Buddhist Temples: A cross cultural comparison of sacred spaces in Asia.
“Wherever you live is your temple, if you treat it like one.”-Budhha
Aim: Temples play a significant role in Buddhism. The purpose of this page is to demonstrate how Buddhist practitioners utilize scared spaces in Asia. More specifically, this page will illuminate the similarities and differences of Buddhist temples within specific countries. To do this, we will briefly trace the historical transmission of Buddhism across Asia emphasizing both ancient and modern cultural practices associated with Buddhist temples.
History of Buddhism
Buddhism was developed during the 5th century BC in Nepal. this development began with the birth of Buddha, also known as Siddhartha Gautama. Following the religions development it began to spread from Nepal into the rest of Asia eventually reaching the East, South and Central parts of the Asian continent. Today, Buddhism is a renowned religion with an abundance of followers practicing its teachings world wide. however, as the religion moved from one country to another its teachings and practices began to change. Each culture that eventually adapted Buddhism altered some part of the Buddhist teachings, practices, or both to match what that culture already knew, understood and practiced.
Buddhist Temples as Sacred Spaces
When considering Buddhist temples through the conceptual lens of “sacred space”, Michael Walsh, of Vassar University’s Department of Religion and the Asian Studies Program, states that:
Generally, Buddhist temples, be they in New York or Hangzhou must produce a culturally contextualized physical space. Specifically, Chinese Buddhist monasteries must in addition provide the requisite monastic action required to maintain cosmological notions of centrality and sacrality, and further, provide the requisite hierarchy of order needed to perpetuate and project a certain type of salvational knowledge via a monastic spatiality. These requirements do not take place in spite of the fact that Buddhist space is one of healing and well-being, but rather are implicated in the very desire of Buddhist spatiality to be contextualized, to produce an active space, to create a space of well-being.
Here is a brief timeline of the arrival of Buddhism in the five countries we have chose to highlight: 5th century BCE: Originated in India and later spread southward into the rest of the country in the 3rd century BCE. 1st century BCE: Spread to China via missionaries on the Silk Road,5th-6th century CE: Arrived in Cambodia,5th century CE: was brought to Japan by missionaries, and13th century CE: arrived in Thailand
We invite you to visit the child pages linked above which go into more detail about Buddhist temples and sacred spaces in these five countries.
We also invite you to view our presentation giving a brief introduction to the topic of Buddhist sacred spaces in Asia.
Click here to view a virtual tour of a Buddhist temple.
Temples played a significant role in Buddhism as sacred spaces. Asians used this space for pilgrimages and worship. Monks had also used temples to rest during their spiritual journeys. Asoka was responsible for the spread of Buddhism throughout Asia, and the popularity of this religion. As people adopted Buddhism, they combined it with their own cultural values, thus establishing a religious syncretism. Syncretism was also used through the building of temples, mixing Indian influences with people’s own cultural styles. Overtime, Asians view Buddhist temples as significant for cultural identity and tourism. They use temples as national symbols from their nations’ rich ancient and medieval histories. Tourists are attracted to these sacred buildings for their art, history, and religious importance. Buddhist temples are an important part in providing space for Asians to worship and practice their religion.
Featured image( banner) courtesy of Alex Shroder: Golden Buddha in evening sun: CC-SA 2.0
Walsh, Michael J. 2007. “Efficacious Surroundings: Temple Space and Buddhist Well-Being.” Journal of Religion and Health 46 (4): 476. doi:10.1007/s10943-007-9129-y.