Buddhist places of worship
Although they respect and look up to the Buddha, they do not believe he was a god but they worship him as a form of respect. By doing this they show reverence and devotion to the Buddha and to bodhisattas.
Buddhists believe in karma or 'intentional action'. Worship helps Buddhists to transform their minds through positive action so that they can escape the cycle of birth, death and rebirth, known as samsara and gain enlightenment.
Temples are centres for study and worship for the whole community. Worship in the temple includes chanting the Three Refuges and Precepts and the scriptures, giving offerings in front of an image of the Buddha, lighting candles, burning incense, meditating and listening to sermons.
The most important part of a Buddhist temple is the shrine room, which contains one or more Buddharupas. Any place where an image of the Buddha is used in worship is known as a shrine, and many Buddhists also have shrines at home.
Before entering the shrine room, people take off their shoes as a sign of respect and also to keep the shrine room floor clean. They also dress modestly, often in white in Theravada countries. They bow in front of the Buddharupa, and sit with their feet tucked under, as it is rude to point the soles of one's feet towards someone. Worship usually begins with reciting the Three Refuges.
Traditionally in Theravada Buddhism, the laity were not expected to meditate or know the scriptures. That was the job of the monks and nuns in the Sangha. The laity gain merit by supporting the Sangha and living a life of reverence and devotion which they express through worship and ethical living.
Another feature of worship involves visiting stupas. While there, Buddhists often circumambulate the stupa, reciting a mantra or a prayer, and concentrate on the importance of the Buddha for their lives.
Burning incense Represents devotion and fills the room with sweet fragrance, as the Buddha's teaching has spread throughout the world Bowls of water/offering bowls for food and gifts Show that the Buddha is treated as an honoured guest and express reverence and respect
Mahayana Buddhists use mala beads to help them keep count of the repetitions of mantras. Tibetan Buddhists, in particular, use prayer wheels containing prayers and mantras. These are turned while chanting and it is believed that the prayer or mantra is repeated each time the wheel turns. Prayers are also written on flags and hung up on a line. Buddhists believe the prayer is repeated every time the wind blows.
Attitudes to public worship
Most Buddhists think that private worship can be as important as formal public worship. However, most Buddhists participate in forms of public worship, usually at a temple. Public worship brings Buddhists together as a community, helps them learn more about the scriptures and develops their practice of meditation. Also being in the company of other happy people is uplifting and beneficial.
Worship in the home Lay people often have a shrine room in their home that contains an image of the Buddha, candles, flowers, an incense burner and food offerings. Forms of worship vary, but many Buddhists begin and end each day reciting the Three Refuges and the Five Precepts.
Buddhists follow the Buddha's example and practise meditation. Meditation helps clear the mind so that negative thoughts of anger or hatred can be replaced with positive ones of loving-kindness and peace.
By meditating often, Buddhists hope to develop insight and wisdom so that they can see the true nature of things. There are different forms and aims of meditation. Two major categories of meditation are samatha and vipassana:
samatha or calming meditation – this kind of meditation helps to calm the mind by focusing on one object, feeling or idea vipassana or insight meditation – this kind of meditation helps to see the truth about reality and develop the wisdom that leads to enlightmenment
Some meditations you may hear about:
Walking meditation provides a contrast to sitting still. Walking barefoot, concentrating on the way the foot touches the ground, coordinating your breathing and walking, and keeping your eyes focused a short way in front without distraction can bring about mindfulness and calm.
The aim of some meditation is to achieve Right Mindfulness, one of the steps of the Noble Eightfold Path. It is a way of developing calmness, insight and compassion. Its ultimate aim is to achieve the wisdom that leads to enlightenment.