Temple Etiquette – What to do when you Visit Buddhist Temples in Myanmar
TEMPLE ETIQUETTE IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
If you’re on a tour in Myanmar, you’ll probably visit a Buddhist temple or Pagoda. Especially in cities like Bagan, that have hundreds of them, your itinerary will, without question, include stops at these sacred buildings. And it’s important to remember while in these culturally and religiously significant sites: Most of them are still active places of worship and pilgrimage; they are NOT an amusement park. Monks, locals, and pilgrims come to the temples to pray and meditate, and no matter your personal beliefs, it’s important to respect the kindly people of these lands and their spiritual heritage by following these simple tips. These tips will be useful in any Southeast Asian country.
1. CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM
Perhaps you’ve waited your whole life to bask in the golden glow of the Mt. Kaiktiyo – Kyaiktiyo Pagoda (The Golden Rock Pagoda), and on arriving, your heart overflows with excitement, and you feel the urge to shout with joy. But look around and you may see the locals sitting in silence, perhaps bowing, or praying quietly under their breath. If you aren’t inclined to pray, please do them a favor, keep a respectful silence and don’t walk in front of them.
2. KEEP YOUR CAMERA AND SMARTPHONE OFF
Stories abound of rude tourists disrupting religious ceremonies in places like Ananda Temple with their flashy selfies, and though a line of monks in orange saffron might look amazing on Instagram, taking a picture in a solemn atmosphere may not be appropriate. Listen to your tour guide – they might mention whether or not pictures are acceptable, and pay attention to what locals are doing around you. Or take this chance to live in the moment, and enjoy the sights and sounds without your smartphone getting in the way.
3. TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES
It might feel a little gross if you’re not used to it, but it’s a mark of respect to remove your shoes and hat before going inside temples or homes. This is a very common practice in Asia, so it would be worthwhile to prepare some comfortable walking shoes that are easy to remove. Then, before going inside Yangon’s Sule Pagoda, look for the area outside the pagoda where people are removing their shoes, or bring plastic bags to carry your shoes with you.
4. LOOK, BUT DON'T POINT OR TOUCH
It is considered rude to point in a temple. Not just fingers, but feet as well. So be aware of how place your feet in relation to the Buddha image. You’ll see Buddhists kneel in prayer, with their legs tucked under them. An easy way to avoid pointing your finger is to gesture with an open upward-facing palm if you need to indicate something. Additionally, a Buddhist is likely to be offended if you touch something that they consider sacred. The countless intricate sculptures and images inside the Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda (Pindaya Caves) are expressive and detailed, but please don’t touch them.
5. KEEP YOURSELF COVERED
Even if it’s blazing hot outside, keep your body, especially shoulders, chest, and legs, fully covered at all times while inside a Buddhist religious site. Southeast Asian people usually dress conservatively, especially when going to a temple. In fact, monks outside some of the famous Shwedagon Pagoda will hand out used sarongs to people they don’t think are covered enough, so come prepared with some modest, lightweight attire. Scarves are very versatile – for protection from sunlight, warmth against air conditioning, or covering your chest and shoulders at the religious sites.
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