The Buddhist Place of Worship

Buddhist temple, LaosWorship in Buddhism takes different forms. Some have devotion to Buddha and to Bodhisattvas. Worshippers may sit on the floor barefoot facing an image of Buddha and chanting, perhaps chanting mantras. They will listen to monks chanting from religious texts, perhaps accompanied by instruments, and take part in prayers. A Buddhist temple or Buddhist monastery, is the place of worship for Buddhists, the followers of Buddhism. They include the structures called vihara, chaitya, stupa, wat and pagoda in different regions and languages. Temples in Buddhism represent the pure land or pure environment of a Buddha.

Over the last few years we have been able to speak to some people from different faith communities. We have also had the opportunity to ask these people questions from pupils. The following resource provides individual responses from adherents of many faith traditions about places of worship. They are personal responses, and are therefore examples of the lived experience within these traditions.

We hope over time to include different personal responses from within these traditions to illustrate the diversity of views. We hope this resource will be particularly helpful to those whose school is located in an area where there a few examples of different places of worship.

Buddhist Place of 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.
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.

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).

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.


 The Shwedagon Pagoda (or Golden Pagoda) in Yangon,
The Shwedagon Pagoda (or Golden Pagoda) in Yangon, is the holiest Buddhist shrine in Burma. The origins of Shwedagon are lost in antiquity but it is estimated that the Pagoda was first built by the Mon during the Bagan period, sometime between the 6th and 10th century AD. The temple complex is full of glittering, colorful stupas but the center of attention is the 99 meter high (326 feet) high main stupa that is completely covered in gold.

Buddhist temple, Toronto
Buddhist temple, Toronto, Canada