How to Behave in a Tibetan Temple

In order to respect the local traditions and culture in Tibet you need to behave in a certain way and be aware of what is acceptable and unacceptable conduct. When going on a tour to Tibet be sure to read up about the local customs and way of life.

Do not take photos without permission and if you are taking a photo of an individual ask them for permission first. It is usually acceptable to take photos of the exterior but not of the interior of a temple. Sometimes there will be a fee for taking photos within the temple. You can ask your tour guide about the norms for each temple you visit. These rules apply to filming inside temples as well.

tibet-culture

Just as when entering a church or synagogue Buddhist temples also require you to dress modestly. Women should not wear shorts, very short skirts or sleeveless tops, tops which have a deep cleavage, tank tops or tops which show your belly. Men should not wear vests and both men and women should take off their hats when entering a temple.

Temples hold many precious objects and objects which have religious value. Respect the local religion by not touching things in the temple including the prayer wheels, prayer flags, statues, altars or urns. In addition to not touching the religious objects you should avoid sitting on any objects inside the temple as it might have some religious significance and this would be disrespecting the faith. If you have paper with Tibetan writing on it do not use the paper, treat it with respect and don’t wipe anything with it or crunch it up in front of Tibetans.

When pilgrims visit a sacred Buddhist temple they circumambulate the temple in a clockwise direction. You should honor this by also walking in a clockwise direction when visiting the temples. Pilgrims of the Bon faith walk in an anticlockwise direction around holy sites.

If you are lucky enough to be introduced to one of the monks or priests the correct greeting involves holding your hands together in front of you and bowing slightly forward. Do not hug the monks, shake their hands or give them a friendly pat on the back. Tibetans are not demonstrative with their displays of affection so no kissing, hugging or hanky panky in a Tibetan temple or even on the streets of Lhasa.  Most importantly never touch the head of a Tibetan as this is considered the most sacred part of the body.

Buddhists respect all forms of life. Never kill a living creature in a temple, even the smallest insect like an ant or fly should not be crushed if you are in a temple. If you are pointing at something then use your open hand and not your finger. Never spit or clap your hands in a Temple and if you are sitting down cross your legs rather than stretching them out to avoid showing the souls of your feet as this is very disrespectful. When you enter the temple step over the threshold rather than on it; this applies to private homes and even to tents. Do not take alcohol in to a temple and do not smoke on the grounds of a temple. When visiting religious sites in Tibet behave in a respectful manner by not talking loudly, joking around or causing a disturbance.