“More and more people from non-Buddhist backgrounds are expressing a wish to become ordained as Buddhist monks and nuns. Sometimes they face unexpected problems. These may occur because they did not properly understand what ordination entailed or because they lack the social and spiritual support that is taken for granted in traditional Buddhist societies…
Ordination is not something to be taken lightly. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, it is intended to be a lifelong commitment. The Buddhist tradition itself will not be strengthened merely by increasing the numbers of people who become ordained. That will depend rather on the quality of our monks and nuns. Therefore, those who sincerely seek ordination deserve proper guidance, encouragement and support.”
– His Holiness the Dalai Lama
On the straight way,
Desire and hatred fell away,
Along with the obsessions
Of the mind
That combine with them.
– Therigatha Sakula, Verses of the Elder Nuns from the Pali Canon c. 600 BC
Resources and Advice
Watch: The Role of Monastics in the West – Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo with His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Watch: “Life as a Western Buddhist Nun” – Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron at Smith College
Watch: Buddhist Nuns in Asia vs. the West – Bhikshuni Karma Lekshe Tsomo
In 1971, Lama Thubten Yeshe founded the first community of Western monks and nuns known as the International Mahayana Institute
“Before making the decision to take ordination, one should have a thorough foundation in the teachings of the Buddha, such as the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, and the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Lamrim). Traditionally a student requesting ordination has completed several years of study and practice under the guidance of a qualified teacher. If you are beginning, check your your local area for a center or study group where you can generate an understanding of the teachings, gather the support of other Dharma students and have the guidance of a qualified teacher.” – From Lama Yeshe, Advice for Monks and Nuns
Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo’s advice on enquiries to take ordination
In fact the first question I usually ask westerners when they say they want to be ordained is, how will you support yourself? In traditional Buddhist countries the monastic sangha is supported by the lay community. Once one has received ordination one can ‘renounce the world and go forth in faith’ as the Buddha advised.
However for those foreigners ordained within the Tibetan tradition this security does not pertain. Tibetan lamas are concerned to support their own sangha and regard foreigners as well able to take care of themselves.
To become ordained is quite easy but the subsequent commitment, as laid down in the Vinaya texts, that the ordination master then has the responsibility to train and sustain their students is ignored. – From Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo’s ‘Ordination for Foreigners’
Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron has prepared a comprehensive collection of advice for people considering ordination.
“The Buddhist community includes monastics and lay people. Both are necessary for the preservation of Buddhism. However, monastics choose a life of vowed simplicity, a life directly related to the preservation and dissemination of the Dharma to benefit others. They are the core of that lifestyle that all Buddhist practitioners are committed to. In the articles here, Venerable Chodron shares with us the joys and difficulties of being a nun and the special challenges of being a Western Buddhist nun. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama notes, all Buddhist nuns have a unique role to play in the evolution of Buddhism where the universal principle of the equality of all human beings takes precedence. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to be a monastic, you’ll find these articles intriguing and stimulating.” – Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron
The Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT) has consolidated advice on preparing for ordination – outlining points to give you an idea of the realities of living as a Buddhist monastic.
“Becoming a Buddhist monk or nun is truly a meaningful and worthwhile way to spend your life, and to be of benefit to others. We are very fortunate that the monastic tradition started by the Buddha is still alive today, thanks to the devotion, dedication and efforts of many thousands of monks and nuns in Asia over the last 2500 years. Although there is great benefit in becoming ordained, the life of a Buddhist monk or nun also carries a deep responsibility for oneself and for others.” – From FPMT’s ‘How to Become a Monk or a Nun – Preparing for Ordination’
Tushita Meditation Centre’s Pre-Ordination Training Course
Tushita Meditation Centre in Dharamshala, India offers a pre-ordination course for those who have already been accepted by His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s office for ordination by His Holiness. The course generally runs for three weeks on a yearly basis and is structured to give a well-rounded insight into what monastic commitment entails, and provides opportunities for group discussion and personal reflection.
Bhikshuni Karma Lekshe Tsomo’s Protocol for Sangha in the Tibetan Tradition
The question of protocol for sangha members in the Tibetan tradition raises many delicate yet important issues. An ordained sangha member is expected to be a model of polite and refined behavior, but what does that model look like?
On the one hand, Western culture has its own standards of courtesy and its own etiquette which may be quite different from customs in Asia. On the other hand, once one takes ordination and wears the robes of a Buddhist renunciate, it is important to respect the Buddhist tradition and to behave in a way consistent with one’s role as an exemplar of that tradition.
Choosing Simplicity – A Commentary on the Bhikshuni Pratimoksha by Venerable Bhikshuni Master Wu Yin
By examining how the ordination vows act as guidelines to promote individual peace and personal simplicity, Choosing Simplicity: A Commentary on the Bhikshuni Pratimoksha by Venerable Bhikshuni Wu Yin … is a glance at a feminine lifestyle that utterly challenges the attainment-based culture that women, and particularly American women, have been so thoroughly sold on. So what stress-beating experiences could reading a manual on the female Buddhist relationships to food, clothing, shelter, and possessions possibly offer? All I can tell you is that such an immersion is like taking a trip to sanity for a while; people of all faiths and cultures can benefit from even such random samples of monastic experience. Just completing a chapter I felt more mindful than when I started. And as weeks passed the precepts crept through my consciousness as I went about my days. – Book review, Shoreline Newspapers
“The book not only helps nurture an understanding of the meaning and value of Buddhist monasticism but also offers essential commentary in simple language for Buddhists in the West who choose a monastic lifestyle.” – Venerable Karma Lekshe Tsomo
Preparing for Ordination – Reflections for Westerners Considering Monastic Ordination in the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition – Forwarded by His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Published by Life as a Western Buddhist Nun – For free distribution
The decision to take monastic ordination is an important one, and to make it wisely, one needs information. In addition, one needs to reflect over a period of time on many diverse aspects of one’s life, habits, aspirations, and expectations. The better prepared one is before ordaining, the easier the transition from lay to monastic life will be, and the more comfortable and joyous one will be as a monastic. This booklet, with articles by Asian and Western monastics, is designed to inform and to spark that reflection in non-Tibetans who are considering monastic ordination in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. – From Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron’s website