Buddhism, one of the world's major religions, was founded by Siddhartha Gautama (also known as the historical Buddha) in the sixth century B.C. Unlike other major world religions, Buddhists are non-theistic and do not worship a godhead. Rather, worship is defined by practices that will lead to nirvana, or a permanent state of enlightenment. Today many different Buddhist denominations exist, with different forms of worship adapted by each denomination.
For lay people, daily worship usually takes places at home. A small home shrine might include incense, candles and a representation (image or statue) of the Buddha. Home worship might also include the "puja" or the offering of flowers and the recitation of Buddhist chants such as the "Three Refuges." Statues of the Buddha aid meditation in a home shrine. Although no single unified representation of the Buddha exists, common features include elongated earlobes and hands positioned in a mudra or a symbolic gesture. The Buddha statue is not worshiped, but rather, acts a reminder of the Buddha reaching nirvana.
Famous Buddhist temples can be important pilgrimage destinations. Traditionally, Buddhist temples have been designed to represent five elements: fire, air, earth, water and wisdom, and most contain a statue or image of the Buddha. Their architectural features vary from culture to culture. For example, while Chinese and Japanese temples are one-story buildings with atria or pagodas, Thai Buddhist temples tend to be wats, a classic form in Thai architecture. Famous Buddhist temples include Haeinsa Temple in South Korea; Thailand's Wat Arun Temple; and Indonesia's Borobudur. Although the laity may traditionally worship at home, worship during annual festivals (such as the Rain Retreat for Theravada Buddhists or Buddha Day in Mahayana Buddhism) or special monthly worship regulated by the patterns of the moon can take place in temples. Monks' daily worship might include the chanting of mantras, the reading of holy texts such as sutras, prayers and meditation.
Stupas, spherical Buddhist commemorative monuments, are freestanding and believed to house sacred relics related to the Buddha or other Buddhist figures. The structures have a circular base that supports an expansive dome; worshipers circle the structure in clockwise direction. The oldest and perhaps the most famous is the Great Stupa of Sanchi, in Bhopal, which contains the remains of Shariputra, a student of the Buddha, and is famous for lush carvings. Other important Buddhist pilgrimage sites include Lumbini, Nepal, the birthplace of the Buddha; the Maha Bodhi Temple, India, where the Buddha is thought to have reached Enlightenment; the Dhamekha Stupa in Sarnath, India, which commemorates where the Buddha disseminated his first teachings; and the Mahaparinirvana Temple in Kusinara, India, commemorating the place where the Buddha passed away.
The practice of looking within or meditation is arguably the most important "place" of worship for Buddhists. The details of meditation -- the practice of mental concentration in order to eventually reach Enlightenment -- may differ from person to person and branch to branch. Yet meditation's main goals are consistent: by looking within, meditation helps a person detach from external circumstances, concentrate without needing to intellectualize, and develop a sense of ease that passes into a state of equanimity. Within some sects, such as the Zen Buddhist branch, meditation is the most essential feature of Buddhism.
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