Buddhism, a religion that is more than 2000 years old, focuses on the here and now. Buddhist monks live on the charity of others and make a vow of chastity. They dedicate their lives to helping others and promoting the Buddhist teachings. Becoming a monk requires that you become proficient in Buddhist teachings, have a mentor to guide you in your studies, and begin your training in a monastery.
Part 1 of 3: Learning about Buddhism
Step 1. Become familiar with Buddhist teachings
Begin your path to becoming a monk by learning the basics of Buddhist teachings. Borrow books from the library, gather information from the Internet, and, if possible, take lessons from a teacher ordained as a monk. The Buddha does not force anyone to believe, but asks his disciples to see the thrust of the teaching as true only if they have come to this conclusion by examining the teaching itself. Following are the basics of the teaching you are supposed to know:
- Study the Eightfold Path, which leads to the end of all suffering. This path consists of real understanding, the right speech, the right intention, the real effort, the right attention, the right concentration, the right action and the right aliveness.
- Learn about the Four Noble Truths, which contain the essence of Buddhism. A simple explanation of the noble truths is that suffering exists, that it arises from attachment to desires, that this state of being ends when attachment to desires stops, and liberation from suffering is possible if you follow the Eightfold Path.
Step 2. Become a regular or member of a temple, or sangha, where Buddhism is practiced
Buddhism is a worldwide religion and there are temples in almost all countries. Practicing Buddhism as a layperson will give you valuable insights into what it's like to be a member of a Buddhist community, which is central to being a monk. It is recommended that you become a regular visitor to the temple for months, or even years, before taking the next step, becoming a monk.
- Check the phone book or the Internet to find a Buddhist center near you.
- Be an active member of the temple. At some sanghas you can take introductory courses where you can learn more about Buddhism. At other sanghas you can go on retreats where you can deepen your devotion.
- Not all Buddhist communities are the same. Like other institutionalized religions, some are traditional while others are more modern. Try to find a community that fits your view of Buddhism and that appeals to you.
- It can also help to visit Buddhist temples in other cities or even other countries, so that you can get the most comprehensive impression of the Buddhist community.
Step 3. Look for a spiritual guide or mentor
Learning from a mentor is a very important first step if you want to become a monk. Through the one-on-one instruction, you can gain a deeper understanding of Buddhist teachings and a more complete picture of what is expected of you as a monk. Work with someone who can teach you everything you need to know.
- If you are looking for a mentor, you can ask people in the Buddhist community to recommend someone to you.
- Often in a temple, Buddhist leaders are invited to speak to the group, and this gives you the chance to meet potential future mentors.
Part 2 of 3: Preparing yourself for life in a monastery
Step 1. Meditate
To become a Buddhist monk requires daily meditation and conscious effort to change the way your mind works. If you live in a monastery, most of the day will be spent meditating. This takes practice.
- Buddhism incorporates different types of meditation, including meditation where you focus on your breathing, transformation and meditating on the Lamrim. Meditating in various postures is also part of it.
- Start by meditating for five minutes twice a day. Once you manage to meditate for five minutes, meditate for a few minutes longer each day until you can meditate for 15 minutes twice a day. Some monks meditate for hours.
Step 2. Prepare yourself to live two to three years without working
Becoming a Buddhist monk requires that you follow the Vinaya, a code of conduct, which dictates that Buddhist monks and nuns do not have normal jobs to support themselves. In some cases the monastery will take care of your basic needs, but in other cases you will need enough money to support yourself.
Step 3. Be willing to give up your worldly possessions
Monks live as beggars, which means they have only those things necessary for a very simple life, nothing more than that. You will be provided with clothes and other items you need to spend the day comfortably. Electronics, expensive clothes or shoes, or other things that are luxurious are not allowed. Monks are not allowed to possess things that can lead to emotions such as greed, envy or possessiveness.
Step 4. Realize that the Buddhist community is becoming your new family
Once you enter the monastery, your life is dedicated to the Buddhist community. You then spend your days in service to others, and you focus on those who need help. You will have little contact with your family and you will be encouraged to see the Buddhist community as your new family.
- Before being initiated, it is recommended that you discuss this with your family and let them know what to expect.
- Some monasteries do not accept candidates who are married or in any other close relationship. Detached people are more able to devote themselves to the teachings of Buddhism because they have no one outside of themselves in their lives to call their attention.
Step 5. Be prepared to take a chastity pledge
Monks do not participate in any sexual activity. In some cases, male and female monks (nuns) are not allowed to talk to each other about matters that are not about daily life. It is recommended that you practice chastity before being initiated so that you can find out if leading a chaste life is right for you. The idea is that the energy you normally devote to sex is now focused on things bigger than yourself.
Step 6. Decide what kind of commitment you want to pursue
In some traditions, initiation is a lifelong commitment. But there are also traditions in which it is fine to be initiated for a number of months or years. In Tibet, for example, there are many men who are initiated for two or three months so that they can develop their spiritual identity before getting married or working.
- Make sure the monastery you are interested in offers the level of dedication you are looking for.
- If you are not sure, you can also take a two or three month initiation, after which you can opt for a longer initiation.
Part 3 of 3: Getting initiated as a monk
Step 1. Learn in a monastery
If you are convinced that you want to become a monk, you will be initiated at a specific monastery. It is then necessary that you meet the conditions as laid down by that monastery, so that you can be initiated there. In some cases it is necessary for an older monk to invite you to join who deems you suitable to become a monk.
Step 2. Participate in the dedication ceremony
The ceremony marks your decision to become a Buddhist monk, and can only be performed by an acceding monk. During this ceremony, the monk will teach you the three Jewels and the five precepts. You will also receive your Buddhist name.
If you are a follower of Shin Buddhism, there is a ceremony where your intention is confirmed, rather than an initiation. This ceremony has the same purpose as the initiation ceremony
Step 3. Follow your teacher's instructions
If you have participated in an initiation ceremony, your teacher is usually the ordained monk who conducted the ceremony. You will receive specific instructions that belong to the monastery you entered.
Step 4. Take the Bodhisattva vows
A Bodhisattva is someone who dedicates his or her life to the Buddhist way. The vows are centered on performing acts of compassion, striving to improve every human life, and seeking enlightenment. The vows are intended to guide you in perfecting your highest aspiration in life. The vows ask you to live a life of altruistic service, and you will often recite the vows.
- After you have finished the first part of your apprenticeship, the community may become your sponsor for a while, supporting you financially.
- Buddhism originated in India and spread through Southeast Asia, and many Buddhist temples can be found in countries such as Thailand and India.