So I am heading to my first ‘retreat’ this fall. It’s not like it’s a scheduled group event, but it will be my first week at a monastery. I will being staying at the Temple Forest Monastery in New Hampshire (United States). I really want to get a glimpse at what my life will look like if/when I become a monk. As my student loans seem no longer to be an issue, my timeline for possible ordination has greatly been reduced. This has brought me to spend much more time looking into where would it be best for me to take my ordination and training.
I know that deciding to ordain does not mean that the next day you will get your robes. I have come to understand that there are often waiting-list at various monasteries. The concern that has arisen in me is the environment in which I will be in. To me it has become like trying to find the best school. Which place will give me the depth of knowledge I need most efficiently? Will it teach the leadership skills necessary to share my Buddhist research and practice with my new friends and the communities we are meant to serve?
So my question I guess is? How do I choose the right monastery/school? What are the leading Western Training Centers internationally? Which ones excel in certain areas, but fall short in other areas?
I am leaning towards Sāsanārakkha Buddhist Sanctuary in Taiping, Malaysia. Yet I am really not sure if this is the best decision. Sāsanārakkha speaks to everything I want to do, but I haven’t really seen other training monasteries “advertise” what actually will happen after one ordains. I am confident that there are many great places for training and learning within the Sangha, I guess I just want to know more about where to go. Perhaps I am just over thinking this and the training programs are really similar across the board. I have no idea really…
Any resources or information on the topic would be greatly appreciated.
For myself, I’m drawn to people/community which are inspiring to me. I visited a monastery in the US some time ago. I was very keen on ordaining there before my arrival.
After staying there for a couple weeks, I could tell it wasn’t for me. I even asked to be put on the waiting list, but was told is was full and they weren’t taking anymore applications at the time. I’m very thankful I got turned down.
Seems like you’re going about it well. “What inspires you?” is a decent inquiry to pose to yourself when sifting through monasteries/teachers.
Some standard advice is to stay at a monastery for a period and get a sense of the ~* vibe * ~ there. Since both communities and individuals vary, in some places you feel more comfortable and other places you don’t.
Personally, I think it seems smart to stay there a while and get a sense of whether it feels right. IMO, there’s not so much point in being at a leading place unless that’s something that inspires you and makes you put lots of effort into your practice.
I would say Bodhinyana though we all know about the legendary waiting lists
But answers to this question also depend on what style of teaching you’re into. Someone who is not inspired by Ajahn Brahm would probably not think of Bodhinyana as leading.
I think this is really hard to answer.
Like, doing a PhD at a top university is not really worth it IMO if you’re not interested in the topic, the supervisor is abusive, the work culture is toxic, etc.
Why not stay there for a time and get a sense of the place?
How do I choose the right monastery/school?
Unfortunately, there is no theoretical/straightforward answer to this.
This is a VERY practical process:
Start by going to monasteries that are nearest to you one by one to get a feel of the place for a few weeks in each one (avoid going to Asia for the first time because there will be the challenge of a different culture/language compounding the challenge of a monastic lifestyle).
After that, go to the one you feel like you would like to ordain and stay there a few months.
Then you will be sure if ordination is for you and if that’s really the place you would like to ordain. If I’m not mistaken you have to stay 5 years with your preceptor so choose wisely a place/teacher that you sense the Dhamma is really being practiced and that you feel comfortable around.
This seems to be the general consensus of every monastic I have encountered and asked this very same question.
You have to live at a minimum for five years under a teacher. Doesn’t have to be your preceptor. However in some communities (perhaps the majority) there is the social expectation that you will stay there for five years or wherever they tell you to stay.
My advice is to find a friendly place where all the monks get along. The monastic life is difficult enough without people around you fighting.
I am probably not the only person who would recommend trying a temporary ordination first. Your profile says you are from Iowa in the United States. Things would be easier if you lived in a country with a majority Buddhist population. However, there are an increasing number of Buddhist centers in the United States, many of which would be prepared to perform a temporary ordination.
Speaking from my own experience, I live near a Thai wat in the state of Oregon in the United States. It’s not uncommon for young Thai males to ordain temporarily at the wat, e.g., upon high school graduation and before entering college. Other wat members have ordained temporarily to commemorate the death of a family member, for example. But anyone is welcome to ordain temporarily, including Americans who have started practicing Buddhism as adults. One such individual did a temporary ordination and then a couple of years later took on a lifetime ordination.
If you are male (or should I say have a male body) you’re lucky you have many choices. If not, then there’s not much choice! I assume you do since you ask.
My advice as a bhikkhu is don’t go for a monastery or even community, but go where there is a teacher who you think has wisdom, and who inspires you. For the word of the ariyas is more important than good general friendships and vibes.
Ideally, a good teacher will be able to get a good vibe in the monastery as well, but even in the best places the atmosphere changes from time to time. And in a training monastery there will by necessity be some difficult people. So don’t judge by that. Good teachers, though, having no or little defilements, should stay constant in their attitude.
Hope that helps. Got to go now, otherwise I’d have said more.
Much metta! And good luck on your journey.
From what I heard of the other Venerables who travelled out there to other monasteries, including Temple Forest Monastery, SBS is still the best. Especially if you’re into Early Buddhism as well. We have quite a lot of guest monks who visits and they give good reviews. Also, no issue with learning new language if your English is good, ok learning new language of Pāli, which we have Pāli classes here.
We don’t have waiting list (yet), but don’t delay too long to visit and decide for yourself. Lots of people come, about 1 or more per month.
How to become a monk in Buddhist Society of Western Australia?
Visit. Stay for a while. Ask Ajahn Brahm. Get on the wait-list. Wait. Come back. Wait some more… Ordain.