Buddhist temple Van Vieng LausBuddhists pray not to a god but to within themselves. They seek enlightenment.

Places of Worship

Buddhists will often worship daily at home alone or in a group. This will be before a shrine containing an image of Buddha or a bodhisattva, usually with a candle or incense.

Many visit Monasteries or Temples, especially on full moon days and festivals, to chant or make offerings and to listen to talks by monks.

Pilgrimages are popular. There are four main centres:

1. Lumbini, where Buddha was born
2. Bodhgayar, where he gained enlightenment
3. Sarnath where he preached his first sermon and set in motion the wheel of law.
4. Kushinagara, where he died and was cremated. There are other sites such as Dharasala ,the home of the Dalai Lama.
Pilgrimages are often lively joyful occasions with music and dancing. They remind people that they too can be enlightened and help them think about Buddha’s teachings. Bells are rung during ceremonies, they represent wisdom.

Forms of Worship

ruins of a Buddhist shrine in ThialandWhether he is before a shrine, in his home or in the Shrine Room of a Temple a Buddhist will recite the 3 jewels and the 5 precepts to renew his commitment to Buddhism.

People will remove their shoes before entering a Temple. In the Shrine Room in front of an image of Buddha they will usually bow three times with their hands together in greeting. Each bow stands for the three jewels, Buddha, dharma and sangha. They may light a candle or an incense stick, which are symbols of his enlightenment and make offerings of flowers or food, as a sign of thankfulness and respect. In addition to reciting the jewels and the precepts a Buddhist may pray, meditate or chant. Some will circle holy places in a clockwise direction. Again this is symbolic. Buddha’s followers circle him in the same way that the planets circle the sun

Tibetan Buddhists pray in a special way. They believe that if some sounds ( Mantras) are repeated they can open up the mind. The words “Om mani padme hum” (meaning the truth at the heart of teaching or praise to the jewel in the lotus.) are repeated by ordinary Buddhists as much in the streets as they go about their daily lives as in Monastries and Temples These words are frequently inscribed on prayer wheels or written on banners. In Japan the word Amida is often repeated in prayer. Amida was also a Buddha.

Prayer flags and wheels are other unusual forms of prayer. A prayer wheel is a cylinder. These range from ones which can be held in the hand to large drums outside holy places. Inside is a paper scroll on which thousands of prayers are written. Prayers will also be written on flags that will be placed out in the breeze. Buddhists believe that each flutter of the flag and turn of the wheel signifies a prayer.

There are many Buddhist festivals Most occur on full moon days and the most important celebrate important moments in Buddha’s life. In May/ June Buddhists celebrate Buddha Jayanti, Wesak or Vesak The main festival is the ‘Thrice Blessed Day’ when the Buddha was born, reached enlightenment and died.