Visiting a Buddhist Temple? Etiquette Guidelines
In the previous incarnation of this bulletin board a mom wanted to know if her tween sons could wear shorts when visiting temples in Thailand because the boys didn't want to wear long pants due to the heat. My advice was to use this as a teaching moment and explain to her children that they were not going to the beach but to a religious site where out of respect visitors are expected to dress and behave a certain way.
My post then morphed into a list of guidelines that she could share with her sons but any visitor may find these useful when visiting a temple.
- Be respectful to the temple and the Buddha statues.
- Don't even think of touching the statues or religious objects.
- Take off shoes in or around the temple grounds.
- Do not point at Buddha statues or the monks/nuns. This includes pointing your feet or showing the bottom of your feet which becomes especially important when sitting inside the temple.
- Keep your head below that of Buddha. You may need to kneel in front of a reclining Buddha for example. This means when taking photos as well.
- Do not take photos of worshippers or monks as they pray.
- Back away from the Buddha statue rather than turn your back.
- Before entering the worship area of a temple, remove any hats, sunglasses and shoes. Turn off the cell phone, remove headphones or ear buds. No gum chewing or snacking. Lower voices.
- There is a wooden sill or threshold at the temple entrance. Step over it rather than step on it.
- If you happen to be sitting on the floor of the temple when a monk or nun enters then stand up.
- Monks are generally friendly and many speak some English. Only use your right hand to receive or give something to a monk. Due to their vows monks cannot directly give or accept something from a woman; your sons can act as intermediaries if necessary.
- Along those same lines, women and girls must never touch a monk or his robes. This includes his own family, even his own mother! If a woman should accidentally brush against a monk's robes while at market or wherever it means the monk has to go through a lengthy, ritual cleansing process.
- Open-toe shoes without ankle straps are considered inappropriate footwear in Thailand.