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365 Days For Travelers

Visiting the Temple — Basic Buddhism

7. Buddha

The Sanskrit word Buddha means “awakened one,” and refers to those who have awakened to the Dharma, the truth. A Buddha does not only refer to the historical figure. Any human being who is totally dedicated to serving others and completes the path to full awakening can become a Buddha; after all, Sakyamuni Buddha was a teacher, not a god. As Buddhism spread throughout India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central and East Asia, other Buddhas became part of the religion.

6. Bowing before the Buddha

What is the meaning of bowing? All Westerners are familiar with bowing. We have seen it in numerous movies and TV shows when the story originates in the Orient. We also have become used to seeing Asian government officials on the news bowing to one another and visitors to their countries. Further, as the West becomes more open to the culture, customs, and religions of the East, we often see people–clergy and laypersons–bowing to others. We know it is a form of respect and greeting. (Ina Denton)

To show respect to the Buddha for teaching the path to awakening, Buddhists often bow and or prostrate before Buddha images.

These gestures are not an act of worship but a way to develop humility, as well as to recognize our own potential to become awakened. Prostrating is also called “touching the Earth” because it humbles individuals and serves as a reminder that we are part of the Earth and a greater lineage. (Visiting a Buddhist Temple)

5. The Main Shrine

The Main Shrine, or Buddha Hall, is called the “Treasure Hall of the Great Hero,” and all temples, regardless of their size, will have a Main Shrine because it is the area where monastics perform services and practitioners chant sutras or offer reverence to the Buddha. The different images inside the hall may vary: Some Main Shrine depict just Sakyamuni Buddha, whereas others also include the Medicine Buddha and Amitabha Buddha. The Main Shrine might also have a depiction of the eighteen arhats or other Buddhist figures. The environment of the Main Shrine is maintained to have a dignified and tranquil atmosphere so individuals entering the hall feel a sense of admiration and devotion.

As the sacred center of the community, certain rules of etiquette apply in the Main Shrine.

Since the Buddha is the center of the religion, it is customary for Buddhist practitioners to visit the Main Shrine before any other part of the temple. Before entering, you should cover your shoulders and legs, and check to see if shoes should be removed and if photography is permitted. Show respect by removing hats, silencing phones, and keeping voices low. Eating and showing the bottoms of the feet towards Buddha or bodhisattva images is also considered impolite. Visitors should sit with feet flat on the floor or in a cross-legged meditation posture. (Adapted from FaXiang, published by FGSITC)

4. Monastic

Monastics can simply be addressed as “Venerable.” You can easily identify monastics by their shaved heads and long, ochre colored robes. Upon becoming ordained, monastics take many vows, including one to regularly shave their heads. According to the life story of the Buddha, upon departing his home to search for the end of suffering, one of the first things he did was shave his hair and exchange his ornate clothes for a simple robe; Buddhist monastics continue these practices to show their dedication to the Buddha’s path. Traditionally, robes were dyed to a saffron or ochre color from vegetable matter like roots and leaves. Often, a red clay was added to give the robe a slightly orange hue. Although vegetable dyes are rarely used today, the color was influential, and most traditions of Buddhism still use shades of color between red and brown for their robes.(Adapted from FaXiang, published by FGSITC)

3. Greeting

Joining palms and saying the Buddha’s name is how Buddhists express truth and goodness towards each other.

Many Buddhists greet each other with their hands joined together and placed at the center of the chest. This gesture symbolizes the lotus flower bud. The beautiful lotus flower grows out of the bottom of a pond, which is full of mud and decay. Because of their origin, lotus flowers are a symbol for awakening since a human being, although born in a world of pain and suffering, has the potential to go beyond and attain liberation. Lotus flowers can be found throughout temples. As a way to say hello, goodbye, or thank you, Buddhists often join palms and say, “Amituofo.” Amituofo is the Chinese pronunciation of Amitabha Buddha, meaning infinite life and infinite light. (Adapted from FaXiang, published by FGSITC)

2. Mountain Gate

There is a saying in Buddhism, that “Wealth enters the mountain gate and merit is credited to the generous benefactor.” The term “mountain gate” refers to the main entrance of a Buddhist temple, since many temples were once built in mountain forests.

The mountain gate represents a transition from the ordinary to the sagely, from ignorance to awakening, and from darkness to the light, symbolizing the entrance of the worldly into the Buddhist sphere. So they do not return empty handed, those who enter the mountain gate must leave their habitual tendencies at the door.

The mountain gate is also sometimes called the “triple gate,” as it represents the gate of faith, the gate of wisdom, and the gate of compassion. The gate of faith is entered by means of the Buddha, the gate of wisdom is entered by means of the Dharma, and the gate of compassion is entered by means of the Sangha. This is what it means to enter the Way by the Triple Gem. (Adapted from FaXiang, published by FGSITC)

1. Temple

A Buddhist temple forever remains the center of faith and a source of strength. A temple is a gathering place for good Dharma friends on the path together, a place to refuel on the road of life, and a vacation retreat for cultivating one’s spirit. It is a place of purity where we can wash away our affliction, bring ourselves close to the Dharma, and learn about compassion, wisdom, vows, and practice.

What's New?


Humble Table, Wise Fare


Recorded by Leann Moore         0:26

Digging a well when thirsty
     shows lack of forethought;
being conceited and rude
     leads to few helpful opportunities;
observing without moving forward
     increases shame and affliction;
having no sense of conscience brings
     misfortune upon a house.

Dharma Instruments

Venerable Master Hsing Yun grants voices to the objects of daily monastic life to tell their stories in this collection of first-person narratives.

Sutra of the Month

Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (Chi:Guanyin) has been a source of inspiration and devotion for Mahayana Buddhists and non-Buddhists in Asia for centuries.


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