Visiting a Buddhist Temple

How to properly visit a Buddhist temple

Did you know that shrines (Shinto) and temples (Buddhist) both belong to different religions and that there are different ways to properly visit them?

  1. Take a bow in front of the Sanmon gate

    First, take a bow in front of the Sanmon gate, the entrance to Buddhist temples. Enter the gate with a sense of respect for Buddha and do not step on the wooden threshold. Sanmon, like the Torii gate at a Shinto shrine, marks the boundary between our world and the sacred area. Remove your hat and other headgear.

  2. Cleanse yourself at Temizuya (washing station)

    Next, stop by Temizuya to wash your hands and rinse your mouth. This is to purify your body and mind before entering the main temple building. The steps are similar to the ones used at a Shinto shrine and they are as follows:

    ※ Many temples do not have Temizuya. If this is the case, proceed without completing this ritual.

    1. Use your right hand to scoop the water with a ladle and rinse your left hand.

    2. Next, hold the ladle with your left hand to rinse your right hand.

    3. Hold the ladle with your right hand and scoop some water into your cupped left hand. Put the water in your mouth and rinse your mouth without making noise (do not put the ladle directly into your mouth).

    4. Hold the ladle with your right hand and rinse your left hand.

    5. Lastly, to rinse the ladle, hold it upright to spill the remaining water in the cup down the handle of the ladle. Return the ladle to its original spot.

  3. Light incense sticks and candles

    If possible, light a candle and incense sticks prior to worship. This represents burning away the impurities and cleansing the surroundings to be lead in the right direction by Buddha. Do not use the candles or incense of other visitors to light your own. Instead, use your own lighter or the candle offered by the temple. Using other visitors’ flame signifies receiving bad luck and their sins from them. ※ To prevent accidental fires, some temples do not allow visitors to light candles and incense sticks. Check before you visit.

  4. Walk down the path to the main temple building

    The main temple building houses the principal object of worship.

  5. Offer Saisen (monetary offering) in front of the main temple building

    It’s finally time to worship. First, take a bow toward the main temple building and place a monetary offering into the Saisen box. Saisen is meant to represent your gratitude to Buddha and the act of warding off bad spirits. There is no rule regarding how much you should offer.

  6. Ring the gong, put your hands together, and bow

    Subsequently, if Waniguchi (a gong hanging from the ceiling) is available, ring it. Don’t be forceful as this act represents your greeting to Buddha.

    Next, put your hands together. Straighten your back, close your eyes, put your hands together in front of your chest, and take a deep bow. In contrast to the ritual at Shinto shrines, you do not clap your hands here.

    When you finish praying, take a bow one more time, and leave the premises.

  7. Take a bow at Sanmon

    Once you go through the Sanmon gate, turn back toward the main temple building, and take one last bow.

    This is how you visit a temple properly.
    ※ Elements of this ritual may vary by sect.

Things to remember when visiting

Both shrines and temples are considered sacred. Therefore, you should avoid wearing outfits that are too revealing. Additionally, be sure to look out for and respect the “no photography” or “no entry” areas.

Learn proper etiquettes and use your knowledge during your trip!

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