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Buddhist Wedding Ideas & Rituals

Inspired by a recent Wedding Network event at Portland’s Lan Su Chinese Garden, this post is the first of a series that will explore the wedding customs of various cultures and religions.

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One of the first things I learned from Jacqueline Mandell, Portland wedding officiant and Buddhist meditation instructor, is that there is no such thing as a standard Buddhist wedding ceremony. Instead, she says, Buddhist symbols and elements are infused into the customs of whichever country the couple is from. Once the world’s largest religion, Buddhism is most commonly practiced in India, Cambodia, China, Tibet, Thailand, Japan, Korea, Laos, Burma, Sri Lanka, indonesia, Taiwan and Vietnam – covering a wide swathe of Asia rich in cultural diversity.
No matter the country of origin, Buddhists value qualities of love, wisdom, respect and follow a standard of ethics that nearly all religions support – do not lie, steal, cheat, etc. A Buddhist marriage ceremony often provides space for the newlyweds to meditate on transferring their Buddhist principles into their marriage, allowing for a more spiritual, mature union.
Jaqueline, who runs Pure Heart Sangha, finds that many of her clients are contemporary couples attracted to Buddhist philosophies, meditation or Asian cultures. others are practicing buddhists with different styles of meditation.
Having grown up in a somewhat-average American family, I personally know very little of Buddhism and was struck by the beauty, deep respect for family, and peacefulness that exudes from the five weddings showcased here.
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Buddhist Values & ways to represent them in a wedding

As there are no pan-cultural Buddhist wedding traditions, the ways a particular couple express their Buddhist values are designated by their cultural influences. Look for symbolic elements throughout the ceremony, reception, and venue.

  • Love, Respect & Honor – altar with meaningful symbols and photos of loved ones or ancestors, meditation, victory banners,  tea ceremony
  • Positive Space & Blessings – incense, prayer flags
  • Non-Harming of Life – vegetarian menu, though not all Buddhists are vegetarians. Buddha ate whatever was offered, demonstrating gratefulness, another key value.
  • Generosity — abundance of food, donations to a charity
  • Transformation & Wisdom – lotus flowers, candles, prayer, meditation, bells or gong
  • Joy & Happiness – golden fish
  • Connectedness – red string, endless knot, white ceremonial scarf
  • Protection – Buddha statue, victory banners, parasols
  • Purity – water, white ceremonial scarf

More juicy Tid-Bits

  • Some Buddhist monks do not officiate weddings.
  • In Buddhism, the body is respected as a holy vessel with the head, being the highest point on the body, symbolizing enlightenment. For that reason, it is disrespectful to touch another person’s head or point the soles of your feet toward someone, including Buddha.
  • Expect an abundance of food. It would be seen as a negative omen if provisions were to run out. Leftovers are most commonly given to family members or donated to relief agencies.
  • In many Buddhist cultures, public displays of affection are viewed negatively, so the newlyweds may choose to forgo a kiss at the close of the wedding ceremony.
  • Couples may change clothes frequently, and you may see lots of rich fabrics such as silks, brocades, and fine cotton.
  • The traditional wedding colors vary depending on the country or culture.
    • Red, Crimson, & Gold – China
    • Saffron & Brown – Thailand, Burma, India, Sri Lanka, Laos, Vietnam
    • Black & Gray – Japan & Korea
    • Red, Blue, Green, White & Yellow – Tibet
  • Common flowers are peonies, orchids, ikebana, roses, wisteria, and lotus

Share your Buddhist Wedding Experiences

Have you ever attended a Buddhist wedding? Did you include Buddhist elements at your own nuptials? Please share your experiences with future brides who may be looking for ideas in the comments below!

Shout Outs

Vibrant Table is indebted to the amazing photographers that so generously share their work. A special thank you to the photographers featured in this blog post – who spent precious time this busy wedding season searching for images we could share with you.

MOSCA PHOTO – Buddhist statue (VT modified for use in header), incense
SARA GRAY PHOTOGRAPHY – brown altar with family pictures on wall, bride in yellow dress handing tea to relative
EVRIM ICOZ PHOTOGRAPHY – tea pot with flowers, koi in Lan Su Chinese Garden lake with lotus, Lan Su waterfall with Chinese characters, altar with gong and incense
JAMIE BOSWORTH PHOTOGRAPHER – table with umbrellas (at Lan Su Chinese Garden), drum performers, fan with flowers, laughing Buddha placeholder, eternity sign
JESSICA WATSON PHOTOGRAPHY – Urban couple with red tea set

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About Vibrant Table

best portland catererVibrant Table Catering & Events is an award-winning, catering and event production company in Portland, Oregon. We provide services in Portland, Salem, Vancouver, and surrounding areas. We offer a wide range of services including custom menus, event planning, event design, floral and decor.

20 Responses to Buddhist Wedding Ideas & Rituals

  1. Adam Tebbe says:

    Hi there!

    I just came across your article and was wondering if I could have permission to republish this piece at one of my two sites, The Buddhist Dispatch. I think it’s a cool topic that my readers would enjoy. I would attribute credit however you wish.

    Sincerely,

    Adam Tebbe

    • Faith says:

      Hello Adam, You are more than welcome to repost this! Please link back to the original blog post and also to our main website: http://www.vibranttable.com. Thank you so much for reading!

      (You may notice that, since posting last night, I’ve made a few revisions based on some feedback provided by Jacqueline Mandell and David Robinson, a VT coordinator that is a student of Zen Buddhism.)

  2. Beth says:

    This is an article of such beauty! The photography is stunning, first of all, and I learned a lot about how Buddists celebrate their unions. I love how those who have past are still honored and appreciated.

    //Beth @ the Chicago Wedding Bands

  3. Nancy K Randall says:

    We will be attending a Buddhist wedding in Portland next month . Any ideas on dress, gift?

    • Faith says:

      Thank you for posting, Nancy! I turned to Google for help in answering your question about gifts. First, I’d ask if the couple has a registry. There may be something mentioned or listed on the registry that will help guide your decision. If not, Buddhist statues and monetary donations ending in on (e.g. $21, $51, $101) are traditional Buddhist wedding gifts. You can find more information here: http://www.ehow.com/list_6139515_buddhist-wedding-gifts.html

      For attire, you would be fine wearing the same thing you would to a non-Buddhist wedding. If you’d like to wear something more in line with their Buddhist traditions, check in with the bride and groom. There is not one Pan-Buddhist tradition, so dress styles and wedding traditions vary across the different cultures. If the ceremony is held at a temple, you may be asked to remove your shoes.

      Enjoy your trip to Portland!

  4. Penny Matousek says:

    Hello,
    I am beginning to plan a Buddhist Wedding for March of next year. Your information on this page has been every interesting! I have taken notes, that will help a great deal with my planning! However, I did see in the article that “Some Buddhist do not officiate weddings.” I am curious to know now who it should be directing the ceremony. Would it be a normal, everyday priest or some other religious leader?

    • Faith says:

      I would contact your local temple and speak to them. If they do not personally oversee the ceremony, they should be able to direct you to officiants versed in Buddhist traditions. Good luck planning your wedding! That’s exciting.

  5. Megan says:

    Hi – I am looking for an officiant who speaks both English and Mandarin Chinese. I am from the US and my fiance and his family are from China. His parents do not speak English so it would be great to have a bilingual wedding. Any recommendations?

    • Faith says:

      Hi Megan,

      Congratulations! Are you based in Portland, Oregon? I don’t know of any bilingual Mandarin-English officiants personally, but I’ll post the question to our community of Facebook and Twitter. I’ll let you know if I hear back. You can also follow the conversation at http://www.facebook.com/vibrant.table.

    • Faith says:

      Hi Megan,

      We’ve asked around and haven’t been able to come up with a bilingual officiant based in Portland thus far. However, Reverend Maureen Haley says that its common for there to be a translator present for bicultural ceremonies. You can also contact a local Buddhist center to see if they know of anyone. In Portland, you might try the Bodhi Tree Center, for example. Good luck! We’ll continue to keep our ears to the ground for you.

  6. Erik Scudder says:

    I really enjoyed your article. I’m an ordained minister preparing for an upcoming wedding. He’s 100% Irish,she’s half arabic, half… everything else lol. In this ceremony I’m using.a basic christian style wedding including a gaelic hand fasting and arabic zaffe. The bride is a Buddist and what to incudea bit of Buddism as.well. I was thinking of including red string in their hand fasting, any other suggestions would be much appreciated. Thank You

    • Faith says:

      What an exciting mix, Eric! Vibrant Table does not perform wedding ceremonies, so I turned to the local professionals for the information in this post. We find our industry colleagues to be quite resourceful and creative. Are there other colleagues in your community that perform blended ceremonies?

      We would love to know what you come up with. Please share!

  7. I have been invited to a Sri Lankan Wedding in Colombo, A Catholic Man marrying a Buddhist Girl who a deeply in love (their parents approve and are good friends) and have been asked to propose a toast to the Bride and Groom.
    Any suggestions as to an appropriate Love Quote ar something nice to say.
    Thank you and God Bless
    Winston

    • Faith says:

      Hello Winston, We asked a colleague, David Robinson, to answer your question. He recommends turning to a poet like Rilke for inspiration. For a more Buddhist touch, the Metta Prayer is a beautiful option as well.

  8. Leslie says:

    My fiance and I are just beginning to plan our wedding. He is Buddhist from Sri Lanka, I am Baptist here in the states. Neither of us are truly tradition per se but I know his mother is. Although the ceremony would be primarily christian based I am trying to figure out if there are any traditional customs or ceremonial things that his mother might expect us to do or perform and if there are “definite do not do” things I should know about. I truly would like to add things to our wedding that would let his mother know that we thought of and respected her and her sons beliefs/traditions. I love my hunni but on this subject he has been little to no help (typical boy LOL). Any help or suggestions would be great.

    • Faith says:

      Wedding customs vary across Buddhist countries, and I am far from a specialist on Sri Lankan wedding customs. If asking your mother-in-law-to-be is not an option, what about incorporating the Golden Knot into your ceremony? Here your maternal uncle (or stand-in) ties your and your groom’s fingers together with gold thread and your officiant would sprinkle your hands with holy water. Wedding knots are common wedding customs in many cultures, and will likely be a familiar element to both your American and Sri Lankan guests. Another idea is to hold the ceremony on a ‘poruwa’ stand. (Thank you Google!) Good luck and let us know what you decide!

  9. April says:

    If you know anyone in the RI area that can help me plan a Buddhist wedding I would greatly appreciate the direction. I cannot seem to find anyone who understands what I am looking for. This article is perfect.

    • Faith says:

      Hi April, I am honored that you enjoyed our post. I’ve reached out on social media and we’ll see what we come up with. I’ll let you know if I hear back.

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