Those with a sincere aspiration to cultivate understanding and compassion as their only career are welcome to join our monastic community. You would live, learn, and practice in one of our monastic practice centers. Our growing Sangha presently numbers 800 monastics spread out among these nine centers.
Our Monastic Sangha
In Plum Village monastic communities, there are monks and nuns from many different countries, including France, England, The Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Spain, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Indonesia, India, Canada, Sweden, Portugal, USA, and Australia. There is also a wide variety of ages, from age 15 to 79, though most of the monastics are in their 20s and 30s. Though our monastic Sangha represents many countries, we are predominantly a Vietnamese community from a Vietnamese Buddhist tradition. To become a monastic in our community requires openness and the ability to embrace cultural diversity. The communal languages are Vietnamese, English, and French so one must be fluent in at least one of these languages.
All applicants must be under 50 years of age. No academic degree is required. If you are under 18, you must have permission from your parents. Those who have serious or terminal illnesses or severe disabilities can not be accepted as monastics. Monks and nuns in the Plum Village tradition are celibate and make a deep commitment to the community. They live, practice, and teach as a community and not as individuals.
As a candidate to become a monastic you should stay at a Plum Village monastery for at least three months. In this way, you can have direct experience of monastic and community life, and the sangha can observe whether or not you have a strong monastic volition. If you are not sure about entering monastic life, you are free to take your time and practice as a layperson in one of our centers. Long-term stays must be approved of by the respective monastery, and other regulations do apply.
After a stay of at least two weeks, you are welcome to write a letter to request an extended stay. After a stay of at least two months you are welcome to write an aspiration letter to express your wish to pursue monastic life. As soon as the sangha has received your letter and has shared it with the community, you become a postulant, which means simply that you are requesting ordination and the sangha is aware of it. During the time of postulancy you are asked to participate in all activities and practices like a monastic member, though certain activities are strictly reserved for the ordained members of the community.
When you are sure you want to ordain, you can write a letter to Thich Nhat Hanh and the sangha. In the letter you should share about your personal background, your experiences with the practice, and your aspirations for becoming a monastic. The sangha will then meet to consider your request and may offer you guidance on how to improve your positive qualities and how to transform your negative ones. After you have formally expressed your monastic aspiration, requested an extended stay, and your aspiration has been confirmed and supported by the sangha, you will become an aspirant. At that time you are not required to contribute toward housing, food, and tuition. You will also be assigned a monastic mentor who will further assist you in your training.
Life as a Novice
After some time living as an aspirant, the community may decide that you are ready to receive ordination as a novice monk or nun. With this ordination, your life will be in the care of the Plum Village community. This begins a three-year novitiate period which precedes full ordination as a monk or nun (bhikshu or bhikshuni). But you do not have to wait until full ordination or until you are a Dharma teacher in order to help people. Right in your first few months as a novice, your practice of mindful walking, mindful breathing, and your peace and happiness can already be inspiring to many people who come to the practice center. Even when a novice is still very young, she can already be a sangha builder, bringing happiness to many people.
When you are ordained as a monk or a nun, the sangha is your family and our monasteries are your home. Even when difficulties arise, we do our best to live in harmony with our brothers and sisters.
Your immediate family is welcome to visit you and they do not have to contribute to expenses. You can also have leave to visit your family every two years or in the case of an emergency.
When you train as a monastic you have the opportunity to find the root of your freedom, solidity, joy, and happiness, and to help your society. When you ordain and wear the brown robe you learn to cut through your illusions and your afflictions. You learn to transform your deepest suffering into a bright future and into an even brighter present. In this process of knowing yourself and facing your difficulties, you also learn how to change your society into one that is more compassionate, understanding, and happy. This is a natural process: as we discover the root of virtue in our own life we will also be able to help other people to stop creating suffering for themselves and for the world.
May you fulfill your noble aspiration for the benefit and happiness of all living beings!
Five-Year Monastic Program
Five years of monastic training is a great chance for you to learn how to live your life meaningfully, to discover brotherhood and sisterhood, and to make possible right here and right now the social change we have always dreams about. Tasting the simple life of a monk or a nun and cultivating your spiritual life, you will be able to assist your elder brothers and sisters in organizing retreats and events all over the world. You will be able to share your practice and transformation and help a great deal of people, including children, couples and families.
When we let go of the pursuit of wealth, power, and sensual pleasures, and put on the brown robe, we do not need to wait five years to be able to help people. Right from the first day, we inspire those around us by simply walking with mindfulness, solidity, and freedom.
Please visit any of our centers in the US, France, Germany, and Thailand to inquire about the program and learn more about the application process.
- Age 17 – 35: If you are under 18, you must have the consent of your parents.
- Single or divorced: Your relationships with those close to you are settled, and your decision is in harmony with them, so that they will not be an obstacle to your training as a monastic.
- No incurable disease or serious medical condition: Your mental stability and physical health should be sound enough not to be an obstacle or a challenge for your training and for that of the community. A medical and blood check will be required for you to enter the program.
- No debt or financial ties: As monastics, we take refuge in the Sangha, and do not have debt or hold bank accounts and/or credit cards. If needed, you can freeze any bank accounts that you have and close credit card accounts, so that you may rely fully on the sangha for all your needs and sustenance (food, clothes, medicine, and shelter.)
- Commitment to study, practice, and serve: Our training is to flow as a sangha. You commit to learn how to practice as a community and to follow the guidance of the sangha, including attending all sangha activities. Monastics who cannot commit to following the sangha schedule and practices invite their way out of the community.
- Letting personal possessions go:As part of your training you will be asked to release items such as laptops, cellphones, etc. and to come into the community with your hands empty.
- Family visit: You can visit your blood family members for 14 days after training for two years as a novice. You can keep in contact with them, care for them, and share your happiness with them by writing them letters and calling them from time to time.
- Inquiry period: Come to any of our centers and practice as a normal retreatant for a period of two weeks before inquiring about the program. Consult a monk or a nun about his or her life to learn more about monastic life and living in the community. If you find that this way of life is in harmony with your deepest aspiration and you are able to find happiness with the daily practice, you can write a letter to share your desire to enter the five year training program. The community will meet to discuss your request and may invite you to join the aspirant program when there is harmony in support of your request and when it sees that the conditions for your training are sufficient.
- Aspirant period (3 months to 1 year): Once approved for the program, you will be given a gray robe to wear during your training as an aspirant. You will be invited to move into the aspirant quarters with the other trainees. An assigned aspirant teacher will guide you in this initial period of training and transition into monastic life. Your training is not just about learning knowledge and ideas. It is a practice that you learn to apply in your daily life so that you are able to transform your suffering and grow in your understanding and compassion. In this period you will be asked to release your possessions and worldly commitments so that you can be free enough to begin to live as a monastic. After up to one year of training, the monastic community will meet to look deeply at your practice and your aspiration. On the basis of this, the community will decide whether you are fit to be ordained as a novice, or whether it is more suitable for you to continue your practice as a lay member of the community.
- Novice period (3 years): Once ordained as an novice, you will be invited to move into the monastic residence to live with the other monks or nuns. Your training will focus even more on monastic life based on the novice training book, Stepping Into Freedom, and the guidebook on community living, Joyfully Together. You should always keep in mind that monastic training is fundamentally different from academic pursuit at a university. Rather than just acquiring knowledge and developing our expertise, as a monastic we are reminded to come back to the basic practices of mindful breathing, walking, eating, and listening to the bell even when we have practiced for five, ten, or thirty years. You will train and develop mindfulness, concentration, and insight, based on the fine manners and precepts of a novice monk or nun, which take their concrete expression through your daily actions of body, speech, and mind. You will share a room with two, three, or four other monks or nuns and be assigned a mentor to guide your practice. After three years, you may be qualified for full ordination into the Bhikshu or Bhikshuni community, with Thay’s and the community’s approval.
- Full ordination (1 year): For this period, you will enter the Bhikshu or Bhikshuni sangha and practice as a full-fledged member of the monastic community, observing the higher precepts of a monk or a nun.
Recommended reading: Old Path White Clouds, Happiness, Stepping Into Freedom, Joyfully Together (available from Parallax Press).