Category Archives: Being a Monk

About Being a Monk

By far the most common question I’m asked is “Why did you become a monk”
In some ways this is a tough question because there are so many reasons I chose this path. I remember wanting to become a monk while reading my very first Buddhist book. But for the next ten years I listen to the advice of others and put off my dream. Then one day I truly realized what the phrase ‘listen to your heart’ meant.

But the real reason for taking ordination and wearing robes is to practice renunciation, ethics and to practice the three higher training. Many students study, read and practice Buddhism but only monks and nuns undergo the Buddha’s strict training in discipline and virtue called “Vinaya” and the three higher trainings: vinaya (monk’s vows), sutra (teachings of the Buddha) and abhidharma (Wisdom).

Monks renounce ordinary living for a simple life geared towards personal development, study and training. Monks also renounce possessions, personal schedules, personal space; opinions, needs, and comforts. Moving away from the world of “I, me, and mine” and moving into a world of service to others.
The title of “Gelong” or fully ordained monk is translated as, “Ge” meaning “virtuous” and “Long” meaning “beggar” So Gelong means: “Virtuous Beggar”.

The vows of a monk are called pratimoksha vows or personal liberation vows. One takes the vows so he can be trained while developing an aspiration of becoming a Buddha in order to free all beings from their lives of suffering. Novice monks take 36 vows and within a few years when ready, will become fully ordained monks or Bikshu with 253 vows.

Some quotes I find inspiring

  • “The robes seem to inspire trust in others and serve to remind people of their own spiritual dimension”
  •  “For some, vows are a burden and a source of constraint. But for the sincere and renounced, the vows are the source of great happiness, joy and liberation”

Interesting Monk Vows Facts


Here are a just a few of the vows of a monk

A monk’s vows are training in ethics, mindfulness and dignified behavior.

Monk’s vows or Vinaya are 2,500 years old, so some vows may seem strange now, but at the time where needed.  There are 253 vows for a fully ordained monk and an additional 46 for a monk with bodhisattva vows.

  • A monk cannot climb a tree above a man’s height
  • A monk cannot dig in the ground…to avoiding hurting living things
  • A monk cannot destroying seeds or growing plants
  • A monk cannot destroying any town
  • A monk cannot play in water
  • A monk cannot touch weapons
  • A monk cannot tickle another monk
  • A monk cannot try to scare another monk
  • A monk cannot sit in solitude with woman
  • A monk cannot tell a lie…even a small one
  • A monk cannot kill any living things…including small insects
  • A monk cannot take any kind of intoxicant
  • A monk cannot eat or drink standing up…he must be seated
  • A monk cannot eat after midday lunch…Juice and most drinks are allowed
  • A monk cannot snack…breakfast and lunch are the his only meals
  • A monk cannot sleep on high or expensive beds
  • A monk cannot show bad manners
  • A monk cannot wear jewelry, ornaments, perfumes or scents
  • A monk cannot participate in commerce or make profit from lay community
  • A monk cannot steal
  • A monk cannot belittle, insulting or teasing others
  • A monk cannot return: insults, anger, violence, criticism
  • A monk cannot act out thoughts of; anger, pride, hatred, envy, jealousy, greed
  • A monk cannot strike or threatening
  • A monk should be in his home by dark
  • A monk has to respecting the wishes/feelings of others
  • A monk has to return kindness
  • A monk has to accept all apologies…he can not hold a grudge
  • A monk has to accept invitations/offerings
  • A monk has to abandon; desire, harmful thought, regret, doubt, self-pity, discouragement, laziness, procrastination, dullness, over sleeping, frivolously talking, and gossiping


About Vows




Some living in the west may find the idea of holding vows strange, but we have many vows in our everyday culture. In school we say the pledge (or vow) of allegiance, Doctors take the Hippocratic oath, when we marry we take vows, many groups and clubs ask for vows, we often make personal vows of achievement and goals. And many of us will take religious vows of some kind in our lives.


My family’s moral code

When I was a boy my father taught us the code for the men in our family; we didn’t steal, we didn’t lie, we always helped the less fortunate, you never hit a woman and never hit a man when he was down. My grandfather passed this down to my father and he to us, they where our family vows. This noble tradition of living a “code of conduct” sadly is vanishing in the world.


Vows serve a great purpose

When in a moment of clarity we see the right direction, path or decision for our lives, we decide to take-on or create a framework conducive to these objectives. So that behaviors and choices within this framework function effortlessly, effectively and efficiently. So when we are in difficult and unclear moments we can rely upon this framework of ethical boundaries. 


Simply said: Vows keep us headed in the right direction and make for easier lives


There are many levels of Buddhist vows


The common 5 precepts

·         No killing 

·         No stealing

·         No sexual misconduct – dealing with inappropriate sex

·         No lying

·         No intoxicants – no alcohol or drugs of any kind


Common types of vows

·         One day – 8 vows, the 5 common precepts plus, not eating after noon, not to use high or expensive beds or seats, not wearing jewelry, perfume, make-up, avoiding non-dharmic singing, dancing or playing music.

·         Householders – the 5 common precepts, Celibacy can be added

·         Novice monks and nuns – 36 vows

·         Fully ordained monks – 253 vows, there are a handful more vow for nuns, which where added for additional protection of nuns


Bodhisattva vows – 46 vows, the very highest level of vows


Tantric vows – 10 vows, of a very special and secret nature

More about living in a monastery


Many of you have been wondering about the rules here at the monastery. Most of the our rules are already covered in our personal monk vows, so the monastery needs few rules of its own, most are for the safety and care of the younger monks;

  • Monks have to always sleep at the monastery, unless given permission
  • Fighting, stealing, etc..will get you kicked out of the monastery
  • Monks need to be in the monastery by 7:00 every evening
  • Monks aren’t allowed to ride motorcycles
  • Of course no T.V.s are allowed, but monks do listen to the radio on their cell phones
  • Yes, monks are allowed cell phones and many own expensive ones. Family and sponsors give them as gifts so monks can stay in touch with their families in Tibet 
  • Monks aren’t allowed to play sports (Though most sneak off and do so)
  • Monks aren’t supposed to watch movies, but on occasion even the monastery shows them when on holiday
  • Women (Sisters, mothers, teachers, guests) must leave the monastery by 7:00 every evening
  • Younger monks need permission to go to town, older ones do not
  • The monastery kitchen and restaurants are vegetarian but monks are allowed to cook meat in their rooms
  • And of course no smoking, drinking or drugs…which no one does, anyway

Everyone has a “House teacher” 
House teachers make sure monks do their studies and for young monks, teachers make sure their dressed properly, acting like a proper monk and spending their money wisely

Most days are just study, 
Monks spend most of their time studying but all monks take turns working in the kitchen on a monthly rotation – 2 times a month.

Tuesday is our holiday
Some monks go to town for some yummy South Indian food. Others go vegetable shopping, or just strolling around our local town. Many stay home and catch up on sleep or catch up on their studies.  Still others do laundry or cook some special food in their rooms and talk with friends.

Tuesday evenings
The monastery shows VOC “Voice of America” news videos (in Tibetan) specially made for Tibetans by America. It includes current news about the world and news about Tibet.

For money,
Monks receive a monthly donation from the monastery through sponsors; this amount varies greatly month to month.
The monastery provides food, room, electricity, water etc…monks are responsible to buy their own clothes, medicine, toiletries, and costs of travel.

Most monks are very happy,
No one ever fights or argues, the monks are very devoted and caring to each other, but western commodities are getting more and more appealing to the young monks, many can think of nothing other than to dis-robe, moving to America and becoming rich, like in the movies.

All in all
It’s a very challenging and trying time to be a monk. The monastic world is changing so fast as it confronts the modern world. The next ten to twenty years will be challenging for monastic’s.



Living in a Monastery



I’d like to answer some of the questions I get in emails from friends about what it’s like living in a monastery.

Do they let you leave?
Yes, of course we can., we enjoy a lot of freedom. I think when westerners picture a Buddhist monastery they think it’s like a catholic monastery where monks pray and live in silence and devotion. This would be the equivalent to a Buddhist hermitage or retreat house. But Tibetan Monasteries are more similar to western universities. There are rules to follow like any school, but these rules are more about reminding us that we’re monk and need to behave dignified with proper manners. If we don’t have study or work obligations we can go to town, have lunch at local restaurants or go and watch the local soccer team play. Tibetans believe being happy is a very important part of being a monk. And following ridged rules doesn’t lead to calm, happy and peaceful monks. We can go on holidays, study at other monasteries and decide to quit the monastery anytime we like.

What do you do at a Monastery?
Monasteries are a place of study and practice. A place to work on yourself and to improve yourself. The days are filled with classes, debate, study and the occasional puja. And of course we always find time to make and enjoy some sweet milk tea with friends.

What time do you wake up?
Our morning gong rings at 6:00 but most monks wake up before that to get a head start on their studies.

How’s the food at a monastery?
Well I’m fortunate for they say Sera has the best food of all the monasteries. But monastery meals are mostly the same each day. Some may find that the hardest part.

What’s your daily schedule?

6:00: Monks wake up and do morning prayers until breakfast
6:30: Breakfast – Breakfast is “Pa-le” (Tibetan bread), and Tibetan butter tea.
I usually have ‘Tsam-pa’ (Roasted barley flour) in my room for breakfast.
After Breakfast: Monks study, have classes and prepare for morning debate last two hours or until lunch.
11:30: Lunch is always Dal (lentils in broth) and rice or bread with fresh water and a banana. Monastery food is always vegetarian though monks are permitted to cook their own food in their rooms if they wish, including cooking meat, or to eat at a local restaurant many of which serve meat. Remember vegetarianism is not a tenent of Buddhism. Many monks from different tradition eat meat.
After Lunch: The whole monastery sleeps for an hour…very nice habit.
1:30: Monks have afternoon classes and study throughout the afternoon.
4:30 Dinner: dinner meals vary, usually some kind of mixed vegetable with fresh Tibetan bread or rice. Also chow mein, fried rice. or noodle soup are served. Strictly speaking monks are not supposed to eat dinner, Most Tibetan monks eat diner because their studies require high amounts of effort. in fact many monks will eat a second dinner of Tibetan noodle soup at 9:00 made themselves in their rooms.
After Diner: Monks prepare for evening debate.
6:30  Debate: Evening debate is a vigorous examination of the days lessons and will usually last for two hours.
After debate: Monks will study until 11:00 or 12:00 in the evening
Bedtime: bedtime is usually around 11:00 for most monks. ‘Shas’ or rooms are usually shared. most rooms are small but clean.

Tuesday is the Monasteries day off everyone is free to do whatever they want.

Most days I spend very little money, but costs do arise occasionally for: medicine, toiletries, and travel expenses when needing to renewing my visa.

Well, that’s a typical day. But there are so many holidays and special prayer gatherings that add a nice change to the schedule and very often during the week I am surprised with a whole day off when I can study, go to town, or do laundry. Besides cold showers, no privacy, and squat outside toilets, overall living at a monastery is fun, with a great sense of friendship and family.

Monk Resources



The International Mahayana Institute (IMI)
Is a community of Buddhist monks and nuns of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT). Lama Zopa Rinpoche is the current Spiritual Director of the IMI. Lama Thubten Yeshe established the IMI in order to develop a community of nuns and monks where we would not only be cared for, but where we would also take care of each other.
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FPMT – The Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition
Is an international, non-profit organization, founded in 1975 by Lama Thubten Yeshe, a Tibetan Buddhist monk. The Foundation is devoted to the transmission of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition through teaching, meditation, and community service.
Link –

Nalanda Monastery
Is a Monastery for Western monks in the Tibetan Geluk tradition. Currently, around 25 monks and 20 lay people form the core of the community. Nalanda is located in Southwest France.
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Tushita Meditation Centre
Is a centre for the study and practice of Buddhism from the Tibetan Mahayana tradition. located in the forested hills above McLeod Ganj – the seat of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.
Link –

Lerab Ling retreat centre
Located to the northwest of Montpellier in France, Lerab Ling has established itself as one of the leading centers of Tibetan Buddhist culture and learning in Europe, founded by Sogyal Rinpoche,
Link –

Gampo Abbey
A Western Buddhist Monastery in the Shambhala Tradition, located in Nova Scotia, Canada. Founded by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and home to the famous Nun Pema Chödrön
Link –