Everything You Need to Know Before Visiting a Buddhist Temple in Southeast Asia

Buddhist temples are a huge part of the religious landscape of Southeast Asia. So you’re obviously going to visit a few during your trip through the area. But there are a few things to keep in mind before you visit a Buddhist temple to make sure you’re being as respectful as possible:

Show respect

When visiting any place of worship, it’s of the utmost importance to show respect. Remove your hat, lower your voice, take off your headphones and avoid PDA in general. At a Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia, you will also have to remove your shoes before entering.

Cover yourself

Both men and women must be mindful when it comes to what they wear in a Buddhist temple. Yes, we know Southeast Asia can get unbearably hot. But a Buddhist temple is still a place of worship, so make sure shoulders and knees are covered.

buddhist temple asia photo
Photo by Lemmo2009

Respect the Buddha statues

The Buddha statues are the highlight of any Buddhist temple. Don’t climb, touch or pose to take photos with Buddha statues. You can usually take photos of the statues themselves, unless it’s otherwise stated at the temple.

Don’t point

Pointing in general is considered rude in Southeast Asian cultures, but it is particularly disrespectful when you’re visiting a Buddhist temple. Generally, avoid pointing at anything (with your hands or feet) but especially avoid pointing at Buddha statues, monks and nuns.

buddha statue photo
Photo by Mijan Rashid

Watch your feet

On that note, watch what you do with your feet as well. Besides taking off your shoes and not pointing at anything, in a Buddhist temple you also have to pay attention to how you arrange your feet when sitting down. Always sit in a way that ensures your feet aren’t pointing at anything. The best way to do this is by sitting with your feet tucked under you.

Stand up

That being said, if you happen to be sitting down in a worship area and monks or nuns by, stand up to show your respect. Wait until they have finished their prostrations before sitting down again.

buddhist monks photo
Photo by suc (Pixabay)

Bow before a monk

Sometimes, you might be visiting a Buddhist temple hoping to interact with local monks and learn more about Buddhism. Before interacting with monks, keep a couple of things in mind. If a friendly monk catches your glance whilst roaming the temple, walk up to him and bow your head to show respect. This greeting involves joining your hands in front of your face with your thumbs just below the nose, and bowing your head so that your forehead reaches your forefingers. If the monk you wish to approach is sitting down, sit down next to him before bowing and addressing him.

Avoid eating

Buddhist monks and nuns don’t eat after noon. So, if you want to go the extra mile in showing your respect when visiting a Buddhist temple, avoid eating during your visit.

buddhist monks photo
Photo by Neha & Chittaranjan Desai

For women: avoid touching the monks

Women have some extra rules to follow when visiting a Buddhist temple. Avoid touching the monks at all costs – even accidentally. When monks touch a woman, they must fast and perform a cleansing ritual. If you are a woman and want to hand a monk something (like a small donation or gift), you must hand it to a man first so he may pass it on to the monk.

Consider a small donation

Almost every temple has a small metal box at the exit for donations. These are usually what keep temples up and running (albeit on a very thin budget). If you enjoyed your visit to a Buddhist temple, consider making a small donation. A typical donation is $1 USD or less.

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