|Midwestern Dhamma Refuge
grounded in contemplative practice
for a peaceful, just, & sustainable society
I receive many inquiries about ordaining as Buddhist monks and nuns, even tho I haven't been a monk for almost 4 years now! I hope this page will provide some practical guidance.
Become a Buddhist monastic is a gradual process that requires patience. I know men who have hurried into it; in many cases that did not work out for the best, whether for them or the monastic communities (such as mine) that had to deal with their impatience. On the other hand, people who have a true monastic calling can take their time (tho not dawdling) and make wise choices. They become mature monks and nuns, and their communities are enriched by their life, practice, and service.
Here are some steps that I suggest you follow. These suggestions are written for both men and women. At the end are additional considerations for women (equality is not the status quo).
Decide the orientation of your practice & understanding of Buddhism. Is it primarily Theravada? Zen? Tibetan? Chinese Ch'an? Within that tradition (there's diversity in all the major schools), which flavors of teaching & practice (e.g. Thai forest or Tibetan Nyingma) are most meaningful for you?
Find out which monastic teachers in that tradition and flavor have training monasteries able to accommodate foreigners. (Some do and some don't. Those that don't lack, for instance, English speaking teachers and translators, or unknowingly impose too much of the local culture.) Nowadays, you may find some of these teachers living in the West; others are based in Asia. Which of these teachers inspire you enough to possibly live in obedience to them for a number of years?
Visit 2 or 3 of those monasteries. Spend a few weeks in each. (This may be a large investment of time and money for you, but it is important.) Find out if they actually train young monks & nuns, or do they just let you do your own thing. Do they follow Vinaya sufficiently?
When you find a place that suits you and supports the kind of training you need (including Dhamma, meditation, & Vinaya), return for a at least a 3 month visit. 3 months is necessary for getting past the "honeymoon stage" in which you fall in love with the place and don't notice the warts. It won't be till you notice the limits & weaknesses (which every place has, including monasteries) that you can balance those with the strengths & positive qualities, and can make a wise decision. If you are overly idealistic about a place, you will be disappointed and may end up bitter.
Find out what that monastery requires of ordination candidates. Begin the process. It might take a while.
I hope this is helpful for you. These are broad guidelines.
Some one like myself can not advise intelligently regarding the latter steps until you provide more information on the first, then proceed step by step from there.
Buddhist monastic communities are usually hierarchal, whether in Asia or the West. Even when no monks are present, their influence may be substantial. If you expect equal treatment, you will be frustrated.
A few monastic communities have made serious attempts to minimize gender hierarchy and patriarchy. If you have any feminist inclinations, you might want to check these out first.
More information from the Sakyadhita website.
Are you prepared to sacrifice some of your individuality (habits, opinions, status) in order to fit into a healthy Sangha?
Are your financial matters in order?
If you are over 30, are you ready for the physical hardships of monastic life, especially in the poorer Buddhist countries? Do you have health issues or special needs?
Are you prepared to give up a career & property for a 3-5 year experiment (in case you drop out)?