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Buddhist Temples

Question:

Hello, I am a teenager who was raised a Catholic and now looks towards Buddhism. My question is, is there a specific day to go to temple? Much like the Christian Sunday masses? Also, can you please tell me what goes on at a temple? If I visit one, what goes on during a ceremony? Thank you for the podcasts and the daily emails- they’ve helped me understand a lot!

Answer:

Buddhist Sabbath Day:

From my own experience, most temples are open for services on Sunday. Here in the West, that’s probably just due to tradition; the majority of people are Christians and have always gone to church on Sunday, and that’s spilled over into Buddhism as well. I noticed the same thing while I was in Japan; most people went on Sunday morning. This may simply be because that’s when they have time off from work. There is no particular “Sabbath Day” in Buddhism.

What does a small Buddhist church/temple do?

I’ve been to some of the oldest temples in Japan, and things are quite different over there, but I assume you want to know about local American/Western temples and churches. So I’ll talk about the local Dayton area sangha:

Here in Dayton, Ohio, the only temple is a very small Tibetan place. On Saturday they offer beginning meditation lessons and on Sunday, they have regular services. They are closed the rest of the week unless they have something special planned.

  • On Sunday morning. people arrive and some do prostrations to the statues and pictures, while others just go sit on a cushion.
  • Then there is a short dharma discussion, led by a member of the sangha; there is no priest, monk, guru, or any kind of leader at this place. Although they regularly host guest teachers, they are mostly just a group of laypeople.
  • After the dharma talk, there is about 25 minutes of silent group meditation.
  • Then they read from a little booklet, The 37 Practices of Bodhisattvas and they read all 37 of them in unison which takes about ten minutes. Some people read from the little booklet, while others have memorized it.
  • After this, they do Green Tara, which is a form of chanting meditation. They recite in English and Tibetan. After several pages of simply reading the text, they come to a point where the Tibetan is ‚ÄúOm Tare Tutare Ture Svaha‚Äù which they repeatedly chant for nearly twenty minutes. I believe it’s 108 repetitions, once for every bead on a set of mala beads.
  • Then they pray for the Dalai Lama and the Rinpoche who originally set up the sangha years ago, and then they all go home.

And that’s pretty much it. They vary the Dharma talk every week, but it’s mostly something along those lines. That’s the local group here, although I suspect Tibetan groups do something pretty similar everywhere. Obviously, I have been to this temple, but I personally don’t embrace the Tibetan route. I prefer Zen, but that’s not really an option around here.

Perhaps others could describe what goes on in their local sanghas in the comment section.

7 comments to Buddhist Temples

  • Diane

    I’m a Vietnamese Buddhist and I can tell you every Vietnamese temple has their main ceremony on Sundays. But of course, in addition to the main ceremony, some temples may schedule their own meditation session or a lecture session that you get to learn more basics in Buddhism. Your best bet is simple to head to the temple on a Sunday morning and join the crowd, then find out further of their weekly schedule. Enjoy!

  • Jami

    I was rared in the Monotheistic traditions and my question is basic. It concerns iconography and the reason why Buddhist pray to idols.

    Arguably, Buddha himself was suspicious of being venerated. And it would be nice to know how contemporary Buddhist rationalise the practice.

    It is intriguing to see the Tibetans do their prostrations and in manner not unlike Orthodox Christians (whose influence on Islamic prayer worship has been remarked).

  • Jami: I’m going to address your question as the post of the day tomorrow. Everyone else, please hold off and post your answers to Jami’s question until tomorrow. Thanks!

  • Micah

    I went to a Zen (Korean tradition) service one time. They started off with about twenty minutes of chanting out of a book (most of it in Korean, although no one there spoke Korean). Then did some bowing. Then about twenty to twenty five minutes of meditation. Then about a ten minute dharma talk (where one of the members read out of a book).
    I recently found an online Zen sangha at treeleaf.org by Jundo Cohen
    On his blog dated Jan 24,2009, he has a video showing a simular service to the one I observed http://blog.beliefnet.com/treeleafzen/

    Micah

  • Diane

    I agree with the answer posted. Great quote. We don’t worship in a superstitious way, we bow to Buddha figure as respect and to remind ourselves of the enlightened being that led way for us to bring out the goods in ourselves.

  • Diane

    Another reason that we bow to the ground w/ our head touching the ground is so we can let go of our ego. Buddha does not ever ASK us to pay him respect to the point our head touches the ground, but it is an act that teaches/trains us to let go of our ego and not always place us on top or in front of others.

  • David

    Diane:

    Hey, i’m also a vietnamese buddhist. i’d like to discuss some things about the religious practices that I dont quite understand. Lets chat.

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