Every part of a Buddhist temple has special significance. In this post, we’ll look at four aspects of a Kadampa Buddhist temple and explain their meaning.
1. The overall temple design.
In Kadampa Buddhism, traditional temples have been designed to look like Buddha Heruka’s mandala, or pure land. There are currently four of these traditional temples in the world: The original temple is in Ulverston, England; the second was built in Glen Spey, New York; the third is outside Sao Paolo, Brazil; and the fourth is in the small resort town of Sintra, Portugal. As Geshe Kelsang Gyatso said in 1997 when the first Temple for World Peace opened,
“…when we were designing this building we based it on the mandala of Buddha Heruka, who is the Compassion Buddha of Highest Yoga Tantra. From this point of view it has many special preeminent qualities that indicate it is not an ordinary building.”
2. The temple’s four doorways and eight auspicious symbols.
Like Heruka’s mandala, each of these temples is square in shape and has four doorways. The four doorways represent the four types of wisdom we develop in order to enter the path to liberation. Around the outside of the temple are the eight auspicious symbols, which show how to progress along that path. These are:
- The Precious Umbrella: encourages us to go for refuge to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, which is the basis of the Buddhist spiritual path
- The Precious Fish: encourages us to always live in harmony and peace with others.
- The Precious Treasure Vase: encourages us to rely upon the inner wealth of wisdom, compassion, and faith, rather than seeking external wealth as our first priority.
- The Precious Lotus: encourages us to become a pure being.
- The Precious Conch: encourages us to listen to and practice Dharma, or Buddha’s teachings.
- The Precious Knot: encourages us to apply effort to develop wisdom.
- The Precious Victory Banner: encourages us to abandon all delusions and negative states of mind.
- The Precious Dharma Wheel: once we have gained spiritual realizations through following the above methods, we should share our understanding with others to help all living beings attain real inner peace and happiness.
3. The Dharma Wheel and Deer above each temple doorway.
Even in the non-traditional Kadampa Buddhist Temples, you’ll notice a Dharma Wheel and deer above the doorway. The wheel is the main symbol of Buddhism. It represents that wherever Buddha’s teachings go throughout the world, peace and harmony follow. The male and female deer represent the Bodhisattvas who practice the Buddhist path.
There is another meaning of the Dharma Wheel and deer. According to Buddha’s teachings on Highest Yoga Tantra, the male deer represents the attainment of great bliss and the female deer represents the realization of the wisdom that realizes the ultimate nature of all phenomena. The wheel in the center represents the union of these two attainments.
4. The shrine inside a Buddhist temple.
Inside the temple, the principal feature is the shrine. Different temples have different shrines, but all shrines include representations of Buddha’s body, speech, and mind. Buddha’s body is represented by a statue of Buddha Shakyamuni. Buddha’s speech is represented by Dharma books. Buddha’s mind is represented by a stupa, which is a conical-shaped statue. The Dharma books are always to Buddha’s right; the stupa is always to Buddha’s left.
Typically, a large Buddhist temple will have statues of other Buddhas as well. In Kadampa temples, these statues
include Je Tsongkhapa and his two spiritual sons, because they are the founders of Kadampa Buddhism in our modern era. On either side of Buddha Shakyamuni are Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of compassion, and Tara, the female Buddha of wisdom. Avalokiteshvara and Tara also indicate the path of Highest Yoga Tantra, because Avalokiteshvara is another aspect of Buddha Heruka and Tara is another aspect of Vajrayogini. On the other side of these statues is a statue of Dorje Shugden, who is our tradition’s Dharma Protector. In front of these statues are offerings, including water bowls, flowers, and other beautiful items.
Even though you may be far from a Buddhist temple, you can set up your own simple shrine in your meditation space at home. The purpose of having a shrine is to provide a focus for your faith and to help you feel inspired and concentrated when you meditate. You can learn how to set up your own basic shrine by reading this post.
A Kadampa Buddhist Temple in South Carolina?!
We at Kadampa Meditation Center South Carolina very much hope and pray that one day we will be home to our own Kadampa Buddhist Temple. In the meantime, we encourage you to enjoy our Center’s classes, group meditations, and special events in our current building. Make prayers that one day we will have a large, modern, welcoming space for all!
Interested in Visiting a Traditional Buddhist Temple?
Every April, Kadampa Buddhists from around the country gather together to receive teachings, engage in meditation, and connect with old and new friends at the US Kadampa Festival in Glen Spey, NY. Situated in the beautiful Upper Delaware River Valley, the World Peace Temple is a beautiful place for a spiritual vacation with nature trails and a World Peace cafe onsite.