More than 900,000 Singaporeans identify as Buddhist, and many of the island's Buddhist temples were built by early Buddhist immigrants from China. The Buddhist form most commonly practised in Singapore is Mahayana Buddhism, which is also commonly practised in China, Tibet, Korea and Bhutan.
Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple
Also known as the Temple of the Thousand Lights, Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple was established by Thai monks, and owes its name to the many lights that surround the Buddha statue that dominates the temple. Each position of a Buddha statue often has meanings associated with it; this temple’s main statue is of a seated Buddha which normally depicts the Buddha in a meditative state. There is a smaller Buddha statue in this temple, in a reclining position, which represents the historical Buddha during the final stages of his life. Visitors should note that photography of the reclining Buddha is not allowed in this temple.
Thian Hock Keng Temple
A national monument and one of Singapore’s oldest Buddhist temples, Thian Hock Keng Temple is divided into a Taoist section and a Buddhist one. The latter is dedicated to a bodhisattva known as Guanyin, who represents compassion and mercy for Mahayana Buddhists. A bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism is a person who has wished to attain enlightenment not for his or her own benefit, but for the benefit of other people. The architecture of the temple is reminiscent of the southern Chinese style, and is rich in Taoist and Buddhism symbolism and iconography.
Jin Long Si Temple
Another important Buddhist site in Singapore is the Jin Long Si Temple, which is dedicated to the uniquely Singaporean hybrid faith of "san-jiao" or "three-religion" – where Buddhism, Taosim and Confucianism are accorded equal reverence. The temple site on Lorong How Sun is also home to Singapore’s 120-year-old Bodhi tree, grown from a seed planted by Sri Lankan monks in the 19th century. The Bodhi tree has great significance in Buddhism, as it is the variety of tree under which the prince Siddharta Gautama reached a state of nirvana or the highest state of enlightenment, and became the Buddha.
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum
For a grand Buddhist temple built in the Tang dynasty style, check out the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum in Singapore’s Chinatown. The tooth relic of the Buddha is an important object in Buddhism and there are several temples around the world which Buddhists accept house relics of the Buddha’s teeth. The Chinatown temple is an active hub for Buddhists in Singapore, holding prayer services and ritual offerings several times per day. It also offers social services to the community, including serving vegetarian food in its basement food hall where donations are welcome but not mandatory.
As in any place of worship, conservative dress, though not necessarily expected, is appreciated as a sign of respect. Avoid getting in the way of devotees, ask if you are unsure about taking photographs, and be prepared to remove your footwear. Most devotees will be happy to explain things and talk to you about their faith.