We’ve been asked this question quite a few times since we started this project, and whilst at first the answer might seem straightforward, in actual fact, it’s not. The term ‘Buddhist Building’, especially (although probably not exclusively) in the English context, needs some unpicking, thinking about and clarifying.
The fact is that Buddhists in England use lots of different types of buildings. Sometimes these are in the form of large, monastic complexes; some of these are purpose-built temples. Some buildings have residential communities living in them and some don’t. Some Buddhist groups meet in a house. Some groups share their space with other religious traditions or community groups; some share with office workers in a city-centre building. Some rent different retreat spaces that are open to people of all religions and none.
In our internet search for ‘Buddhist buildings’ we have also come across Buddhist schools, and retirement communities; and also monuments such as the Milton Keynes Peace Pagoda and the Buddhist stupa and Himalayan Garden at Harewood House, near Harrogate. All these buildings are a place or space where Buddhist communities might meet together to engage in Buddhist practice – be that meditation, teaching, chanting, community events, festivals, pujas etc.
We know the language is complex in this area as well – ‘centre’, ‘temple’, ‘monastery’, ‘place of worship’, ‘faith building’ (and I’m sure others)– but we have chosen to take a broad approach to the definition, particularly at the early stages of the project. This is firstly to help refine the definition of ‘Buddhist building’ in the English context, and secondly, so that we can get a good picture of the ‘landscape’ of Buddhism in England. Of course, it is limited to England at this stage as this is English Heritage’s geographical remit, but I’m sure there are some very interesting comparisons in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
In relation to this project, therefore, we are taking a pretty broad definition of the term ‘building’, whilst also remaining mindful of the priorities and drivers for English Heritage in terms of the type of buildings that they are concerned with, particularly regarding listing and protection. We aren’t focused, as a result, on Buddhist groups meeting in private residential houses, or the buildings that are occasionally rented by groups for retreat that might operate as a general retreat space for lots of different communities – although this will no doubt be mentioned in our reports.
However, this is very much a work in progress definition – and we are likely to refine it more and more as we learn more about the different types and uses of buildings amongst Buddhist communities in England today.
So what makes a ‘Buddhist building’ for you?