Temple Etiquette - Dhamma Wheel

Temple Etiquette

A forum for beginners and members of other Buddhist traditions to ask questions about Theravāda (The Way of the Elders). Responses require moderator approval before they are visible.
User avatar
Posts: 1431
Joined: Mon Jun 13, 2016 10:55 pm

Temple Etiquette

Postby Coëmgenu » Mon Dec 19, 2016 4:03 am

Greetings all,

I figured I would post this in the "Discovering Theravāda" subforum because it is a question that is probably most relevant to other readers on this site who are, as I am, "discovering" Theravāda.

I moved from Toronto about a year and a half ago to the much smaller town of Whitby in Ontario for gainful employment at the local General Motors plant, but in doing so, I left behind easy/feasible access to the Jōdo Shinshū temple I used to attend in North York.

I recently reconnected with an old friend from university, who I am able to carpool with to his local temple, the Mahamevnawa Buddhist Monastery in Markham. I am very excited to finally be able to attend a temple again, however I am also quite nervous, both because of my tendencies toward shyness and cultural unfamiliarity. This will be the first temple I attend that:

a) isn't almost entirely comprised of other white converts,

and b) is a Theravāda institution rather than a Mahāyāna one.

In the past, my interaction with monks has been based on the philosophy "just be polite" by the standards of my own upbringing. Obviously I know to take my shoes off where everyone else has taken theirs off. But, for the sake of example, I have never done a "traditional" añjali, I've always just bowed my head slightly, almost like a nod, and the monk, who I assume is used to awkward converts unfamiliar with foreign cultural practices, has never been particularly taken back. Similarly I've never had a special way of referring to monks that I was told was polite. I first encountered the term "bhante" online here at DhammaWheel, for instance, so I wouldn't have known that convention of politeness.

Obviously I am going to ask these things of my friend, in person, as we head there, and I am sure that they will be quite understanding if I stick out a bit for not knowing certain conventions, but I thought I would also ask this online community here too. What are the "basics" of temple etiquette? If there is already a thread on temple etiquette I apologize for the redundancy.

And similarly, are there any common faux-pas committed by newcomers to Buddhist places of congregation where the constituents come from traditionally Buddhist societies?

For instance, apparently it is rude to shake a monk's hand. That is something I had never known.

Last edited by Coëmgenu on Mon Dec 19, 2016 5:08 am, edited 1 time in total.

Posts: 671
Joined: Fri May 01, 2015 3:21 pm

Re: Temple Etiquette

Postby Caodemarte » Mon Dec 19, 2016 4:48 am

If this is the Sri Lankan temple, I would suggest you not use the term "white converts" if you mean Buddhists of European descent. I would just say you attended a non-Sri Lankan and non- Theravadin temple. The term "white" will get you all tangled up in a variety of assumptions and assumptions about how you use it and why. Come to think of it, even if not the Sri Lankan temple I am thinking of, you'd be better off avoiding that term everywhere.

User avatar
Posts: 1431
Joined: Mon Jun 13, 2016 10:55 pm

Re: Temple Etiquette

Postby Coëmgenu » Mon Dec 19, 2016 5:00 am

User avatar
Posts: 614
Joined: Wed Dec 26, 2012 4:49 am

Re: Temple Etiquette

Postby cjmacie » Mon Dec 19, 2016 5:03 am

User avatar
Posts: 1925
Joined: Fri Apr 17, 2009 12:07 pm
Location: New Zealand

Re: Temple Etiquette

Postby BlackBird » Mon Dec 19, 2016 5:12 am

Most Theravadin temples/monasteries in the West are well used to people with little understanding of faux pas and proper ettiquite coming through their doors, so I wouldn't worry, as long as you're a good person you will be greeted warmly.

In general I tend to make an effort not to point my feet towards any monastics, Buddha rupas or pictures of monks on the wall, it's really only a thing of great disrespect to point ones feet at Thai temples, as it's a Thai cultural no no. But I find this to be a good rule of thumb anyway as it stop you assuming an overly casual posture.

Another thing I always do is remember to address monastics as either Venerable or Bhante (which is pali for Venerable Sir) if it's a Thai Forest Tradition then Ajahn can be used for the senior monks in place of Venerable or Bhante.

Thirdly, if I am having a seated conversation with the Abbot or a monk for the first time (generally If I've come to stay or do a retreat) I will do a kneeling bowl. If you wanted to get even more proper it would be a triple bow but context is everything with that. Many Western monks find people bowing to them a little uncomfortable and that reflects our egalitarian upbringing, but monks from countries where Theravada is the state religion are generally more at peace with the process because it's part of their culture, and say if you attended a meditation retreat with a Sri Lankan meditation monk you would probably be expected to do a triple bow when meeting him for the first time, and just the singular bow when having private conversations thereafter.

As for shaking hands, it's probably better to go with anjali and bowling as a habit with cultural monks from native Buddhist countries. With Western monks they're used to it, but it might be a social faux pas if they were say surrounded by a group of Thai or Sri Lankan or Burmese supporters, because they would see that as bad conduct. So again, it's context.

I'm probably over complicating things here for you.

If you're just going for the Sunday talk and hour meditation session I wouldn't worry about all that so much, other than showing due respect to the robe and the person wearing it and using proper titles if speaking to a monk.

The best thing to do is just to observe how others do things at the new temple, you can't usually go wrong with that.

Hope that helps

"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." -

User avatar
Posts: 2928
Joined: Sun Nov 15, 2009 3:49 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Temple Etiquette

Postby Goofaholix » Mon Dec 19, 2016 5:50 am

If in doubt watch what other people do and follow along.

It's a bit further to travel but if you haven't already I'd recommend checking out this monastery

User avatar
Posts: 1431
Joined: Mon Jun 13, 2016 10:55 pm

Re: Temple Etiquette

Postby Coëmgenu » Mon Dec 19, 2016 5:56 am

Posts: 32
Joined: Tue Sep 27, 2016 4:28 am

Re: Temple Etiquette

Postby monkeycat » Mon Dec 19, 2016 8:13 am

Last edited by monkeycat on Mon Dec 19, 2016 10:29 am, edited 1 time in total.

Posts: 1087
Joined: Sat Nov 29, 2014 7:59 pm

Re: Temple Etiquette

Postby dhammarelax » Mon Dec 19, 2016 9:49 am

Even if the flesh & blood in my body dry up, leaving just the skin, tendons, & bones, I will use all my human firmness, human persistence and human striving. There will be no relaxing my persistence until I am the first of my generation to attain full awakening in this lifetime. ed. AN 2.5

Posts: 671
Joined: Fri May 01, 2015 3:21 pm

Re: Temple Etiquette

Postby Caodemarte » Mon Dec 19, 2016 1:43 pm

Last edited by Caodemarte on Tue Dec 27, 2016 11:39 pm, edited 2 times in total.

Posts: 628
Joined: Sun Jul 06, 2014 11:06 pm

Re: Temple Etiquette

Postby thepea » Tue Dec 27, 2016 9:02 pm

It's not a problem if you sit until your legs are numb, then stand suddenly and knock over an urn full of flowers.
Its not a problem if you wear a hat in temple.
Its not a problem to fart loudly in temple.
Its not a problem to get up at any time and run out of hall.
Its not a problem to disagree with Sri Lanken Buddhists.
Buddhist Monastics are pretty chill and tolerable individuals, I think they just like to see you come out and continue to practice.

Oh yea, I've done all the above :embarassed:

User avatar
Mohan Gnanathilake
Posts: 64
Joined: Mon Apr 25, 2016 6:16 am
Location: Ragama, Sri Lanka

Re: Temple Etiquette

Postby Mohan Gnanathilake » Mon Feb 13, 2017 2:53 am

I have a different reply regarding this topic. One should visit a Buddhist temple with a proper, pious, sanctimonious and devoutly religious mind.
All thoughts begin in the mind, mind is supreme and mind-made are they. If one speaks or acts with impure mind pain follows him like the wheel the hoof of the ox.
(Dhammapada 1, Yamaka Vagga – The Twin Verses)

All thoughts begin in the mind, mind is supreme and mind –made are they. If one speaks or acts with pure mind happiness follows him like one’s shadow that never leaves.
(Dhammapada 2, Yamaka Vagga – The Twin Verses)

Mr.Mohan Barathi Gnanathilake
Permanent Address : No. 372 / 2 , Mahara Prison Road , Ragama, Sri Lanka.
Telephone No :+94 112957857
Email :[email protected]

Posts: 243
Joined: Sat Sep 17, 2016 3:14 am

Re: Temple Etiquette

Postby rajitha7 » Mon Feb 13, 2017 11:48 am

I think you should re-align more with Dhamma objectives.

You should aim for stream entry If haven't already. The sutta says one needs 2 things to qualify for stream entry - and it's quite simple. One needs to associate excellent Dhamma friends. Secondly, one needs a super-mundane understanding of the 4-Noble Truths.

So when you go there try to find good Dhamma friends, join a group or association etc. The understanding of the 4-noble truths will be helped by these associations.

Generally, one is scared to do the wrong thing because of a good upbringing. The fear will change once in the stream. Your fears will change such that you will dare not do a heinous crime just to avoid the reality mentioned in the 4-noble truths.

So start small and scale up from there.

Return to “Discovering Theravāda”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 5 guests

Google Saffron, Theravada Search Engine