Monastic life is about living ethically—refraining from harm and helping others.
It’s living simply as the Buddha did, practicing in community to strengthen compassion and wisdom.
It is a beautiful way of life.
What Is a Buddhist Monastic?
The choice to become a Buddhist nun or monk comes from a deep spiritual longing. When we ordain we follow the Buddha’s example. Dharma study, practice, and service are the full time focus.
Wishing to tame our unruly minds, we live by ethical guidelines—precepts—laid down by the Buddha himself. Turning away from craving and greed, we commit to a simple life. Cultivating a heart of love and compassion for all beings equally, we are celibate.
Monastic life is a life of self-discipline. By voluntarily following the Buddha’s guidelines to pacify body, speech and mind, we create peace in a chaotic world.
Why We Need Monasteries
Since the Buddha’s time, monasteries have been centers of learning and practice. Fully ordained monks and nuns sustain the Buddha’s teachings to the present day.
Monastic communities practice, preserve, and share the Buddha’s teachings on the three higher trainings—ethical conduct, concentration, and wisdom. It is our full-time focus.
To date there are very few places for Western nuns and monks to train and live. For Buddhism to develop deep roots in the United States, and thrive for generations to come, monasteries are essential. They are a resource for creating peace in a chaotic world.
The Dharma exists where four or more fully ordained monastics regularly perform the sangha rites.
We do this at Sravasti Abbey.
Monastics get lots of questions
Are all Buddhists monastics?
No. It is not necessary to become a monk or nun to explore or practice Buddha’s teachings. The Buddha spoke of a “fourfold assembly”—fully ordained nuns and monks and male and female lay practitioners—that make up the community of practitioners. Monastic life is not suitable for everyone, and lay people can be very good practitioners.
The way Buddha designed it, nuns and monks are responsible for keeping their vows, learning, and practicing the Dharma, and teaching and guiding the lay people. Lay people, in turn, provide the requisites for life—housing, clothes, food, and medicine.
This is how we live at Sravasti Abbey. Through the kindness of others, we offer the Dharma freely to you and everyone.
Why do you shave your head?
Monastics cultivate inner beauty and drop fixation with making ourselves physically attractive.
We shave our heads to symbolize letting go of ignorance, anger, and attachment.
We also wear the same outfit every day—the robes of a Buddhist monastic—and refrain from jewelry and makeup.
What are the monastic precepts?
The Buddha laid out a gradual path to embracing monastic life. The novice or training ordination consists of taking ten precepts for life.
The ten are: to abandon killing; taking what is not given; sexual intercourse; lying; taking intoxicants; singing, dancing, and playing music; wearing perfume, ornaments or cosmetics to beautify the body; sitting on a high or expensive bed or throne; eating after midday; and touching gold, silver or precious objects, including money. These ten are subdivided into thirty-six in the Tibetan tradition.
After training in these for a time, monastics may request full ordination. This involves taking over two or three hundred precepts—the exact number depends on the Vinaya lineage and whether you are a man or woman. A fully ordained monk is called a bhikshu. Fully ordained nuns are bhikshunis.
Abbey monastics train in the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya lineage. Most of our residents are fully ordained.
Why do you choose to live this way?
Without the demands of family and career, monastics have more time for study and service. We also have fewer distractions from meditation and other practices, creating the causes for happiness in the future.
In all activities monastics practice to cleanse our minds of afflictions—greed, anger, jealousy, conceit and so on—and develop all good qualities—love, compassion, wisdom, generosity, and so on. By living within the precepts, monastics constantly accumulate merit. This brings contentment and peace. In the long term, it leads to the awakening of our mind’s full potential for goodness.
Buddhists believe that every living being naturally possesses the buddha nature to become a Buddha ourselves. This is our long-term goal, and we commit to helping all other living beings along the way.
How does a Buddhist monastery help society?
The existence of a flourishing monastic community brings benefit in obvious and not-so-obvious ways. Sravasti Abbey seeks to serve society as whole.
A monastery or abbey is a physical place conducive to training your mind in compassion and wisdom.
It is a place where Buddha images and Dharma texts abide.
More than that, it’s the focal point for a living tradition with people who are studying the teachings, putting them into practice, and sharing them with others.
Monasteries train monks and nuns to embody and teach authentically. At the Abbey we learn to explain the teachings in a Western context.
A monastery offers teachings, retreats, and service opportunities that give you the tools you need to merge your daily life with spiritual values.
Living simply as the Buddha did, the monastery residents demonstrate how ethical discipline contributes to a morally grounded society.
Through actively developing our own qualities of loving-kindness, compassion, and wisdom, we aspire to make Sravasti Abbey a beacon for peace in our conflict-torn world.
“As Lama Yeshe used to tell us, ‘A monastery is not yours; it belongs to everyone, because its purpose is to benefit all living beings.”
“The flourishing of the Buddha’s teachings in a particular place is determined by the existence of fully ordained monks and nuns and male and female lay practitioners. Thus the existence of monks and nuns and the practice of Vinaya, the Buddhist monastic discipline, are very important.”
“The Abbey gives skies full of benefit to sentient beings because they can meet the Buddhadharma and hear teachings. There is nothing more important.”
Learn from books by Ven. Thubten Chodron.