Temple Etiquette and Dress Code

Please read the following guide carefully.

Etiquette at unfamiliar places of worship is a combination of basic good manners, cultural sensitivity, and respect for others. Good manners and proper attire are important both as an expression of respect for the religious communities involved, and also because we as visitors will be taken as representatives of the USD community.

These guidelines are to help you feel more comfortable in unfamiliar cultural settings.

Points to Remember: Behaving with Cultural Sensitivity and R-E-S-P-E-C-T

  • First, don’t worry too much! A journey into another culture is an adventure, and we are fortunate in San Diego that we don’t have to spend money  on expensive airfares to enjoy such opportunities.
  • The people you meet at these places of worship are good and understanding people. As Americans, they understand Americans, and will be anxious to make you feel at home.
  • If you are unsure about what is appropriate in an unfamiliar cultural situation, it is perfectly acceptable to ask. It will not hurt to say “Excuse me. May I ask you some questions?” Of course, careful observation also helps.
  • It is very important to dress appropriately, which means respectfully and modestly. Shorts, T-shirts, tight pants/leggings, bare shoulders, and any overly casual clothing should be completely avoided. Loose fitting jeans are OK if you have a nice top/shirt, but not ideal. Inappropriate clothing is a sign of disrespect.
  • For Asian temples, however, the standard of dress is less formal than at mainline Christian and Jewish places of worship. “Sunday best” is not expected. “Smart casual” is good.
  • In these settings, you will typically have to sit cross-legged on the floor; so again, dress appropriately. Try to retain a posture indicating attentiveness. Note that pointing one’s feet toward the altar or teacher is regarded as disrespectful. So avoid extending your legs. If you need to stretch your legs, be sure to point your feet away from other people and sacred objects. Better, just bring your knees up to your chin.
  • Under no circumstances should you assume a lying posture, which again would be considered disrespectful.  These points may sound excessively restrictive, but they are important.
  • Avoid smoking, public displays of affection, loud talking, boisterous laughter, physical contact, and imposing on your host’s hospitality. Be mindful of body language, especially around members of the opposite sex.
  • If you are invited to stay for food, try to observe the manners of your hosts. A prayer may be chanted before the meal or tea, so it is best to wait until others begin. Wasting food may be frowned upon, so try to take just as much as you can eat.
  • If you wish, you may bring flowers or fruit as an offering to Hindu temples, or food offerings for the monks to Buddhist temples. In almost all temples, small offerings slipped into a donation into offering box are welcome. but not required.

Thanks for reading these points carefully and keeping them in mind!