Although worshipping in a temple is not essential for worship, Buddhists do
visit shrines and temples to pay their respects to Buddha and to meditate
with other Buddhists. Going to a worship space is not essential because
Buddhism is a way of life, a way to act all of the time. Some Buddhists also
have shrines in their homes, allowing practitioners to pray at the most
convenient times for them.
Buddhist shrines and temples take many different forms depending on where
they are built. The first Buddhist shrines were ten dome-shaped mounds, or
studpas, which were built to hold Buddha's ashes. Then more stupas were built
to hold sacred items. Some stupas are bell-shaped. Visitors walk around the
stupas as a way of paying their respects to the Buddha. In Japan and China,
Buddhists built pagodas as sacred temples. These are towers with various
numbers of tiers, usually five. The five tiers represent the five basic
elements of the Universe -- earth, water, fire, wind, and emptiness. The
height represents reaching out of the physical world towards wisdom.
Buddhists go on pilgrimages to places associated with Buddha's life.
These places include his birthplace, Lumbini Grove, the place of enlightenment,
Bodh Gaya, the place of his first sermon, Sarnarth, and the place he died,
Kusinara. In addition there are other sacred places, special to the various
branches of Buddhism. For example, since the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader
of Tibetan Buddhism, was exiled from Tibet when the Chinese army invaded in
1959, he has been livng in Dharamsala, India. This has become a special place
for his followers who go there to study and hope for an audience with the
Some Buddhists want to practice Buddhism more strictly and with less
distraction. These monks and nuns form communities and live in monasteries. A
religious community of Buddhists is called a Sangha. In some countries, young
boys and girls spend part of their education living as monks. Buddhists use
monasteries as places of refuge for meditation and to refocus on a simpler,
less worldly life. Monasteries are important places to Buddhists.