another notable temple is the Chaukhtatgyi Temple (ခြောက်ထပ်ကြီးဘုရားကြီး), which features one of Myanmar's most famous reclining Buddha images.
- Hanoi — Home to the architecturally unique One Pillar Pagoda (Chùa Một Cột). The nearby countryside is home to the Perfume Pagoda (Chùa Hương), widely regarded as the holiest Buddhist site in Vietnam and a popular destination for Vietnamese pilgrims.
- Hoi An
- Ho Chi Minh City — The most famous temple is the Jade Emperor Pagoda (Chùa Ngọc Hoàng). Although it is nominally a Taoist temple dedicated to a traditional Chinese deity, there are also altars dedicated to Buddhist deities such as the Medicine Buddha and the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. The Cholon area, which is the city's Chinatown is home to several Chinese temples, including the Quan Am Pagoda (Chùa Quan Âm), a temple dedicated to the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.
- Borobudur — site of a very impressive ancient temple complex
- Dazu Rock Carvings near Chongqing - dating from the 7th-13th century
- Leshan Giant Buddha, Leshan, Sichuan — part of a World Heritage Site, the stone statue is carved out of a cliff-face
- Longmen Grottoes near Luoyang — 5th-10th century
- Maijishan National Park Bas relief and cave carvings of the Buddha grace the cliff face of this mountain.
- Mogao Caves in Gansu province — art and manuscripts dating back to the 4th century
- Mount Kailash in far western Tibet is believed to be a natural mandala representing the Buddhist cosmology on earth.
- 1 Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet - the former residence of the Dalai Lama, the most important figure in Tibetan Buddhism, from 1649 to 1959, is now a museum and World Heritage Site.
- Spring Temple Buddha, Lushan County, Henan — standing 128 m high, this is the tallest statue in the world
- 2 Tsurphu Monastery in Gurum, a village just outside Lhasa is the traditional seat of the Kamarpa, the third most important figure in Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama.
- 3 Tashilhunpo Monastery in Shigatse, Tibet - the traditional seat of the Panchen Lama, the second most important leader of Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama.
- The Four Sacred Mountains of Buddhism
- Yungang Grottoes in Shanxi Province - more than 51,000 Buddhist carvings, dating back 1,500 years, in the recesses and caves of the Yangang Valley mountainsides
- 4 Yonghe Temple in Beijing — built by the Machu Qing Dynasty rulers as a prince's residence, but later converted into a Buddhist temple, its architecture is a unique fusion of traditional Chinese and Tibetan architectural styles.
- Xishuangbanna is the main cultural centre of the Dai people, who are mostly Theravada Buddhists and share close cultural ties with Thailand. It is thus home to one of the highest concentrations of Theravada Buddhist temples in China.
- Tian Tan Buddha, Ngong Ping, Lantau — a large bronze statue of a seated Buddha at the top of 240 steps
- Po Lin Monastery, Ngong Ping, Lantau — founded in 1906 by three monks from Jiangsu province. The main temple building houses three bronze statues representing the Buddha of the past, present and future.
- 10,000 Buddhas Monastery, Sha Tin, New Territories — modern temple dating from the 1950s in fact contains no less than 12,800 Buddhas lining the walls of the main hall. There's also a nine-story pagoda and some smaller temples above the main complex.
- Chi Lin Nunnery, Diamond Hill, Kowloon — modern temple founded in 1934, and rebuilt in its current form in 1998 in the architectural style of the Tang Dynasty. The nunnery's Nan Lian Garden is also a beautiful Tang Dynasty-style garden, resembling traditional Japanese gardens.
- Daibutsu at Tōdai-ji, Nara — largest Buddha statue in Japan
- Ushiku Daibatsu, Ushiku, Ibaraki — built in 1993 to commemorate the birth of Shinran, founder of the Jōdo Shinshū
- Kyoto — Japan's former capital is home to a particularly high concentration of Buddhist temples
Mongolia's traditional dominant religion is Tibetan Buddhism, though much of its Buddhist heritage was destroyed during the iconoclastic years of communist rule.
- Mongolia's Buddhist Monasteries — Only a few of the 843 old monasteries survived Stalin's purges in the 1930s. Among these are the well-known Erdene Zuu Monastery, now a museum and part of the Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape World Heritage Site, and the very off the beaten path Amarbayasgalant Monastery, included on the UNESCO Tentative List.
- Sansa - 7 Buddhist mountain monasteries from the 7th-9th centuries and a World Heritage Site.
- Chung Tai Chan Sz, Puli. An impressive thirty-three storey Zen temple
- Dharma Drum Mountain, Jinshan, New Taipei. A large Buddhist college and Zen monastery
- Fo Guan Shan, Dashu, Kaohsiung. A large Zen monastery with museum
- Bamiyan, Afghanistan — once among the largest statues in the world, the Buddhas of Bamiyan, two 6th-century statues carved into a cliffside, fell victim to the iconoclasm of the extremist Taliban in 2001. The ruins of these statues left after their dynamiting are the main reason to visit this picturesque region of a decidedly unsafe country.
- Termez, Uzbekistan — the main centre of Buddhism of the ancient Bactria during the Kushan period (between 3rd and 1st centuries BCE), the reconstructed Fayaz Tepe temple and the ruins of the Kara Tepe temple still attract Buddhist pilgrims to this desert town.
- Buryatia — sharing much of its culture with Mongolia to the south of the international border, a Mongolian-style temple in Arshan, an extremely scenic forest on the Siberian mountains, is a must see while in the region.
- Kalmykia — settled by the Kalmyks originally from Mongolia in the 17th century, this autonomous republic on the Caspian Sea coast is considered to be the only Buddhist nation in Europe. While most of its Buddhist (and other) heritage was destructed in the iconolastic madness of the Soviet years, Buddhist temples and monasteries have started to reappear all over the republic. Elista, the capital of the republic, has an impressive temple built in 2005.
- Tuva — the predominant religion in this Siberian region, known for its ancient throat singing in which the singer produces multiple notes simultaneously, is Tibetan Buddhism mixed with indigenous shamanism. Large Buddhist ceremonies open to the public are held there regularly.
Most Buddhists speak the language of the country they reside in. However, religious concepts are often described through loanwords from the language the concept first originated in. The original versions of most Buddhist religious texts are in the ancient Indian languages of Sanskrit and Pali.
Spiritual retreat tourism is a branch of leisure travel. People go to meditate to renew their energies, remove emotional blocks, gain an understanding of themselves, and get rid of their anxieties.
For example, Vipassana meditation is a practice associated with the Theravada Buddhism. The word "Vipassana" can be translated from the Sanskrit to mean "clear-seeing". Retreat centers are generally set in beautiful environments and stunning scenery. Apart from some luxury hotels in Kerala and Sri Lanka that may offer some Vipassana retreats as a complement of their Ayurveda packages, meditation centers in South and South-East Asia charge a small amount of money for the lodgings and food. Most of them usually operate on a donation basis. People who want to stay in Buddhist monasteries or meditation centers have to bring bed sheets, towels, toiletry, as they are probably not available outside of a retreat setting. Buddhist monasteries are usually set on silent mountain slopes. Although they are a great option for budget travelers, conditions can be somewhat uncomfortable for those seeking just a relaxing vacation or used to luxuries. Participants follow a prescribed code of discipline and a strict daily schedule.
- Statues of the Buddha and other sacred images are available in many stores in Buddhist areas.
- Mala or beads, as aids for meditation and recitation are available at Buddhist gompas and establishments
- Cloth to cover sacred objects and texts
- Incense as offering
- Books relating to the lineage or area of Buddhism supported
Although Buddhism does not have strict dietary laws in the same way that Judaism, Islam or Hinduism does, most Mahayana Buddhist sects require their monks to be vegetarian, and also encourage their lay followers to do the same. Many otherwise non-vegetarian Buddhists would also go on a vegetarian diet for specific Buddhist festivals.
- Buddha's delight, a traditional Chinese Buddhist vegetarian dish
- Vegetarian cuisine, served in Buddhist monasteries to monks and visitors. May include mock-meat made from soy or wheat gluten.
Many East Asian countries have restaurants serving Buddhist vegetarian cuisine, which in addition to being meat-free, must also be free of the "five pungent vegetables", namely onion, garlic, chives, spring onion and leeks. In Japan and South Korea, this type of cuisine is served almost exclusively in specialist fine dining establishments and hence very expensive. On the other hand, in places like Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Vietnam and Singapore, options run the gamut from cheap and hearty street food to over the top luxury, and numerous options between those too.
- Most Buddhist establishments are well catered for tea drinking
Many Buddhist temples accommodate guests who desire the serenity and contemplation of a temple environment. However, guests who choose this option are often required to book in advance, and usually required to follow a strict routine and show sufficient respect for the traditions.
Buddhist temples and meditation centers welcome people of all faiths. They exist not only in Buddhist countries but in many large cities and some smaller cities in many other countries including those in North America and Europe.
Because Buddhism is not a very common religion in Western countries, there are many scams that prey on tourists' lack of knowledge of Buddhist customs. Here are some points to take note of so you can avoid a few of the common scams.
- Monks do not sell religious items. Temple shops selling religious items are always staffed by laymen and not monks.
- Mahayana Buddhist monks do not go on alms rounds. Instead, they would either grow their own food or buy it using temple donations. Most of them are also required to be vegetarian.
- Theravada Buddhist monks are not allowed to touch money, and offering money to a monk is considered to be disrespectful. Alms bowls are solely for the purpose of collecting food.
- Theravada Buddhist monks only collect alms in the morning, and are not allowed to eat after noon. They are also not allowed to choose their food, and are required to eat whatever has been offered to them.
- Temples will have donation boxes for followers to place their monetary donations. Temples do not use high-pressure tactics to solicit donations, and will leave it entirely up to an individual to decide whether or how much they wish to donate.
- You may be invited to pay for releasing caged birds or other animals, a practice known as "life release" and meant to generate benefit for those who pay for it. The creatures offered for release may have been caught specifically with the intention of being released again, and may have been kept in unsatisfactory conditions. Releasing non-native animals into the environment causes serious environmental damage, and participants may be prosecuted for introducing invasive species or animal cruelty.
All Buddhist temples welcome people of all faiths, though everybody is expected to behave in a respectful manner when in the temple compounds.
- Wear clothing that expresses respect for the sacred nature of the site.
- Go barefoot within the main temple/stupa complex.
- In Myanmar and Sri Lanka, you will be required to take your shoes off before entering the entire temple complex.
- In most other countries like Thailand, Vietnam and Japan, you will only be required to take your shoes off before entering temple buildings.
- Circumambulate stupas and other sacred objects in a clock-wise direction.
- Turn prayer wheels in a clockwise direction.
- Preserve the peace and tranquility.
- Do not climb onto statues or other sacred objects.
- Do not try to photograph selfies by moving inside statue or shrine limits
- Do not sit with the soles of the feet facing either a teacher (if attending a talk/event), or a Buddha image - whether statue or picture (important in all Buddhist temples)
- Do not point at statues with your index finger. Instead, use your thumb or an open palm.
- Do not climb onto the altar to take photos with the statue, as this is considered to be very disrespectful.
Depictions of Buddha
It is common for people visiting South East Asia or East Asia to buy Buddha statues, but they may not be aware of how truly important Buddha is to Buddhists. There is absolutely nothing wrong with buying a Buddha statue or having a Buddha statue in your home, but many Buddhists consider it extremely disrespectful if Buddha is depicted inappropriately in any way, shape, or form.
To preserve the sanctity of the Buddha Dharma, it is advisable to follow these tips with regard imagery of the Buddha and usage of the term Buddha.
- Do not wear clothing with Buddha or Buddhist imagery on it; it is considered disrespectful in Theravada countries, and is illegal in Myanmar.
- Do not get tattoos of Buddha or Buddhist imagery; it is considered disrespectful in Theravada countries, and is illegal in Myanmar and Sri Lanka. However, it acceptable to have a Buddha or Buddha themed tattoo on the upper part of the torso in Vajrayana countries.
- Do not depict Buddha in an inappropriate fashion; in 2004, the poster of the movie "Hollywood Buddha" sparked global controversy for depicting a man sitting on the head of a Buddha statue.
- Do not use Buddha's name inappropriately or in a disrespectful way. You most certainly should not name your pet "Buddha" and you most certainly should not name your establishment after Buddha. Doing so can be considered demeaning to the Buddha and his teachings.
- Never put a Buddha statue in your bathroom or in a bar; neither should one be placed on the floor or with mundane objects above it. Buddhists consider this disrespectful.
- Regularly clean your Buddha statue; not doing so is disrespectful.
- Never pose for images with your back faced to a Buddha statue; it is very disrespectful. However, taking photographs of Buddha statues is fine unless there is a sign prohibiting it.
- Consider positioning your Buddha statue in such a way that it faces the front door of your house; in some Buddhist cultures this is considered propitious.
Theravada Buddhist monks are forbidden from having any physical contact with the opposite sex. Women who wish to offer food to a monk should either place it on a piece of cloth the monk will place on the ground to pick up the food, or hand it to a layman accompanying the monk who will pass it on to the monk. With the exception of those in Japan, who are allowed to get married, monks of either tradition are required to abstain from any form of sexual activity.