Lifetime Monastic Program
Stepping into Freedom - Becoming a Monastic at Blue Cliff Monastery
Those with a sincere aspiration to cultivate understanding and compassion as their only career, are welcome to join the Plum Village monastic community. You will live, learn, and practice at Blue Cliff for your first few years. After that you may be transferred to one of our other Plum Village centers either in the USA, Europe, or Asia depending on need and appropriateness. Our growing Sangha in the USA and Europe presently numbers 200 monastics spread out between Plum Village in France, Deer Park in California, and Blue Cliff in New York.
Our Monastic Sangha
In the 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, 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 twenties and thirties. Although 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 and be single or divorced with no debts or financial ties. All bank accounts and credit cards must be released upon ordination so as to fully rely upon the sangha for food, shelter, clothing, and medicine (the four requisites of a monastic). If you are under 18, you must have permission from your parents. No academic degree is required. Those who have serious or terminal illnesses, severe disabilities, or unstable psychological health cannot be accepted as monastics. Applicants may be required to undergo medical and psychological evaluations before formally entering the aspirant process. As part of the training, items such as laptops, cell phones, etc. must be released so as to come into the community with empty hands. Monks and nuns in the Plum Village tradition are celibate, do not use recreational drugs, and make a life-long commitment to the community. They live, practice, and teach as a community and not as individuals. There is a three-year novitiate before full ordination as a monk or nun (bhikshu or bhikshuni).
As a candidate for the novitiate you should stay in Blue Cliff Monastery for at least three months. In this way you can have direct experience of monastic, communal life and the Sangha can observe whether or not you have a strong monastic vocation. After the first two weeks of your stay, you should write about your aspirations for entering monastic life and request an extended stay. As soon as the Sangha has received your letter and shared it with the community, you become a postulant, which means simply that you are requesting ordination and the Sangha is aware of it.
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 experience with the practice, and your aspiration for becoming a monastic. The Sangha will then meet to consider your request and at that time may offer you guidance, such as 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. When you receive ordination as a novice monk or nun, then you become a full member of the community and the sangha will take care of all of your needs (food, clothing, shelter, and medicine).
During the time of postulancy, whether you are accepted as an aspirant or not, 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.
Aspirants may be ordained either here in Blue Cliff, in Deer Park, or in France. In the case that one must go to Deer Park or Plum Village for ordination, the aspirant will return to Blue Cliff after the ceremony to continue his or her training and practice. 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. However, long-term stays must be approved of by the respective monastery, and other regulations do apply.
Life as a Novice
As a novice, you do not have to wait until full ordination or until you are a Dharma Teacher in order to help people. Right in the first few months, 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, you make a commitment to stay with the Plum Village Sangha for the rest of your life. 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 may stay free of charge. You can also have leave to visit your family every two years for two weeks, or, in the case of an emergency, sooner.
May you fulfill your noble aspiration for the benefit and happiness of all living beings!