Happy Birthday Buddha!


Solid Gold Buddha, Wat Traimit, Thailand

Today (May 17) is Buddha’s birthday! And so I thought it’d be the perfect occasion to share some tidbits I’ve learned going to Buddhist temples over the last several months.  Here’s the inside scoop on how to behave, what to wear, and when to go.

How to Behave

There are a couple of big rules, like:

  • Always take off your shoes before entering
  • Never point your feet towards the Buddha
  • Women may never touch a monk (even a monk’s mother can’t touch her son once he becomes a monk).
  • Quiet is the order of the day

Worshippers can make offerings to the Buddha, including:

  • A lotus flower
  • 3 sticks of lit incense (given while placed between palms and bowing three times)
  • Pieces of gold leaf (you can then take a bit of the gold leaf and place on your forehead – although I hear this isn’t really a Buddhist practice even though it takes place in the temple – but more of a Thai superstition)
  • Live gold fish and eels (released into ponds outside the temple)
  • Small birds (released into the air)
  • Cash (donation boxes are quite evident throughout all temples)

What to Wear

Think “modesty” here:

  • Since you take off your shoes before entering, slip-on shoes or flip flops are easiest
  • Women should cover shoulders and knees (sometimes sarongs are supplied)
  • Remove your hat

When to Go

Monks chant twice a day – at around 5:00 am and 5:00 pm.  Usually the chanting lasts about half an hour. I went to hear the chanting in Luang Prabang, Laos and it is lovely to listen to, especially at sunset.

Young monks can be ordained at any time of the day. If five “master” monks – those that are qualified to teach – vote for you, you (if you’re a man and at least 20 years old) can become a monk. You may be lucky enough to witness an ordination during one of your visits.

Another time to visit a temple is on Buddha’s birthday!  This is a great celebration and some of the temples in Bangkok are expecting more than 20,000 Buddhists to come. In preparation, there are stands already set up outside the temples so worshippers can buy saffron robes (as gifts to the monks) and baskets of offerings to give on this special day.

Temple Etiquette

I hope this is a useful framework for respecting the Buddhist religion while visiting temples. The temple architecture and artwork, chanting and incense burning, and bright colors, all come together to create a rich and serene environment in which to enjoy the Buddhist traditions.

 So go forth and visit temples! Just be sure and leave your hat at home.

Interested in learning more? Check out my article on Travelated.com on Respecting the Buddhist Alms-Giving Ceremony.


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This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 17th, 2011 and is filed under Asia Pacific.

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