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!
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
Vibrant 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.