Founded in the mid-sixth and mid-fourth centuries BCE in India, Buddhism is one of the major and among the oldest religions in the world. It follows the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, also known as the Buddha or Gautama Buddha, who was born in a region between India and Nepal and grew up in present-day Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. A non-theistic religion, Buddhism has spread throughout the Asian continent and influences cultural and spiritual practices, art, and architecture. One of the best examples of their architectural influence is seen in Buddhist temples.
Buddhism is built upon the principles of the Four Noble Truths that will ultimately assure the liberation of the soul. Even the most traditional Buddhist temples often reflect the architectural styles of the region they are constructed in, and the temples are all designed to facilitate quiet reflection and meditation. We have compiled a list of the most beautiful Buddhist temples around the world, some perched precariously on cliffs, and some thousands of years old, all absolutely breathtaking!
Famous Buddhist Temples You Need To Visit At Least Once In Your Lifetime
1. The Largest Religious Structure Ever Built: Angkor Wat, Cambodia
This UNESCO-protected monumental complex in Cambodia is one of the most famous Buddhist temples in the world. Angkor Wat is one of the world’s oldest temples and is considered the largest religious structure ever built. While the temple was originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, it became a centre for Theravada Buddhism near the end of the 12th century. The temple complex is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Southeast Asia.
2. Non-practising Buddhist Temple: Byodo-in Temple, Hawaii
The only American entry in this list is the Byodo-in temple in Hawaii, which is a replica of the 950-year-old Byodoin Temple of Uji in Kyoto prefecture of Japan. This temple is located at the foot of the Koʻolau Mountains in the Valley of Temples in Oʻahu’s Kaneohe Region. It’s also one of the newer temples on this list, built-in 1968. Byodo-in, which translates to ‘Temple of Equality’ in Japanese was constructed entirely without nails and was established to pay tribute to the Japanese immigrants to Hawaii on their centennial. This is a non-practising temple that welcomes people of all faiths to worship, meditate or simply appreciate its beauty. The serene temple grounds have peacocks, black swans, and turtles roaming around due to its lush landscape that contains garden ponds and waterfalls.
3. Sitting Atop A Volcano Plug: Taung Kalat, Myanmar
This Buddhist monastery is located on top of Mount Popa, a volcanic plug (or neck) in Mandalay, and is one of the more popular pilgrimage destinations in Myanmar. It is one of several prominent nat (spirit) sites in the vicinity of nearby Mount Popa, and is therefore considered a source of nat spiritual energy. To reach Taung Kalat, you need to climb a 777-step hanging ladder that provides picturesque views of the city of Bagan from the 4,980-foot-high mountain. Pilgrims visit the site to visit the 37 nat statues, depicted in their human forms, and the numerous relics located there.
4. First Gold-plated Temple In Myanmar: Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar
Located in Yangon, Myanmar, the Shwedagon Pagoda (or Golden Pagoda) is the holiest Buddhist shrine in the country. It stands over 110 meters tall and was built somewhere between the 6th and the 10th century CE. While the temple complex is filled with glittering, colourful stupas, the centre of attention is taken by the main stupa which is 99 meters tall and is completely covered in gold. The spires of the main stupa are encrusted with 5,448 diamonds and 2,317 rubies while the tip of this imposing structure holds a 76-carat diamond. The temple even houses alleged strands of the Buddha’s hair and relics of four previous Buddhas.
5. Most Revered Religious Structure In Tibet: Jokhang, Tibet
Located in Barkhor Square in Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet, Jokhang temple is considered the most sacred place in Tibetan Buddhism. It was built during the seventh century by King Songtsan Gampo to house important Buddhist statues brought from China and Nepal.
The oldest parts of this temple date back to 652 CE. The temple was ransacked many times by invading Mongols but the structure survived. Today a popular Tibetan pilgrim destination, Jokhang temple’s (also known as Qoikang Monastery, Jokhang Monastery, and Zuglagkang) architecture showcases the style of Han, Tibet, India, and Nepal.
6. Tiger’s Nest Monastery: Paro Taktsang, Bhutan
Paro Taktsang, which translates to Tiger’s Nest, is located on a cliffside in the upper Paro valley in Bhutan. This Buddhist temple complex clings to the cliff, 3,120 metres above sea level, and is said to be the meditation site of a famous eighth-century Buddhist master—Padmasambhava (also known as Guru Rinpoche). You can only reach this temple by a semi-steep two-hour-long hike that goes past waterfalls, prayer wheels, and a Tibetan teahouse. It is one of 13 small monasteries, or “tiger lairs” where the Buddhist master is said to have meditated. Though the journey itself isn’t that difficult, the altitude can be a challenge to many.
Visitors decorate their paths with ribbons and bunting and treat the walk as a sacred path to the temple. The remote location also creates technical difficulties and is the reason why rescue vehicles couldn’t reach it when it burned down in 1988. However, Paro Taktsang has been rebuilt since then and has been open to visitors ever since.
7. Oldest Structure In Kumano: Seiganto-ji, Japan
The Seiganto temple is a Tendai Buddhist temple located in Nachi-Katsuura within the forests of Wakayama prefecture in Japan. Built-in the fourth century, it is also called the Temple of Crossing the Blue Shore. This picture-perfect temple was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004 and is a striking example of a man-made structure in synergy with the natural environment. Perched in front of the stunning Nachi Falls, its strikingly red structure is a beautiful and magnificent sight. The Seiganto temple is the first of 33 temples on the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage route, and is a stop on the ancient Kumano Kodō, one of only two UNESCO-designated pilgrim trails in the world.
8. One Of The Largest Buddhist Stupas In The World: Boudhanath, Nepal
Boudhanath temple is located in one of Kathmandu’s suburbs, and its dome, or stupa is one of the largest in Asia. Built around 600 CE, this temple is the centre of Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal. This iconic Buddhist temple has the Buddha’s eyes integrated into each of the four cardinal points from the top of the pagoda, symbolizing that Buddha sees all and knows all. Also called the Jharung Khashor, the present stupa of the temple was raised in the 14th century after Mughal invasions destroyed the previous one. Boudhanath is also considered one of the most sacred places in Kathmandu and hosts many refugees from Tibet.
9. White Temple: Wat Rong Khun, Thailand
This beautiful site in Chiang Rai has been open to the public since 1997. The building was designed by Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat and was constructed from white plaster and glass, which symbolizes the Buddha’s purity. This is one of the most modern Buddhist temples and showcases a juxtaposition of both traditional Buddhist themes and modern influences, including murals of Spider-Man, Michael Jackson, Hello Kitty, Mickey Mouse, Superman, and Kung Fu Panda. As the sunlight strikes Wat Rong Khun, it sparkles and is a sight to behold. This unusual Buddhist temple is completely surrounded by crystals, which represent the Buddha’s wisdom.
10. Filled With Thousands Of Buddhist Structures: Bagan, Myanmar
This might be considered a bit of a cheat entry. Bagan is not a single temple but a site that contains many stupas, temples, and pagodas, all built between the 10th and 13th centuries. Bagan, also spelt Pagan, is located beside the Ayeyarwady River and once used to be the royal capital of Burma. The original 26-acre site was home to an estimated 10,000 Buddhist structures that were built under the reign of ancient Burmese kings. Today, this beautiful complex still hosts more than 2,000 temples and is known for its hot air balloon rides that provide a magnificent view of the area’s temples and landscape.
Reflect Peacefully At These Beautiful Buddhist Temples
Buddhist temples welcome visitors of all faiths to appreciate their beauty or meditate; however, do remember that these structures are places of worship and therefore need to be treated with respect and basic etiquette. During the visit, you must remove shoes at the door, wear clothing that covers your knees and shoulders, keep noise to a minimum, pay attention to posted signage, and avoid disruptive photography, especially when monks are praying. With these basic guidelines in mind, get ready to explore the 10 most stunning Buddhist temples in the world. If you think we have missed any of your favourites, let us know in the comments below.