Monastery? Temple? Community? Meditation Center? Cultural Center???

Buddhist organizations in the west often use different words to describe themselves. Here are some common terms explained.


Temple is by far the most common word used for organizations that include monastics. It might mean that the focus of the place is on offering spiritual services to the lay community.


Monastety definitely indicates there are monastics. Often there is is a focus on seclusion and they may be located a bit farther away from population centers. Sometimes they offer guest accommodations.


Community is an ambiguous term that may be used in an effort to sound “normal” and may mean that monastics are either not involved or have only a guest role.

Meditation Center

Meditation center may indicate that part or all of the focus is on meditation. There may be organized retreats and overnight accommodation. Often they are affiliated with or are a part of a monastery.

Cultural Center

Many older Buddhist organizations included this in their name instead of “temple” to avoid social stigma. Some, however, actively promote things such as dance, music, or language allong side Buddhist teachings.

And More…

There’s many other terms you might see as well, sometimes in combination with the ones above.

Vihara is the Pali word for dwelling and is often part of the name of Sri Lankan temples.

Society serves a similar purpose as “community”

Wat is the Thai word for temple or monastery.

Hermitage is usually interchangeable with monastery, although it might be more secluded.

Abbey and priory are English terms for monasteries, an Abbey usually being larger.

Sangha is Pali word that refers to a group of monastics or fully enlightened disciples. However in a group name it often just refers to a group of lay people.