Places of worship – Buddhist

The following questions were asked by pupils. Click on each question to see the answer.

Where do Buddhists go to worship?

Buddhists can practice their faith individually or as part of a group/community. So, you can expect to find Buddhists worshipping at home or for example at their local temple or Buddhist centre. In Buddhist countries, or where Buddhism plays an important part of community life, you will find a range of purpose-built places for worship and quite a variety of types of worship. Here you might like to think of Sri Lanka, Thailand, Japan and Tibet. In the UK you will find that Buddhist groups may have taken over buildings that had other purposes for example Jamyang Buddhist Centre in Kennington London (Tibetan Mahayana group see Or you might find them attending a purpose-built place such as the Buddhapadipa Temple in Wimbledon (Thai Theravada group see, London.

What are Buddhist Temples like?

If we are thinking about Buddhist temples and centres, they can vary in design according to the culture, community and Buddhist tradition they support. They are often at the heart of those communities, and provide space for study, meditation and worship. They are also places where Buddhists can gather socially.

Some consist of just one building (an individual temple) while the larger ones consist of a number of different buildings grouped together on one site. An individual temple can be designed to symbolise what Buddhists traditionally consider to be the five Buddhist elements of earth, water, fire, air and wisdom. The square base of the temple symbolises the earth, then the building extends upwards with different segments stacked on top of each other to represent the other elements. These reach upwards to a point or spire that symbolises wisdom.

What is inside a temple?

This may depend, but you can usually find the following:

  • A main worship hall or building, where Buddhists worship together; this will contain an altar and a statue of the Buddha (Mahayana temples may also include statues of various Bodhisattvas-beings like Shakyamuni who remembered their former lives and/or those beings destined to be a Buddha. In either case they have made a promise to enable all beings to achieve enlightenment and free them from suffering).
  • A meditation hall or building (gompa), which is a quiet space where Buddhists can meditate.
  • A hall or room for study, meetings or lectures.
  • A shrine or number of shrines dedicated to the Buddha (or, in Mahayana temples, to a Bodhisattva).
Do temples have Shrines?

A Buddhist place for worship (whether it is in a temple or dharma centre or an individual place of worship, will have a shrine. The focus of this will be a statue of the Buddha (a rupa), usually sitting cross-legged in a meditation pose. In Mahayana Buddhism, generally, the focus is a statue of a Bodhisattva as well as the Buddha. Buddhists will also make offerings at a shrine. This is done as a way of paying respect and thanks to the Buddha because of his teachings. The offerings also remind Buddhists of the Buddha’s teachings, as they symbolise different aspects of them.
For example:

  • An offering of light (such as a candle) this symbolises wisdom. The light of the candle drives away the darkness of ignorance.
  • An offering of flowers (which will wilt and decay) reminds Buddhists that all things are impermanent.
  • An offering of water symbolises purity and clarity of thought, which is important for meditation to be effective.

Dedicating time and effort is required to keep the shrine clean. Water offerings are regularly replaced, as are the offerings of light and flowers. Offerings are considered a respectful and skilful activity to focus one’s mind in the spiritual practices to be undertaken. For example, pouring the water into the bowls has to be done carefully so that it is not spilt. Other offerings may include fruit, cakes, biscuits and sweets. I tend to buy things I particularly like – such as Belgian chocolate. When offered it is a reminder not to get attached to such things! When the offerings are ‘taken down’, the I give the chocolates to anyone visiting me! Yes, that does include, for example, the person who cuts my lawn and my neighbours.