Temple, Stupa, Pagodas, Shrine, Monasteries: Know the Difference YouTube Lecture Handouts

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Temple, Stupa, Pagodas, Shrine, Monasteries: Know the Difference | Buddhist Culture

Title: Temple, Stupa, Pagodas


  • A temple is a place of worship. Similar to a church for Christians or a mosque for Muslims, a temple is where Buddhists come to mediate. It is usually a collection of buildings, stupas, pagodas and wats (Cambodia) . The architectural style varies greatly throughout Asia, but they are always built to face the East or South for better luck and designed to inspire inner and outer peace.
  • Buddhist temples are most of the time a cluster of buildings, inside an enclosed area. Inside them you can find Buddha statues, bells and offerings brought by people. Temples are always faced towards south or east but never towards north or west which are considered to bring bad luck.
  • Do not confuse temples with shrines (applicable for Japan) . The difference between temples and shrines consists in the religion practiced. While Shinto is practiced at a shrine, Buddhism is practiced in temples.


  • A stupa is a dome or bell-shaped structure used as monuments, traditionally used to store religious sacred relics of the Buddha (hair, teeth) . They were first used in India and quickly spread across Asia becoming more elaborately decorated with time. Stupas are enclosed and without entrances, as to protect the sacred relics contained within. They have also been used as burial mounds and monuments to deceased royalty and men of religious importance. The base of stupas is often sealed with a copper plate as a protection from evil. Temples are places where Buddhists can go inside and meditate while stupas are usually closed buildings.
  • Its fundamental unit is a solid hemispherical earthen mound called the “egg” (anda) or “womb” (garbha) . Atop the mound sits a solid square or rectangular shape, originally surrounded by a four-sided railing, called the harmika, which may be a remnant of the days when the village altar stood inside a fenced enclosure. Growing treelike from that is a pillar that pierces several circular discs of decreasing diameter, usually an odd number from three to eleven. The result looks like a multitiered parasol. The Buddha՚s cremated remains are said to have been originally enshrined in a large number of stupas built all over India.


  • Pagoda is often referred to as a building that can be entered. It is easy to get confused because a pagoda is generally a temple, but the design of a pagoda evolved from stupas. The term pagoda is used to describe both temples and stupas. The word pagoda is derived from dagada, the word used for relic chamber in Sri Lanka.
  • An Asian religious building, especially a multistory Buddhist tower, erected as a shrine or temple. An ornamental structure, of that design, erected in a park or garden.
  • When Mahayana Buddhism moved into China, architects transformed the upper portion of the stupa into an independent structure, turning the multiple discs into roofs. The earth-hugging funerary mound was replaced by the pagoda. The new structure was derived from the stupa and still contained relics, but the pagoda symbolized transcendence rather than earthly existence. Pagodas soon added their own sets of multiple discs. In the Theravada lands of southeast Asia, reminders of the stupa remain in the gently tapered monuments of Burma and Thailand. Mahayana Buddhist establishments all over East Asia identify themselves with their graceful, multiroofed pagodas. Unlike the typical stupa, the pagoda actually has interior space, sometimes on several levels.
  • In Buddhism, there are also monasteries. Monasteries are places where both women and men can be ordaining as nuns and monks. A monastery is divided into the living quarters for monks and nuns and mediation cells.

Temples and stupas are different while pagodas is a term used to describe both.

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