Places of worship

In Buddhism there is no single place of worship. This is because Buddhists can worship in the home or in the temple. Although Buddhists show devotion at home, they also use the temple as this is the heart of the community.

Different places of worship

Different Buddhist places of worship serve different purposes:

  • Temple – a building that allows many people to come together to learn, meditate, celebrate and offer devotion. A temple will contain a shrine and space for community activities.
  • Vihara – a monastery for monks or nuns who have decided to devote themselves to the Buddhist path. Members of the wider community support the vihara and earn positive karma. The vihara in return supports the members of the community in their spiritual growth.
  • Shrine – the site of a statue or image of the Buddha, either within a temple or vihara, or alone.
  • Stupa – a burial mound built to house relics of the Buddha or another important Buddhist teacher. People often walk around them while chanting to aid concentration.
  • Meditation hall – meditation is one of the most important aspects of Buddhism. It is essential for growing one’s understanding and developing a calm, Buddha-like mind. Whether at a temple or vihara, Buddhists require large spaces dedicated to calm and concentration.
Bodh Gaya, a religious site where Buddhist monks seek enlightenment

Buddha statues may be found in any of these places of worship. Statues or images of the Buddha are called Buddharupas. They show the Buddha in various poses and states. Buddhists do not worship the Buddha as a god, but respect and honour him as a role model and teacher.

Offerings

The different types of offerings Buddhists may give include:

  • Food offerings are made to show respect to the Buddha, as if he were an honoured guest.
  • Flowers, which will wilt and die, represent impermanence.
  • Lit candles represent enlightenment.
  • As incense fills the room with a sweet smell, it represents the spread of the Buddha’s teachings.
  • Dana is a donation made to Buddhist monks. Buddhists give it freely with no expectation of reward. Developing dana is one of the Six Perfectionsdana paramita (the perfection of generosity).

Buddhist places of worship in the UK and around the world

Both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism have a presence in the UK. Theravada Buddhism is commonly found in Sri Lanka and South East Asia. Theravada temples and viharas in the UK have been founded by monks and nuns from Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and Sri Lanka. These temples and viharas in the UK reflect the cultural and linguistic traditions of those other countries. They also reflect universal Buddhist teachings (eg the monks and nuns might wear white clothes).

Mahayana Buddhism is commonly found in the regions north of Buddha’s birthplace in Nepal – Tibet, China, Japan and Korea. Mahayana Buddhists often show devotion to Bodhisattvas as well as the Buddha. The Kadampa school of Mahayana Buddhism, which has temples, meditation halls and teaching centres all over the UK, was founded by a Tibetan monk named Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.

In Britain, it is more common to find Buddhist centres in buildings that resemble community halls than in temples and viharas with typical Buddhist features. However, there are some examples of more traditional Buddhist buildings.

Conishead Priory in Ulverston is an example of Buddhist temple found in the UK
Question

What is a stupa?

A stupa is a burial mound built to house relics of the Buddha or another important figure.