As a major world religion, Buddhism is one of the most influential belief systems in the world. Founded over 2,500 years ago, Buddhism teaches of a way to end suffering and has spread to every corner of the globe since its founding. But Buddhism’s influence stretches far beyond the impact it has had on the beliefs of millions of people throughout history, it has also played a major role in inspiring some of the most remarkable landmarks the world has ever seen. Despite the same inspiration, Buddhist temples have been built in a variety of shapes and sizes with many unique styles of design. Here's a list of five unique Buddhist temples you simply must visit before you die.
The Mahabodhi Temple, Bodh Gaya, India
The Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, India is the most historic Buddhist temple on this list. The name literally means ‘the Great Enlightenment Temple’. The Mahabodhi Temple is located where the historic Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment and features a Bodhi tree that is a direct descendant of the Buddha’s enlightenment tree. The holy site features a stone brick central tower standing at about 180 feet high, as well as four smaller ones surrounding it. The temple is studded with several small stupas and Buddha statues outside the main tower and possesses walls with depictions of the Buddha’s life. The temple is believed to have been built by Buddhist Emperor Ashoka the Great about 200 years following the Buddha’s enlightenment. The Mahabodhi temple was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2002.
The Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar
The Shwedagon Pagoda (or Golden Pagoda) in Yangon, Myanmar is probably one of the most dazzling Buddhist temples in the world. The shining gold plated Pagoda towers at about 100 meters high and is encrusted with thousands of diamonds, rubies and other precious gems. The Shwedagon Pagoda holds what is believed to be relics of the Buddha himself and the main tower is topped off with an impressive 76-carat diamond. The origin story of this ancient Theravada temple was lost in time, however historians generally agree it was built sometime between the 6th and 10th century. At night, the bright golden temple is clearly visible even miles away.
Fo Guang Shan, Dashu District, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
The Fo Guang Shan temple in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan takes a step back from the classic ancient temples on this list and offers an experience into Buddhism in the modern world. The over 300-acre temple in Kaohsiung City is the headquarters of the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order founded in 1967. The order follows Humanistic Buddhism and is famous for its embrace of modern teaching methods. The popular Mahayana temple is designed with a traditional East Asian design and features magnificent shrines, grandiose buildings, and offers numerous activities within its large temple complex. The temple is also home to the Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum, one of the most impressive contemporary Buddhist museums in the world. The museum features comprehensive Buddhist exhibitions, regular festivals and events, and even holds tooth relics from the historic Buddha.
Wat Phra Dhammakaya, Pathum Thani, Thailand
Wat Phra Dhammakaya in Pathum Thani, Thailand is another large Buddhist temple that gives a peek into modern Buddhism in today’s world. Also known for its modern teaching methods, this Theravada temple is famous for its enormous size and modern style of design. Founded in 1970, the temple follows a very simple, minimalistic design and blends traditional Thai temple architecture with a crisp contemporary one. Wat Phra Dhammakaya has numerous places of interest, including a sleek modern stupa with 1 million Buddha statues, several impressive memorials, and a grand meditation hall that can accommodate hundreds of thousands of people. At approximately 1000 acres, the temple is about twice the size of the country of Monaco. But don’t let that intimidate you, the temple is complete with a well-maintained road system and gives guests ample access to transportation to visit the various sights.
Borobudur, Magelang, Indonesia
Returning to the classic temples of ancient times, Borobudur, located in Magelang on the Indonesian island of Java, is the most famous Buddhist temple on this list. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Mahayana temple is made up of several layers of platforms that takes visitors on a journey through Buddhist cosmology. The monument is divided into three levels symbolizing three realms, the Kamadhatu (sense realm), Ruphadatu (form realm), and Arupadhatu (formless realm) and is decorated with several stupas and relief panels throughout the temple depicting the Law of Karma and several Buddhist stories. Although it is unknown who built the monument, it is estimated to have been built out of over 2 million stone blocks some time around the 9th century. The famous monument is also considered a prime pilgrimage site, with Buddhists in Indonesia often visiting the ancient ruins en masse every year to celebrate Vesak Day.