Becoming a Monastic

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Courtesy of Plum Village Sangha

Question from a lay friend: I’ve been drawn to a monastic life for several years, and I’ve quit my job.

Monastics’ answer:
We hope this finds you safe and well. The aspiration to deepen your practice is a beautiful thing and must be nourished daily. We hope you are finding the necessary nutriment to continue to grow this beautiful path. Did you know that we have local groups/Sangha practicing in our tradition? You can find them on www.mindfulnessbell.org/directory. We also have Sanghas for young people (ages 18-35) at wkup.org/sanghas.

Have you been to Plum Village or one of our practice centers in the United States or Asia? If not, we discourage friends who are coming for the first time to make one-way plans. Even friends who have been previously in Plum Village are slowly encouraged step-by-step towards ordaining as a monastic.

If you live in the United States:
The best option would be first to practice with us for 1-2 weeks. You can find our retreats at our US practice centers: Blue Cliff MonasteryMagnolia Grove Monastery, and Deer Park Monastery or in Plum Village, France. Any time we are open to receiving guests at any of our practice centers would be a good time.

The monastic program is at Deer Park Monastery. The following information is provided by Deer Park on how to proceed on your path:

  • If you are interested in monastic life and haven’t practiced in one of our monasteries before, then you will need to register (www.deerparkmonastery.org) and stay in Deer Park as a long term guest in order to get a sense whether monastic life is for you, and if this is the right community for you. After a period of two weeks, if you feel that this community is a good fit for you, you can write a letter to the community asking permission to stay longer—and perhaps mentioning that you are considering monastic life. You will need to fill out a personal history sheet.
  • If the community accepts you to stay longer, our Aspirant master will sit down with you and have a conversation with you to get to know you and your aspiration better. He will also bring to the attention of the brothers that you are interested in monastic life. After some time at Deer Park, which can be longer or shorter depending on your personal situation, then the community may accept you as a pre-aspirant. At that time, you will be appointed a mentor, given classes in aspects of monastic life and basic Buddhism, and invited to move to our pre-aspirant room, which is close to the monastic quarters so that the community can get to know you, and you can get a better sense of monastic life and our community.
  • As you proceed along the path, at your own pace, at a certain time, you, your mentor and the community may feel that you are ripe enough to become a formal aspirant. This is the next step towards ordination. During this period, you will have a health check and you will also write a formal letter of aspiration. If accepted for training by the community, in a simple ceremony with the presence of all of the brothers, you will be offered the grey robe of an aspirant and some encouraging words offered by the Abbot and your mentor. From that point on the training in the fine manners and other aspects of monastic life deepens. In addition to following the regular schedule of the Sangha fully, you should expect to have at least three additional classes and one on one mentor-mentee sessions a week.

The period of aspirancy is different for each person, as people ripen at different speeds. A number of aspirants find that the monastic life is not for them. At some point, your mentor and the community will sense that you are ripe, and will recommend you for novice ordination, which will take place either at Deer Park Monastery or at one of our other centers in the US.

If you live in Europe:
We only accept new aspirants and long-term practitioners once a year in Plum Village after they have completed the three-month Rains retreat (winter retreat) with us. The cost is approximately €2200. Our next Rains retreat starts around the beginning of September or November. I would recommend first to practice for a short stay (1-2 weeks) during the year and allow your aspiration to ripen and experience the Sangha. You will get to know us better and what we do, so you can base your aspiration on the experience of living in Plum Village.

If the cost of €2200 is an obstacle, then we invite you to join a local Sangha and share your aspiration. They can help you fundraise your aspiration and write a recommendation letter for you. We can then look into a financial solution that works for everyone.

If you live in Asia:

We only accept new aspirants and long-term practitioners once a year in Plum Village after they have completed the three-month Rains retreat (winter retreat) with us. The cost is approximately €2200. Our next Rains retreat starts around the beginning of September or November. I would recommend first to practice for a short stay (1-2 weeks) during the year and allow your aspiration to ripen and experience the Sangha. You will get to know us better and what we do, so you can base your aspiration on the experience of living in Plum Village.

To get a visa, we ask you first to come with a tourist visa for 3 months. Then when you have been accepted as an aspirant, you can go back to your home country, take care of final things, and then we will help to arrange a long-term visa so you can come back to Plum Village for aspirant training.

Another option would be to visit Plum Village in Thailand. They have a growing number of East-Asian monastics there. They usually start their three-month Rains retreat in June. You can find more information at Thai Plum Village.

We are here to support you on your path. If you have any other questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to email us.

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