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Scenes in the Buddhist World: a Stupa in Asia

Get a glimpse of Tibetan Buddhist culture and worldview at a temple in the Himalayas.

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Commnet

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July 5, 2024

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Check out this photo essay, Scenes in the Buddhist World: a Stupa in Asia: Between eight and ten percent of our planet’s people practice some form of Buddhism. Come with us to visit a Tibetan Buddhist temple in Asia.

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A Commnet photographer writes,

"I was transiting through a Himalayan country on the way to another destination. A long layover permitted enough time to explore a popular religious site (just minutes from the airport!) and experience some of the local culture.” Take a look at what he saw!

Buddhists of one kind or another make up eight to ten percent of the world population, but Buddhist ideas, like karma, have been adopted by people in many places, and some Buddhist practices are also found in other Eastern religions.

As you scroll through these images, pray for these precious people who are made in the image of God. As you observe their prayers and offerings, consider what their hopes and fears may be. What do you think Jesus would say to them?

Many Buddhists use prayer beads called “malas” to keep track of how many times they recite, chant or mentally repeat a prayer or mantra or say the name of a deity. Many malas feature 108 beads. This number is sacred in many Eastern religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism.

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On entering a Buddhist temple, devotees often make three bows or prostrations toward a Buddha figure. Lowering the head, bowing and kneeling express reverence, faith and respect.

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Did you know walking around something is called “circumambulation”? Often, circumambulation is related to a religious artifact or structure. Buddhists circumambulate to demonstrate devotion, pay tribute to the site or what it represents and accumulate merit. Three circuits are customary, but the more, the better. Occasionally prostrating yourself (getting down on the ground) is said to increase your accumulated karma.

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Behind the yellow curtains in the walls of the stupa are sets of metal prayer wheels. This was the first time I’ve seen them covered. Perhaps being out of the sun keeps them from getting too hot to touch? A mantra or prayer is inscribed or stamped on the surface of each wheel. Spinning the wheel is seen as a means to accumulate merit or good favor.

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I was familiar with the large, cylindrical prayer wheels in many Buddhist religious sites, but this was the first time I’d seen a hand-held prayer wheel. The inner portion of the prayer wheel holds a tiny scroll with a mantra written on it. The person spinning it sees it as an aid to meditation and a way to accumulate good karma.

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Tibetan Buddhists consider bells to be sacred ritual objects. Here, a collection of bells is chained and padlocked together near the base of the stupa. I witnessed many people silently touch the smaller bells rather than ringing them.

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Though devotees touched the smaller bells instead of ringing them, I heard the large bells peal out regularly as devotees passed by. The sound is said to clear the area of “negative energy” and generate merit or karma.

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Devotees fill small lamps with ghee or peanut or sesame oil with a cotton wick. These candles or lamps seemed to burn for a long time. Buddhists believe that the light produced represents knowledge and enlightenment. Lamps that burn ghee are said to attract more “sattvik” (spiritually pure energy) than those that burn oil.

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A line of cauldrons and their minders offer devotees the opportunity to purchase incense and add it to the cauldron.

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Though Buddhist devotees may burn certain kinds of incense for particular occasions, incense in general is believed to carry their wishes and aspirations to the realm of the Buddha, Bodhisattva or deity that they are paying respect to or supplicating.

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Tibetan Buddhists use juniper “sang” incense for purification. According to Bhutanese and Tibetan tradition, this incense can bring good luck and remove internal (sensory and emotional) and external (environmental and social) barriers.

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I witnessed many devotees waft the smoke from burning cauldrons of incense to scent their hair and clothing. Just being in the general area of the burning incense left my clothing smelling of juniper for hours to come.

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Orange marigolds are strung into garlands, placed on Buddha idols and seem part of offerings. Though these marigolds were popular and abundant, I found the fragrance of incense overpowered any scent from the flowers.

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Hundreds of ordinary wood and rock pigeons gather daily to feast on dried corn from visitors. As pigeon droppings are known to be a health hazard, the pigeons are fed in a designated area, which is also hosed down regularly.

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A visit to the stupa is often a family affair and may mark a special occasion like a birthday or holy day. As a mom shoos away the pigeons, grandma checks photos of her grandchild, who seems to enjoy all the attention from the birds.

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In some Eastern religions, feeding pigeons has a profound significance. It can be considered a symbol of feeding one’s ancestors—a tradition stemming from the belief that you must feed your forefathers before you feed yourself. This is away to honor the dead and create good karma. The pigeons are not unhappy about this tradition.

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Hands placed together with palms facing and fingers outstretched is a familiar gesture in many faith traditions. It seems generally a sign of reverence or respect. In some parts of the world, this gesture is a greeting indicating “the divine in me recognizes the divine in you.” Holding your hands higher may signal greater devotion or honor.

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Strings of prayer flags adorning this stupa feature five colors: blue, white, red, green and yellow to represent the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and space. Though most use synthetic flags today, recent years have seen a return to more environmentally friendly fabrics such as cotton and silk.

Notice the “Eyes of Buddha” painted onto on all four sides of a cube at the top. This symbolizes the Buddha’s wisdom, seeing all things in all four cardinal directions.

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Take the Next Step

Check out our photo essay with scenes from Mongolia.

Check out our photo essay with scenes from the streets of Bangkok, Thailand.

Check out our photo essay with scenes from the streets of Japan.

Use the WorldViews curriculum to give your children a global perspective with a biblical foundation.

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