This article consists of a basic introduction to Buddhism. Its purpose is to educate non-believers on the dos and don’ts while visiting Buddhist holy sites.
Buddhism is one of the major religions in Asia and the fourth largest religion in the world, with a total of 376 million followers. Its origins can be traced back to in between 6th to 5th BCE, and the Buddhist year for 2018 is the year 2561.
As one of the oldest religion in the world, Buddhism has shown a strong ability to adapt itself to different conditions and local ideas, while maintaining its core teachings mainly thanks to its tolerant spirit.
Look into Asia and you will see the strong influence of Buddhism in lifestyle, spirituality, arts, lore, social institutions, mythology, and etc..
Buddhism was initiated by Prince Siddharta Gautama of India, who is now known as Buddha. Gautama was born in Lumbini (5th century BCE) and grew up in Kapilavasthu, near the Nepal-India border.
Unlike most religions, Buddhism has a clear account of its origins and history. According to the Buddhist sutras, Gautama was deeply impacted by the innate suffering of humanity and its endless repetition due to rebirth. Gautama first studied Veda (Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism), particularly the concept of “nothingness, emptiness”.
After all the Vedic teachings, Gautama rejected his teachings as he found it to be insufficient and became the leader of Sramanas (a sect of wanderer ascetics) in India, which was later known as Sangha. The Vedic religion was founded almost a millennium before Gautama’s time and most of its principles were no longer relevant to the society that he was in. Gautama became one of the critics of the Vedic religion. Thus, he set out on a quest to end the repeated sufferings of humans.
Gautama faced many ups and downs in his pursuit of enlightenment. Seeking many ways but dissatisfied with the answers he had found, he turned to the practice of dhyana (meditation).
One fine day, he sat under the Bodhi tree in the town of Bodh Gaya in the Gangetic plains, near the now Nepal-India border, to meditate. From this meditation, he learned about karma (retribution), his former lives, and attained enlightenment. He discovered the Middle Way as the right path of spiritual practice to end dukkha (suffering) from rebirths in Samsara (the cycle of life, existence).
Buddhism is strongly practiced in:
- Sri Lanka
- Kalmykia, a republic within the Russian Federation (Tibetan Buddhism – sole Buddhist entity in Europe)
- South Korea
- Hong Kong
There are 3 main concepts in Buddhism or better known as the Three Jewels:
- Buddha — the fully enlightened one
- Dharma — teachings expounded by the Buddha
- Sangha — monastic order of Buddhism that practice the Dharma
3 Main schools of Buddhism:
- Theravada — widely seen in South East Asia and often seen as the truest form of Buddhist teachings
- Mahayana — widely practiced in East Asia. Chinese Mahayana is usually mixed with Taoism
- Vajrayana — Tibetan Buddhism which can also be found in Kalmykia, Russia
All Buddhists live by the Five Precepts which are:
- to abstain from taking life (murder of any living things including insects)
- to abstain from taking what is not given (steal, rob)
- to abstain from sensual misconduct (lust; pre-marital sex, pornography, molestation, rape)
- to abstain from false speech (lie, gossip)
- to abstain from intoxicants as tending to cloud the mind (drugs, alcohol, any form of addiction)
Buddhist monks live by the Ten Precepts which include the above five precepts and the other five below:
- to abstain from food after midday (from noon to dawn)
- to abstain from dancing, singing, and music (worldly entertainment other than books)
- to abstain from the use of garlands, perfumes, and personal adornment like jewellery
- to abstain from the use of luxurious beds and seats
- to abstain from accepting and holding money, gold or silver
Where else, the concept of Nirvana can be found in both Hinduism and Buddhism. It is defined as the place of perfect peace and happiness. Nirvana is said to be the highest state that a person can attain in life, which is a state of enlightenment where he or she is free from all desires and sufferings.
Dos and Don’ts while visiting Buddhist holy sites
Basic Dos when you visit a Buddhist temple:
- Remove your shoes, headphones, sunglasses, and hat before entering a shrine
- Lover your voice
- Wear modest clothes that cover your shoulder. Wear pants/skirts/dresses that are below knee length
- If interested to meditate in a temple, kindly wear a modest fully white garment
- Obtain permission prior to taking photos and adhere to the photography rules set by the temple — there are usually signs if it is not permitted
- Greet the monk you walk pass with respect by putting your palms placed together in a prayer-like gesture with a slight bow movement
- Donate or give freely — any amount is acceptable and these donations keep the temple running
- Use your right-hand every time you pass or hand a monk alms
- Step into the temple with your left foot. Step out with your right foot forward.
- Walk in a clockwise manner only
- Avoid sitting higher than a monk if you would like to interact with the monk
- Women are not to touch monks or even their robes (even by accident, the monk will have to fast for a month and go through a cleansing ritual)
- Never sit on elevated platforms near the Buddha statue nor be too close to its statue
- Do not act inappropriately (which includes doing Yoga poses in the shrine, kissing, hugging and kissing)
- No finger pointing at other worshippers or statues as it is considered utterly rude. If you would like to indicate something, hold your hand into a fist shape, palm facing upwards and indicate with your thumb.
- No climbing onto pagodas and stupas.
- For women who are menstruating, do not enter worshipping areas (In some cultures, women are still seen to be dirty during menstruation)
- No cracking jokes, impolite remarks, or be sarcastic
- Do not smoke, spit, chew gum, or snack while walking around