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A Buddhist monastery in Thailand is known as a Vihara or a Wat.
Viharas are found all over Thailand, and may be very ornate or very simple. These monasteries are the home to the members of the Sangha – and although they may vary, they have certain features in common. Remember that the idea of Monks having a “home” is inaccurate – being a Bhikku means being a homeless wanderer. The first Viharas were given to the Sangha asplaces to rest during the rainy seasons!
The Shrine room is the centre of any monastery – here the monks perform their puja every day –demonstrating their respect for the Buddha’s achievement. We makeofferings here as well. Traditionally shrine rooms face to the east – asthis is the direction that the Buddha was facing when he became enlightened.
Offerings made at theShrine will include Flowers, Water, Incense, and Candles – there’s a good reason for each one, can you remember what they are?
Many Buddha Rupas are covered in Gold Leaf – this isdone by Lay Buddhists to show their respect – it gains them merit as well!
As well as making Pujas,supporting the monks, and gilding Buddha rupas, there is a traditionthat members of the laity can gain merit through acts of kindness to other creatures – these ladies are releasing caged birds, and fish in order to gain merit.
Larger monasteries will alsohave a meeting hall, called aSala Kanparien. This is used by the monks for regular meetings, sharing monastic discipline, chanting etc.
The Mondop is the monk’s library,that contains all our copies of sacred texts – many of which are still written in the traditional manner onlong strips of paper, like this copy of the Tipitaka. This Mondop is a particularly beautiful example, many are simple buildings.
Many Viharas will alsohave a Bot – a hall for the ordination ceremony for new monks.
There are many important texts thatmonks have to study – particularly the Dhammapada, the Tripitaka, and of course, the Vinaya Pitaka; the book ofrules for the monastic life.
Monks have so much to learnthat the Vihara may also act as a school – and not just about Buddhism, so there may be classrooms, and even computer suites!
The Kuti is the shelter where the monks live – this should just be a simple structure – many forestmonks just live in shacks. Here the Monks meditate, read, sleep, and eat food from the alms round.
The laity gain merit by giving the monks their food on the alms round.
In the forest sangha, monks eat in the Kuti – although always before midday.
Most monasteries will have a stupa – originally these buildings contained relics of the Buddha, and they still contain relics, but usually of important meditation teachers.You can find out more detail about thesymbolism of a stupa by reading this powerpoint.
Monks, and other Buddhists often walkaround Stupas, to show that the Buddha is at the centre of their lives.
Many monasteries will have a Bodhi tree shrine –these are often cuttings from the very tree under which the Buddha achieved enlightenment.
This Bodhi tree is so ancient that it has absorbed the Buddha statue beneath it.
Many monasterieswill have large, outdoorBuddha rupas – this is the great, bronze Buddha at Kamakura in Japan.
Never forget though, that the point of aVihara is to provide a space where dedicated members of the Sangha can work at becoming enlightened. Apeaceful environmentwhere it is easy to be mindful, to practice meditation, and follow the Dharma.