10 Big Questions About Buddhism, Answered


Can Anyone Be a Buddhist Monk?

Buddhist monk protest
Buddhist monks hold a peaceful protest and demand respect for the country's democracy, on Nov. 6, 2018 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images

The short answer is yes. With the proper preparation and sense of commitment, anyone can take the vows of a Buddhist monk or nun and enter the walls of monastic life. But that doesn't mean that everybody should.

Although some monasteries offer part-time ordination, in most schools of Buddhism, the choice to become a Buddhist monk or nun is a lifetime commitment. Many Buddhists monks and nuns are celibate. They don't work or earn money outside of the monastery. They meditate and study all day long. On the plus side, no more agonizing over what to wear or how to style your hair. Monks and nuns shave their heads and wear simple robes every day.

Because it's a serious decision, Buddhist monasteries ensure that all prospective monks and nuns are fully prepared for the realities of monastic life. First, there's spiritual preparation. You can't show up the doors of a Buddhist monastery as an absolute newbie and expect to be handed a robe. It requires years of serious study and practice under a qualified teacher before one can even consider becoming ordained. Some monasteries require a year or more under some form of lay vows before seeking full ordination [source: IMI].

Then there are more practical preparations. Aspiring monks and nuns should be free of any "encumbering relationships" and have the permission and support of family members. They should also be free of debt and other financial obligations, because worldly jobs are forbidden once you're ordained [source: Nalanda Monastery].

Most monastic communities recommend that prospective monks and nuns spend progressively longer stretches of time at the monastery as volunteers and helpers before taking the vows. Many monasteries offer meditation retreats for a taste of monastic life. Aspiring monks and nuns are encouraged to help out at the monastery by cleaning or preparing meals while getting to know the monastic community and its daily rhythms.

Not all monasteries accept foreigners, but there are several well-known monastic communities in Asia, Europe and the United States that are welcoming to monks and nuns from all backgrounds.