AMERICAN WEDDINGS BLOG
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Published Sunday, Dec. 20th, 2020
A mix of ancient ritual and modern touches, Buddhist wedding celebrations are cheerful events that reflect the culture of the couple and their commitment to compassion, harmony, patience, and community.
Buddhists view marriage as spiritual but nonreligious, left to the individual to choose (or not choose) as they wish.
There are no religious right or wrongs regarding marriage, only teachings from the Buddha on how to cultivate the happiest lasting domestic relationships, so these occasions are more about celebration than ceremony. They incorporate traditional customs and rituals of the region or country, combined with modern touches chosen by the couple. This results in beautiful variety in Buddhist weddings, all around the world.
Many Buddhist wedding ceremonies include Buddhist readings and teachings, blessings from the couple’s community or local monks, promises made between the couple, a unity ritual such as exchanging rings, and offerings to the Buddha, followed by a large feast and celebration.
These ceremonies usually take place at a home or wedding venue, not a temple, although couples might choose to visit a temple before or after the wedding as part of their celebration.
Ceremony decorations include incense, flowers, candles, and (often) a statue of the Buddha. There may be chanting, bells, drums, gongs, or cymbals, too, to mark different points in the ceremony, depending on local practices.
What happens at a Buddhist wedding is entirely up to the couple.
Below is an overview of who officiates the ceremony, how the ceremony is constructed, and suggestions on what to wear to a Buddhist wedding.
For a complete sample script:
Most often a couple selects a friend or family member to perform their wedding ceremony. Although monks may attend the event and participate in other ways, they very rarely perform the marriage.
(Couples, read Asking a Friend or Family Member to Officiate Your Wedding? Read This First... If you want to perform marriage for friends, become ordained online with us!)
At the start of the celebration, many couples will choose to have guests to join them in a period of meditation or reflection, to bring everyone into a state of mindfulness and joy on the purpose of the day.
Other couples might invite monks from a local temple to join the celebrations, and these monks may participate by blessing the couple, singing, chanting or reading from Buddhist teachings. Community members may share teachings from the Dalai Lama or Dogen, or read sections from the Sigalovada Sutta, an old Buddhist text which speaks specifically to the ways couples can best approach domestic unions.
This period of meditation and blessing may last for a half an hour or more in some cases.
After a period of blessing and meditation, the officiant will usually say a few words on the meaning of marriage, the purpose of the day, and share some of the couple’s love story with the guests.
The officiant might choose to reference Buddhism’s three jewels:
Traditional vows aren't a necessary part of a Buddhist wedding, but the promises that a couple makes to each other are essential.
Couples will usually speak to one another about the meaning of marriage and love, drawing on the tenets of Buddhism. They might talk about wisdom, compassion, joy, harmony, the inevitable changes that occur in marriage, or the inescapable nature of suffering — and promise one another to meet these realities with love, kindness, and patience. Some couples exchange prayer beads or other small gifts.
(Officiants, read The Vows Exchange Explained for help understanding how and when to include vows and personal readings in the ceremony, and how to rehearse vows with a couple).
Buddhist weddings embrace elements of the couple’s individual cultures or backgrounds, leading to a large variety of unity rituals. Some couples take a Western approach and exchange rings, while other couples may use garlands or threads as they do in Thailand or India.
Because the celebration is open to the couple and their family to plan, any unity ritual which is meaningful to them can be easily included.
If there is a statue of the Buddha at the ceremony, the couple will often make offerings by lighting candles or incense, leaving packages of food, or placing flowers at the base of the statue. The offerings can come before or after the vows or personal readings, usually before the pronouncement. Couples might choose to visit a temple as part of the ceremony, and may incorporate traditional rituals in the shrine.
It’s useful to know that this isn’t a sign of worshiping the Buddha, but instead a demonstration of gratitude for the Buddha’s teaching and guidance, and an expression of joy as they move into married life together.
Many Buddhist weddings end in a way that’s familiar to a Western eye, with the officiant pronouncing the happy couple married, followed by a kiss.
Most celebrations continue with a decadent feast and lively dancing and music lasting into the night. These are truly vibrant celebrations — noisy, large, and joyful. Community is a vital part of a Buddhist couple’s life together, both their spiritual community and their joined families. This is a time for that community to come together, celebrate the couple’s devotion, and party!
When choosing what to wear, always follow the tone set by the couple.
Because Buddhists see marriage as personal choice with no strict rules, couples can wear whatever they want to their celebration. Casual or formal, western or traditional, wedding attire varies widely. If the celebration is taking place in a temple, couples will usually choose clothing that's not too revealing. (If the wedding is in a home or temple, guests should expect to take off their shoes when entering.)
Guests can expect to dress inline with whatever tone the couple sets. If the couple doesn’t include a dress code on the invitations, guests can dress however they feel most comfortable while honoring the specialness of the occasion. When in doubt, it’s always best to check in with the couple in advance.
Officiants will take their lead from the couple as usual. For some suggestions on clothing that usually hit the mark, read What to wear (and not wear) as a Wedding Officiant. These general tips can be adapted to suit (pun intended…) just about any event.
The wisdom offered in the Sigalovada Sutta is often incorporated into a couple’s vows or promises to one another, or in the opening of the ceremony, so it’s very useful for officiants to understand its suggestions. Primarily, it advises couples to be calm and compassionate with one another, and avoid harsh words or oppressive actions.
Its advice can be further summarized by these key points: to be attentive and courteous, to avoid looking down on your partner, to be faithful to your unique commitment, to share authority, to be generous, to take good care of the home and household responsibilities, and to be welcoming to all family and community relations.
Updated June 14, 2021
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