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How to become a Buddhist monk or nun

How to become a Buddhist monk or nun

In these interviews, recorded by a team from, Venerable Thubten Chodron answers questions about her life and what it means to be a Buddhist in the 21st century.

If one wants to become a Buddhist monk or nun, how do you go about doing it?

The first thing is, you really work on your motivation. That’s absolutely the first thing. So you meditate on the defects of cyclic existence, you meditate on the defects of the eight worldly concerns, so you become very clear about what you value in life, and what direction you want to take.

Another important element before taking ordination is what Dharma tradition, what Buddhist tradition, are you going to follow? It’s not like, “Oh, I just want to ordain!” No, you have to follow a tradition, you have to know who your teacher is, because becoming a monastic isn’t just changing your hairdo and your clothes. It’s changing your whole life.

You’re going to go live in a community, so you need to know what kind of community you’re going to live in, what monastery you want to join, be accepted by that monastery, so you’ve been there, you’ve met the people, you’ve seen that you would fit in, and they know that you would fit in there.

You know who your teacher is, who’s going to train you, because you definitely need a teacher. It’s not just you ordain and then you go wandering around doing your own trip. These practical things have to be set up too.

In the West, very often finances are a problem, because there aren’t so many monasteries, and people don’t support the Western monastics so much. So you better have some idea of how you’re going to exist as a monastic, because otherwise if you have to grow out your hair, put on clothes and get a job, just in order to eat, then it’s going to be very difficult to keep the precepts. It’s not the optimum condition.

So when you have your internal causes clean clear with your motivation, and the external circumstances also clean clear, then you go to your teacher and you request ordination. And your teacher may have a specific process for ordaining people, or they’ll give you further instructions on what to do.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.