Worship

Meditation

Meditation is essential for Buddhists. It helps them to grow their wisdom, compassion and deep understanding, which are essential to achieving enlightenment.

Bodh Gaya, a religious site where Buddhist monks seek enlightenment

Chanting

Chanting is used as preparation for meditation or as part of meditation itself. Buddhists chant alone or together. If together, they chant in unison. Chanting is not like hymns sung to worship God (for example, in the Christian faith). It helps Buddhists to enter into a calm, meditative state on their own path towards enlightenment.

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Chanting prepares the mind for meditation and keeps Buddhists focused.

Mantras

Mantras are phrases that are chanted. ‘Mantra’ is an ancient Sanskrit word meaning ‘instrument of thought’. Mantras were used in Hinduism before Buddhism existed, and they are present in many Eastern faiths.

The different Buddhist traditions all have their own mantras. One of the most well-known mantras is om mani padme hum, which is associated with Tibetan Buddhism. This mantra expresses hope of wisdom and compassion. A mantra prepares the mind for meditation or evokes the calm wisdom of enlightenment.

Buddhists use malas, or prayer beads, to keep count when repeatedly chanting a mantra. A mantra may be chanted hundreds of times. Malas are also used to count breaths during meditation. Buddhists move their fingers along the beads in order to focus on chanting, breathing or meditating rather than counting.

Tibetan malas are 108 beads long. The Buddha taught that humans are afflicted by 108 desires. In Japan, malas might also have 108 beads. Alternatively, they might be shorter and be made up of two rings – one to count single recitations, the other to count full recitations of a set.

Puja

The word puja, meaning ‘worship’ or ‘adoration’, originally came from the Hindu culture of the Buddha’s childhood. Although the same word is used in Buddhism, it does not refer to worship in the sense of honouring a god or gods. Instead, it is a sign of commitment to the Buddhist path, the Dhamma, or to a Buddha or Bodhisattva. Buddhist puja can be performed at a shrine in the Buddhist’s home, in a temple or monastery, at a stupa or at a site of pilgrimage.

Offerings

During puja, Buddhists make several offerings:

  • Food offerings are often made during puja. This shows respect to the Buddha by treating him as an honoured guest.
  • Flowers are used to represent impermanence because they will wilt and die. One flower symbolises unity and three flowers symbolise the Three Jewels (also called the Triratna).
  • Lit candles represent enlightenment.
  • Incense is burned and this fills the room with a sweet smell. It represents the spread of the Buddha’s teachings.
  • Dana is a donation made to monks and nuns, given freely with no expectation of reward. It means ‘generosity’. Developing dana is one of the Six Perfections – dana paramita.
Question

What is a mantra?

A word or phrase that is chanted.