How to Become a Monk (or Live Like a Monk)

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Ever since living in Thailand and meditating with monks, I’ve contemplated the idea of taking time out of my life to dedicate to living and learning as a monk.

I’ve always been a very spiritual and reflective person but my meditative experience took things to another level.

It kick-started an awakening process, helped me to make progress on my personal healing, and changed the way I view the world. 

It also made me realize how our mind literally creates our lives and our suffering. When the mind changes your life changes. 

This is easy to understand intellectually but when you directly witness this change occur it can only have a life-changing impact.

Taking a small amount of time (or even a lifetime) to purify your mind and commit to a spiritual practice seems like a no-brainer if you are able and feel called to do so. 

In this guide, I will go over everything someone would need to know if they are interested in becoming a Buddhist or Christian monk.

I’ll also go over helpful information for people who don’t necessarily want to become a religious monk but who are interested in spending an extended period of time on a meditation retreat to live like a monk.  

Table of Contents

What is a Monk?

A monk is defined as someone who is a member of a religious community of men typically living under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

In lay terms, it’s a man who commits a certain period of his life (or his whole life) to only his spiritual practice without sex, worldly distractions, or materialism.

The female term for this is a nun.

If you’re a Christian monk you will spend all of your time in prayer, reflection, bible study, and service.

If you’re a Buddhist monk you will spend all your time in meditation, reflection, Buddhist study, and service.

Below is a typical Buddhist monk’s day in Thailand:

Why Do People Become Monks?

Usually people decide to become monks for a few reasons.

  1. They want to learn how to be at peace and free of suffering
  2. They want to devote their life to God (Christian monks)
  3. As a dedication inherent in their religious tradition

In the Buddhist tradition, people become monks because they either want to learn how to be at peace and free of suffering, or it’s a part of their commitment to being a Buddhist where they dedicate their lives to helping sentient beings.

In the Christian and other religious traditions, people become monks for similar reasons but also to devote their life or a portion of their life to God in contemplation, service, and study.

On a personal level, I can tell you that my interest in becoming a monk is to learn how to be at peace, be free of suffering, and have a better connection with God so that I can better serve the world. 

The reason people become monks is usually highly individual and based on their life circumstances and views, but it is always a deep commitment to purification and truth outside of worldly matters.

Different Types of Monks

There are a few different types of monks in the Buddhist, Christian, and Hindu religions.

While each religious tradition has its differences, monks can usually be classified in a few different ways.

  1. Eremitic monks are monks who live alone like a hermit
  2. Cenobitic monks live in a community of like minded people

Eremitic or hermit-style monks usually only live this way after living in a community-type setting for a while where they then decide to go off on their own.

Cenobitic monks are the typical style of monkhood where you live in a community of like-minded people. This can be seen in both Buddhism and Christianity.

In Buddhism, this is called a Sangha.

How to Become a Buddhist Monk

Becoming a Buddhist monk is not super hard, you just have to have the commitment and dedication.

Below are the main steps involved in becoming a Buddhist monk:

1. Learn About And Study Buddhism

The first step is to learn and familiarize yourself with Buddhist teachings. Studying the four noble truths and the eightfold path is a good start along with other Buddhist texts.

The four noble truths are that suffering exists in life, it arises because of desire, craving, and aversion, suffering stops when attachment to desire is stopped, and freedom from suffering is available through the eightfold path.

The eightfold path consists of right understanding, speech, intention, effort, mindfulness, concentration, action, and livelihood. It is outlined in detail in the Buddhist texts.

2. Find And Join A Temple/Sangha

The second step to becoming a Buddhist monk is to join a temple or Sangha. By joining a temple you can learn about Buddhism and its practices as well as getting help from a monk on teachings and meditation practice.

By joining a Buddhist temple before deciding to commit to being a monk it gives you an introduction to Buddhist life without being ordained. 

3. Get A Spiritual Guide Or Mentor

Along with joining a temple, it helps to get a spiritual guide or mentor who is knowledgeable in the Buddhist tradition to learn from. This guide can help you develop your practice and guide you in the right direction if you decide to become ordained as a monk.

4. Prepare For Monastic Life

Next, you will have to prepare for the monastic lifestyle. This means you must have already become a lay Buddhist and be very familiar with Buddhist practices as well as received the ten precepts.

Spend Time Meditating

At this time you will spend a majority of your time meditating and practicing at the monastery. To become a Buddhist monk you will have to spend a lot of time becoming aware of how your mind works so it can be purified.

Prepare to Support Yourself for 2-3 Years

Some monasteries provide for your basic needs through donation and service but others do not and you will need to have enough money saved to last a few years on a small budget.

Prepare to Give Up Worldly Possessions

Monks live without the conveniences of modern life. Anything considered a luxury or must-have technology is most likely not allowed while you are a monk. It’s important to be somewhat prepared for this change.

Understand That Your Buddhist Community Will Be Your New Family

When someone becomes a monk they will be living with other Buddhist monks for a long time. It’s important to let your family know about this change so they can be prepared. Also, most of the time single people are better suited as monks so that they can be totally committed to monk life.

Be Prepared for Chastity

Monks don’t participate in sexual behavior. It’s smart to practice chastity before deciding to become ordained as a monk to see if this is something you are prepared to do for a long period of time.

Determine Your Commitment

Some traditions require ordination to be a lifelong commitment while others allow for shorter-term (months or years) commitments before joining normal life again. Make sure the monastery and tradition you are interested in joining offers the level of commitment you are looking for.

5. Become Ordained As A Buddhist Monk

After you’ve spent a good amount of time training at a monastery and decide that you want to commit to being a Buddhist monk you need to be ordained.

The ordination ceremony marks your decision to become a Buddhist monk and an ordained monk will transmit the three jewels, five precepts, and give you a new Buddhist name. 

You will then follow the instructions of your teacher who ordained you for the new monastery you will be joining.

Last, you will take the Bodhisattva vow and devote your life to the Buddhist way.

How to Become a Christian Monk

The steps are somewhat similar to becoming a Christian monk.

Below are the main steps involved in becoming a Christian monk:

1. Visit A Monastery Of Interest

The first thing you will want to do if you are interested in becoming a Christian monk is to visit a monastery to get a feel for what life is like as a Christian monk. Most monasteries are open for visits from people who are interested in learning more about what life is like as a monk.

You will also need to be a confirmed practicing Catholic in good physical and mental condition over the age of 18. 

2. Become A Novice

Next, you will need to become a novice and move in at the monastery. This is sometimes called observership where you will be exposed to every aspect of monkhood in the monastery. This phase of becoming a monk can take up to a year.

3. Become A Postulate

After you have passed your time as a novice monk you will become a postulate monk. In this stage of the process, you will be given more duties to determine if you are fit for being a monk.

4. Take Temporary Vows

As a postulate, you will be asked to take temporary vows that commit you to the monastic life. These vows usually include celibacy, a deep devotion to god, and the giving up of worldly materials.

5. Solemn Vows or Final Commitment

After 3 or so years you will be asked to make a final commitment to the monastic life and be ordained as a Christian monk.

How to Do an Extended Meditation Retreat to Live Like a Monk

If you’re someone who is deeply spiritual and working on healing your life and finding freedom but you still want to participate in a normal lifestyle without committing your life to become a religious monastic, an extended meditation retreat may be a good option.

There are plenty of monasteries and meditation centers around the world and the US which allow normal everyday people to join and live for an extended period of time.

Here are the basic steps for doing an extended meditation retreat:

1. Practice Meditation

It’s going to help if you’re doing a long-term retreat (longer than 1-2 weeks) to have some practice and knowledge of meditation before deciding on your commitment. 

This will help you have a basic level of experience and understand the challenges that come along with sitting with yourself for a long time.

2. Determine When A Good Time In Your Life Would Be 

Next, you need to determine the right time in your life to dedicate to an extended retreat. It’s best to be in decent physical health and be able to leave your job or business without having to check in on things. 

This way you can focus solely on yourself and your practice over the time period away.

3. Decide Where And How Long 

Last, you will need to decide where you want to do an extended meditation retreat and how long you want to partake on this journey. 

There are places you can live in the US and around the world which allow for weeks to years of retreat time.

I’ve listed some places to check out below if this interests you. 

Top Meditation Retreats in the United States

Below are a few of the best places in the United States where you can do an extended meditation retreat.

Insight Meditation Society- Barre, MA

The Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts offers multiple different kinds of retreats for meditators.

Retreat Center– Their retreat center offers structured meditation courses for new or experienced meditators in durations from a weekend to three months.

Forest Refuge– They also have a forest refuge program for advanced meditators which encourages longer-term personal retreats for months to years.

IMS also offers service-based retreats and they have a nice retreat center facility for dorm room housing where meditators doing retreats can stay.

Spirit Rock Meditation Center- Marin County, CA

Spirit Rock Meditation Center hosts a number of different length meditation retreats including many weekend and week-long retreats as well as longer months-long retreats.

They have drop-in retreats where you can commute to the center for a weekend and partake in meditation practice and talks. These are shorter-term retreats for a few days.

They have residential-based retreats where visitors will stay in the on-campus housing and eat at their dining hall. These retreats are usually 10 days to 2 months long.

They have Dharma training programs which are in-depth study programs of the teachings of the Buddha lasting from 4 months to 4 years.

Bhavana Meditation Society- High View, West Virginia

The Bhavana Society meditation center and Buddhist monastery is focused on the Theravada Buddhist tradition. 

They offer shorter-term retreats and longer-term residential retreats where participants can stay for months or longer. 

Green Gulch Farm San Francisco Zen Center- Muir Beach, CA

Green Gulch Farm is part of the San Francisco Zen Center and they offer zen practice as well as visits and stays.

Since COVID they have been closed for retreats but they should open back up again in the future to welcome longer-term meditation retreats.

Zen Mountain Monastery- Brooklyn, NY

Zen Mountain Monastery hosts retreats and online training programs for people who are interested in practicing and learning about Zen Buddhism. 

Mountain Cloud Zen Center- New Mexico

Mountain Cloud Zen Center is a Zen Buddhist center in New Mexico where they offer virtual and in-person meditation instruction as well as extended personal retreats. They have cottages and cabins as well as shared housing you can book for a personal retreat.

Insight Meditation Community Washington

Insight Meditation Community is a center in Washington that offers multi-day and week-long retreats as well as online information. It doesn’t look like they focus as much on long-term retreats.

Cloud Mountain Retreat Center- Castle Rock, WA

Cloud Mountain Retreat Center is a non-sectarian Buddhist center that hosts residential retreats year-round. They have an awesome campus and environment to stay and practice in. 

Check out their gallery to see the living quarters and gardens.

Shambhala Mountain Center- Colorado

The Shambhala Mountain Center is a spiritual and meditation retreat center located in Colorado. They mainly offer shorter-term programs in meditation, yoga, and other healing modalities. 

Kadampa Meditation Center- New York

The Kadampa Meditation Center in New York is a Buddhist meditation center that offers study programs as well as retreats both short-term and long-term.

Deer Park Monastery- San Diego, CA

Deer Park Monastery is a Buddhist monastery in Escondido, CA that offers both special retreats and seasonal retreats. They have an awesome facility in the mountains which also contains a library and study center. The legendary Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the founders of this center. 

Esalen Institute- Big Sur, CA

Esalen is a holistic retreat center for exploring human potential through experience, education, and research. They are more of a non-religious center that offers meditation retreats and other courses on modalities that allow humans to expand themselves.

Ananda Meditation Retreat- Nevada City, CA

The Ananda Meditation Retreat center is located in Nevada City, CA and they offer short-term supported silent retreats, and long-term mentored personal retreats.

The long-term mentored personal retreats are a great option for people looking for a longer-term meditation retreat where they can also get guidance from an experienced meditator. 

Metta Forest Monastery- Valley Center, CA

The Metta Forest Monastery is a Buddhist monastery in San Diego, CA. They don’t specifically offer meditation retreats as a service here but they do allow people to email to schedule overnight meditation retreats or longer meditation retreats in their dorm-like housing.

Meditation Retreats Around The World

Below are just a few of the popular meditation retreats in different countries around the world if you are looking to combine world travel with spiritual practice and learning.

Sometimes getting out of your typical surroundings and immersing yourself in another culture altogether can have a life-changing impact. 


The birthplace of the Buddha and one of the spiritual centers of the world is a good place to consider traveling to if you are interested in a long-term meditation or yoga retreat. 

Here are a few places worth checking out:


Thailand is another great place to do an extended meditation retreat or learn meditation at a Buddhist monastery. There are tons of monasteries and meditation centers in Thailand so you will need to determine which part of the country you want to go to.

Here are a few places worth checking out:


Japan is a vibrant and spectacular country containing many Zen-style monasteries and meditation centers. It is also home to the traditional tea ceremony. 

Here are a few Zen centers worth checking out:

Other Countries 

This list would be too long if I went into detail on every country that has meditation centers so here are a few other places and countries worth checking out if you are feeling adventurous.

Also, keep in mind that if you are interested in doing a retreat in Asia or another country around the world it’s often best to travel to the place that inspires you the most and then decide which meditation center or monastery might be best to learn at based on the teachers that are able to guide you there.

Sometimes the serendipity of finding a teacher/center you connect with while you are living in the country is better than deciding beforehand where you will go. 

Other FAQs About Monk Life 

Do You Get Paid As A Monk?

It depends on the kind of monk you become and what the rules are for the religious organization but usually, monks will not get paid very much or not at all because they are living without materialistic possessions. They rely on donations and exchange of services for their needs.

How Long Does Someone Usually Become A Monk?

When someone is ordained as a Buddhist monk or Christian monk they usually commit to being a monastic for the long term. Some monks are committed for life while others are committed for a shorter period of time based on their associated monastery.

Are There Monks In America?

Yes, there are Buddhist and Christian monks in America.

What Do Monks Have To Give Up?

Monks give vows of chastity, poverty, obedience, and stability. They give up all worldly possessions, sexual matters, and more.

Do You Have To Be Buddhist Or Christian To Become A Monk?

Yes, you have to be a Catholic, Christian, or Buddhist to become a monk in any of those traditions.

Final Thoughts on Monk Life

Becoming a monk is no small task. It’s a full commitment to giving up worldly possessions, sex, and other material pleasures to devote your life to the teachings and practice of religion. 

To most normal people this sounds like the last thing they would consider doing, but for someone who has had a spiritual yearning and feels pulled to give living as a monk a try, it’s not that big of a deal.

Chances are that personally, I will never become a monk, but I have considered the possibility. 

For me the reasoning for this interest is simple.

Once you realize that your mind and state of being dictates how you experience the world (including the amount of suffering and joy you feel) you realize that it’s really the only thing that matters.

Everything else we do is filtered through the lens of the state of our mind and body. 

So, if you’re considering becoming a Christian or Buddhist monk I applaud you. I wish you the best on your journey and may we all find peace and joy in our daily lives.    

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Josh is a writer and entrepreneur who runs a small digital content publishing business. His main interests are in topics related to developing personal and financial freedom. When not working he enjoys reading, yoga, surfing, being outdoors, meditating, exploring, and hanging with friends.