Buddhism: Sacred Spaces and Places

Sacred Spaces

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. 

Sacred Places

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 Dalai Lama.

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.