RS common test: places of worship


Places Of Worship - essential info

  • temple - place where Buddhists come together to practise - heart of Buddhist community
  • shrine - area with statue/image of Buddha/Bodhisattva - provides focal point for meditation + devotion
  • monastery - place where community of Buddhist monks/nuns live
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Buddhist Temples

Temple - centre of religious life - study, meditation + practise.

In a temple there is usually: 

  • A main hall - where Buddhists practice together. Contains Buddha rupa (statue)
  •  meditation hall - quiet space for meditation
  • study hall - meetings + lectures
  • shrine - dedicated to Buddha
  • stupa - tower
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Buddhist shrines


  • can be found - temple/monastery/home
  • provide a focal point for Buddhists to meditate + express devotion
  • make offerings at shrines - show gratitude - Buddha's teachings 
  • offerings can act - reminders of Buddha's teachings. For example:

Candle - light symbolises Buddha, wisdom + enlightenment - drive away darkness of ignorance

flowers - wilt + decay, remind Buddhist - all things impermanent

incense - symbolises purity, reminds Buddhists importance of practising pure thoughts, speech + behaviour

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Buddhist monasteries

  • Monasteryplace where Buddhist monks/nuns live simple life.
  • some monastries like small villages - house lot of people
  • stupa - important part of monastery 
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How Buddhists worship - Essential info

Worship (puja) expresses gratitude + respect for Buddha + teachings

Chanting - type of worship involves reciting from Buddhist scriptures

Buddhists may chant mantras 

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Buddhist worship

Buddha - usually focus of worship. worship helps Buddhists to:

  • Express gratitude towards Buddha + acceptance of teachings
  • deepen understanding of Buddha's teachings 
  • move closer to Buddha + what he symbolises

Type of worship:

  • private worship in home 
  • bowing 
  • reciting mantras
  • rituals + ceremonies in groups
  • meditation 
  • making offerings
  • chanting sacred texts
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  • early days of Buddhism - sacred texts - remembered + taught orally - not  written down
  • Chanting was used to memorise + pass on teachings + texts.
  • chanting - devotional practice - thought to increase receptivity towards Buddha + teachings 
  • also helps calm + focus mind - concentration
  • Eg. 3 refuges, 5 moral precepts, Bodhisattva vows
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  • Mantra - sequence of sacred syllables chanted out loud/silently 
  • mantras help to concentrate the mind + function form of meditation
  • some believe mantras have magical powers 
  • often associated w spiritual qualities of a Buddha/Bodhisattva
  • Eg. Om mani padme hum is common mantra - Tibetan Buddhists - associated with Bodhisattva who represents compassion. Chanting this helps Buddhists connect with quality of compassion
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Meditation is a practice of calming + focusing the mind + reflecting deeply on specific teachings to deveop insight into nature of reality

samatha meditation - type of meditation involves calming mind + developing deeper concentration. Important - Theravada Buddhism - preparation for vipassana meditation.

Mindfulness of breathing - popular technique - samatha meditation. Requires meditator 2 become aware of breathing + to focus attention on it  

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The practice of meditation

  • Meditationimportant practice in most Buddhist traditions
  • Range of meditation techniques that help Buddhists to develop samatha (calm) and vipassana (insight)
  • Meditating often begins w mindfulness of body + breath 
  • Objects may be used as focus of concentration - pic of Buddha etc
  • "Even the gods envy those awakened and mindful onese who are intent on meditation" - Buddha in the Dhammapada
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Samatha meditation

In samatha meditation - breath can be used to become more 'mindful'. Mindfulness is quality of attention + awareness 

  • breath used as focus for attention + how body responds to each breath
  • aim is to become aware of details of breathing + tiny movements in body 
  • when someone finds mind wandering during meditation - bring attention back to their breathing 
  • become more able to concentrate + focus on breath
  • leads them to feel more present + aware 
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Kasinas in samatha meditation

  • Instead of focusing on breathing - meditator could focus on kasinas
  • 10 kasinas. include elements such as - earth, water + fire, + colours such as blue, red + yellow 
  • Eg. focus on bowl of water/red circle 
  • object gives something to focus on 
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The purpose of samatha meditation

  • Focusing on single object creates calm + tranquil mind 
  • also helps develop concentration + focus 
  • acts as preparation for vipassana meditation 
  • samatha meditation can help Buddhists to feel happier + more alive 

"Do not encumber your mind with useless thoughts [...] remain in the simplicity of the present moment." - Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche 

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Vipassana meditation

vippasana meditation - type of meditation that involves developing understanding of nature of reality. Second main type of meditation in Theravada Buddhism

Often called 'insight meditation' - aim is 2 penetrate + gain insight into true nature of reality. Usually consists of reflecting on 3 marks of existence 

  • meditator may change focus between range of different objects, emotions, experiences etc
  • Eg a feeling of annoyance, own body, sound of falling rain 
  • aim of focusing object is to understand true nature + how its characterised by 3 marks of existence 
  • Eg meditator contemplates how breath shows characteristics 3 marks of existence
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Main aims of vipassana meditation

The main aims are to:

  • understand how all things are characterised by 3 marks of existence
  • develop greater wisdom + awareness about world 
  • ultimately achieve enlightenment 
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Zazen meditation

Zazen means 'seated meditation'

  • practised in Zen Buddhism
  • leads to deeper understanding of nature of existence
  • generally begins with sitting, relaxing + a period of mindfulness of breathing 
  • meditator then sits with awareness of the present moment 
  • thoughts + experiences come + go + meditator returns again + again to present moment 
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walking meditation

Meditation often practised sitting on floor - cross legged

  • However, also possible to meditate whilst walking - as part of samatha/vipassana meditation
  • consists of walking slowly + combining movement of feet with in + out of breath 

"your objective is to attain total alertness, heightened sensitivity + a full unblocked experience of the motion of walking." - Henepola Gunarantana

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essential info: Visualisation of Buddhas + Bodhisa

  • Visualisation of Buddhas + Bodhisattvas - used in Mahayana Buddhism - part of meditation 
  • Buddhists may use Thangkas (painting of deity) or mandalas (symbolic picture of the universe can be created in sand/painted etc)
  • These practices allow Buddhists to connect with the spiritual qualities of a Buddha/Bodhisattva
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what is visualisation?

  • The meditator visualises an object in their mind 
  • may first use an image for inspiration then visualise it 
  • they try to imagine object in great detail, examining all qualities + characteristics of it 
  • object functions as a focus of concentration - meditator will try to hold detailed picture of object in mind for as long as possible
  • object may also connect with spiritual qualities 

Deity visualisation:

  • when meditate - Tibetan Buddhists visualise deity
  • focuses not just on visual features but spiritual qualities 
  • may imagine themselves as that deity in order to absorb spiritual qualities 
  • may also help awaken their Buddhist nature 
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essential info: death + mourning ceremonies + ritu

  • Buddhist tradition teaches - when a Buddhhist dies, their kammic energy leaves their body and is reborn in a new one 
  • death not seen as an end but a transition between one life and the next
  • funeral practices vary between different Buddhist traditions + countries 
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Theravada funerals

  • little money usually spent on funerals 
  • instead - family + friends may donate to a worthy cause + transfer merit to deceased
  • Rituals that transfer merit to deceased may be performed by family members or other mourners. Eg. may offer cloth to make new robes to a monastery - behalf of dead
  • at funeral itself, following may happen:
  • shrine may display deceased's portrait, along with an image of the Buddha + offerings to Buddha 
  • monks often attend funerals of lay people + perform rituals or give sermon 
  • deceased may be cremated/buried - cremation - traditional + more common
  • all mourners send good thoughts to family + contemplate impermanence  
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funerals in Tibet

  • sky burial - traditional funeral practice - Tibet. Body left in a high place - gift to vultures 
  • tradition arose due to lack of wood for cremation + problems with frozen ground for burial
  • NOW more common to burn body 
  • revered teachers - always cremated + remains placed in stupa - become a site of worship
  • ceremonies involving prayers + offerings of yak-butter lamps may be made every 7 days for 49 days after death 
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funerals in Japan

  • In Japanese Pure land Buddhism - coffin may be placed with head pointing West, towards direction of Sukhavati. Those assembled chant Amitabha's name - process around the coffin
  • common across all Japaneses traditions - relatives to gather after cremation + pick out the bones from ashes, using chopsticks 
  • As in Tibet, these remains may be kept for 49 days + prayers offered every 7th day
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essential info: Festivals in Buddhism

  • Festivals allow Buddhists to celebrate important events in history, while retreats provide an opportunity for intensive practice 
  • Wesak is a Theravada festival that celebrates the Buddha's birth, enlightenment + passing away
  • Parinirvana Day - Mahayana festival - commemorates Buddha's passing away
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festivals + retreats

Buddhist festivals:

  • an opportunity to meet + practise together
  • some are specific to certain traditions/couuntries 
  • most major festivals celebrate events in Buddha's life 
  • some concerned with other Buddhist figures (such as Bodhisattvas)
  • a day/period of celebration for religious reasons 
  • opportunity to remember + celebrate Buddha's life + teachings 

Buddhist retreats:

  • may involve meditation, talks + study groups, workshops + rituals 
  • aim to help people deepen understanding of Buddhist practice
  • held in monastries/Buddhist centres
  • period of time spent awat from regular life - focus on Buddhist teachings
  • 1 example - vassa: annual retreat when Theravada monks dedicate more time to meditation + study
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Significance + meaning:

  • commemorates 3 major events in Buddha's life: his birth, enlightenment + passing away 
  • opportunity to honour + remember Buddha + teachings
  • light used during festival - symbolise hope, enlightenment + overcoming ignorance 


celebrations vary from one country to the next, but Buddhists may:

  • light up homes w candles, lamps/lanterns
  • make offerings to Buddha + give gifts to local monastery 
  • attend local temple/monastery to take part in worship/meditation/listen to sermons on the Buddha's teachings + life
  • take part in ceremonies where caged animals released - symbol of liberation
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Parinirvana day

Significance + meaning:

  • celebrated during February to remember Buddha's passing into Parinirvana (final state of nibbana)
  • solemn occasion when Buddhists reflect on own future death + remember friends/relatives who have recently passed
  • Buddhist teaching of impermanence - focus for the day


  • read + study Mahaparinirvana Sutra (Buddhist scripture that describes Buddha's last days)
  • meditate + worship at home/with others in a temple/monastery
  • go on retreat to reflect + meditate/go on a pilgrimage: many Buddhists visit Kushinagar in india - where Buddha believed to hav passed
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