In this unit, we will pretend to visit different Buddhist temples. When visiting a temple, we should dress modestly and follow the rules and customs of the temple. Buddhists pay their respects to the Triple Jewel by facing the altar and bowing when entering the temple. Visitors may join in the worship rituals or just watch quietly.
In Buddhism, the monks and nuns are treated with great respect. They sit or stand in front of everyone else and take their food first. When we talk to them, we should put our palms together and speak politely.
Our first visit is to a Theravada Buddhist monastery in the forest in Thailand where only the monks live. We sit in the quietness of a small bamboo temple built on stilts, surrounded by the sounds of chirping birds and rustling trees. A young monk who is our guide explains to us. "The monks live alone in huts called 'kutis'. They are built on stilts to keep the animals and insects out. There they practice sitting and walking meditation, which is very important for their spiritual life. In front of each hut is a path for walking meditation. The monks sweep them clean to keep from stepping on insects and killing them."
The guide continues, "Early in the morning and in the evening, the monks meet together for meditation and recitation. After the ceremonies called pujas, they study the Dharma. Before entering the temple they wash their feet with water carried up to the monastery from a stream below. It is traditional for the monks and nuns to live in the forest as part of their early training. The older ones, however, are not required to do so. Some monks and nuns may live all their lives in the forest, while others live in the temples in towns and cities.
Someone asks, "Living in the jungle, aren't you afraid of tigers?"
The monk answers, "Sometimes, when the monks are walking in the jungle, they sense tigers following them. But since they hold the precept of no killing, they're not afraid and the tigers know they will not be harmed."
Next we will visit a Tibetan temple. A young Tibetan boy named Lobsang is our guide. He smiles as he talks, "Our temple is very colorful. It is decorated with many kinds of Buddha images and wall hangings called thankas. On the altars are beautiful lamps and incense holders. Big prayer wheels are set into the walls of the temple. Mantras, written on strips of rice paper, are placed inside the wheels. They are symbolic phrases with deep spiritual meanings. We recite them over and over as we turn the prayer wheels. There are also hand-held prayer wheels that people whirl as they walk about.
"To us Tibetans, Buddhism is a happy religion. My favorite days are the festivals. People in masks and costumes act out dramas about the life of the Buddha. Bright, new prayer flags are hung on these days. They blow in the wind along the hillsides and remind us to live in harmony with nature. Now that your visit is over, may you go with the spirit of the Buddha."
At a Japanese temple, we are met by Taro. She will tell us about her Sunday School: "We chant 'Namo Amida Butsu' to show our gratitude to Amida Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light. We believe that by reciting his name we will have a good life and be reborn in his Western Pure Land. You can see a statue of Amida in the front of the hall. On the altar you can see other beautiful things, but the most important is the offering of rice cakes.
"I will tell you why. Rice is very important to Asian people. If you were to ask a young Japanese boy or girl, 'What did you eat today?' He or she would probably say, 'Rice'" When we see rice offered, it reminds us to offer our best to the Buddha. In Sunday school, we sit in meditation on cushions called zafus. Japanese meditation is called zen.
Today we are visiting a Chinese-American monastery in California. It is called the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. There are over ten thousand small Buddha statues inside the main worship hall. Our guide is a young novice named Gwo Cheng from mainland China. She came to the United States when she was 10 years old and became a novice at age 11.
Gwo Cheng: "The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas is a Buddhist community where people from all over the world come to study Buddhism. The City has its own schools, but you do not have to be a Buddhist to attend our schools or to live here.
"A day at the temple begins at 4:00 a.m. with the morning ceremony. After that we bow, sit in meditation, and recite Sutras. These ceremonies lift everyone's spirits and help us live together in harmony. We do our ceremonies in both English and Chinese. There are many ceremonies throughout the day. We finish off the day with an evening ceremony and a Dharma talk.
"Everyone goes to work or school at 8:00 in the morning. In our school, we learn the way of truth and goodness We also learn both Chinese and English. We young novices attend school and are in training to become nuns. We can become fully ordained nuns when we are twenty-one, so we have time to make up our minds. We are not expected to do everything the nuns do, but we do our best. At first it was difficult to get up so early and to sit in meditation, but now we are used to it. It's a healthy life!"After school, we help with the temple duties and do other chores. I really like gardening and planting. Many people ask me if the novices ever have any fun. We do! We are very good friends and enjoy studying together. We go on walks and picnics and sing Buddhist songs. The nuns are always thinking of fun things for us to do. We also like to see our families who live here and visit with us."