Respecting Buddhism

When travelling in southeast or south Asia, the traveller will likely come into contact with Buddhism, especially on a tour of local heritage sites. Buddhism is seen as a moderate and tolerant religion, which promotes a code of ethical behaviour for its devotees. Most accidental transgressions by tourists will be forgiven and understood as inoffensive, however it would be best practice to familiarise yourself with some basic rules of behaviour, especially when visiting a Buddhist temple.

On entering a Buddhist temple, shoes should be removed and the body respectfully covered. Long-sleeved shirts, long loose trousers/pants and headscarves are worth carrying for this purpose. Buddhists believe that images of the Buddha are sacred and they should be treated as such—do not touch, sit on, point at or laugh at the statues. When taking a photo, do so respectfully and at a reasonable distance from the statue. As temples are places of worship, visitors should be quiet, respectful and not show any public displays of affection. It is also important to bear in mind the rules relating to the opposite gender: women should not talk to a monk alone, nor men to a nun, and there should be no physical contact at all between them. It is forbidden for a woman to directly hand anything to a monk.

When visiting Buddhists in their homes or places of business, it is also common to remove shoes. In Buddhism the head is the most sacred part of the body and the feet are considered the dirtiest. With this in mind, it is best not to point your feet at people, nor touch anyone on the head. You will see Buddhist monks and locals sitting with their feet firmly on the floor or tucked behind them to avoid offence. It is also better to not step over anyone.

Buddhists will shy away from public confrontation, loud voices and disagreements, so it is best to behave in a similar way and keep your cool, even when angry. The religion promotes peace and serenity, and those who show irritation in public will be frowned upon.

By following these simple guides, you can be sure of an informative and welcoming stay in a Buddhist country.

Date posted: 6th September, 2011

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