Monastic Life

About this section:
The Buddhist community includes monastics and lay people. Both are necessary for the preservation of Buddhism. However, monastics choose a life of vowed simplicity, a life directly related to the preservation and dissemination of the Dharma to benefit others. They are the core of that lifestyle that all Buddhist practitioners are committed to. In the articles here, Venerable Chodron shares with us the joys and difficulties of being a nun and the special challenges of being a Western Buddhist nun. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama notes, all Buddhist nuns have a unique role to play in the evolution of Buddhism where the universal principle of the equality of all human beings takes precedence. If you've ever wondered what it would be like to be a monastic, you'll find these articles intriguing and stimulating.

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Exploring Monastic Life 2005
Conducted by Ven. Thubten Chodron©
Sravasti Abbey, USA
August 2005


Session 1

[78 min] : Download mp3 file

  • Monastic life is based on the living in the precepts. How this fits into the Four Noble Truths and the three higher trainings.
  • The Pratimoksha vows: getting our life together.
  • Intro to this Exploring Monastic Life program.
  • Re-evaluating our values.
  • Taking ordination.
  • Q&A

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Session 2

[77 min] : Download mp3 file

  • Life of the Buddha. Drawing parallels between the Buddha’s life and the modern Western life, and things we can learn from the Buddha’s life.
  • Q&A

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Session 3

[70 min] : Download mp3 file

  1. Our non-negotiables.
  2. Practicing in community life:
    1. Watching how this sense of ‘I’ comes up a lot in community life and dealing with it. Accepting our own and others’ mistakes and helping each other to grow in community life, realizing that there is no need for defensiveness, self-hatred, comparison, judging.
    2. The ‘I want’ mind that crops up in community life.
    3. Wanting ‘to have both samsara and nirvana at the same time’. Developing contentment.
  3. Q&A

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Session 4

[73 min] : Download mp3 file

  1. The purpose of living in a community after one ordains is not to escape the world at large but to train the mind so as to be of benefit to others.

  2. How the Sangha - the community of monastic followers of the Buddha - began.
    1. Why study the history?
    2. The origin of the precepts.
    3. The society at the time of the Buddha.
    4. The Buddha’s first ordained and lay disciples. The growth of the Sangha.
    5. How the Sangha get their requisites – food, clothing, shelter and medicine.

  3. Q&A.

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Session 5

[93 min] : Download mp3 file

  1. The Importance and Benefits of Taking Precepts.

  2. About the Sangha – cont’d.
    1. From Buddha’s encounters with people of other sects, deducing why Correct View is listed first in the 8-fold path.
    2. Having miraculous powers has nothing to do with the spiritual path and is nothing to brag about.
    3. The Sangha at the time of the Buddha included people of all castes but the Buddha forbade this system in the Sangha. All kept the same precepts regardless of background.
    4. How rules preventing certain people from ordaining came about.
    5. The Buddha and his Sangha’s daily schedule.
    6. The 12 austere practices that some monastics keep.
    7. The reciprocal relationship between the Sangha and the lay people - why this is important and how it’s done.
    8. The importance of seeing the good qualities in and showing respect for fellow Sangha members.

  3. Q&A:
    1. We accumulate good karma from keeping precepts even while we’re reading a book – how does this work?
    2. What is the difference between paying homage/respect and idol worship?
    3. Question about seeing the teacher as a Buddha and Ven. Chodron’s thoughts on how this impacts the Western Sangha in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
    4. About etiquette with the Sangha and spiritual mentors.

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Session 6

[65 min] : Download mp3 file

  1. Precepts, need’s and want’s.

  2. Mental factors important for keeping precepts:
    1. Integrity
    2. Consideration for others.
    3. Conscientiousness.

  3. Inhibitions and spontaneity.

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Session 7

[84 min] : Download mp3 file

  1. The importance of realizing how we are conditioned and seeing ourselves as a dependent phenomena.
  2. Taking precepts helps condition our body, speech and mind in a positive direction. Self-acceptance and being ‘in balance’.
  3. The evolution of the Sangha is an organic process. How the following started over time: monastics precepts, vassas - the 3-month rains retreats, settled monastic communities, monasteries, sutras being written down, divisions in the Sangha in Vinaya and philosophy, the 18 traditions, monastic universities.
  4. Cultural conditioning and Dharma practice.

Session 8

[71 min] : Download mp3 file

  1. Spacing out or getting distracted – not just affects ourselves but also the community we’re living in.

  2. Relating our behavior, habits, ways of being in the world to the state of our mind.

  3. The history and development of the Sangha – cont’d.
    1. Full and new moon recitations of the Pratimoksha vows. Admitting our faults to others makes us less attached to reputation and more trusting of others.
    2. The levels of Pratimoksha ordination.
    3. Decision-making in the Sangha community.
    4. Rules of etiquette.
    5. Making confessions and giving feedback.


Session 9

[78 min] : Download mp3 file

  1. The Essentials of Monastic Life and what it means.

  2. Commitment to:
    1. attaining Enlightenment for the benefit of sentient beings.
    2. making the practice of the path the central part of our life.
    3. a life of non-harm.
    4. being of as much benefit as we can.
    5. a lifestyle of not being pushed by the consumer mentality and by the materialistic mentality.

  3. Celibacy. Living due to the kindness of others. Simplicity. How we use our time. What we choose to do. Community Life. Following the Dharma instructions of our spiritual mentor. Cultivating the monastic mind. Relating to lay people. Proper relationships with other people.

  4. Cultivating the Monastic Mind:
    1. humility.
    2. the ability to listen.
    3. the ability to tolerate and respect different ideas and the people who hold these different ideas.
    4. taking the middle way between self-indulgence and asceticism.
    5. respecting others.
    6. questioning our own thoughts, perceptions and emotions.
    7. instead of seeking happiness from outside, cultivating a heart of contentment.
    8. being aware of causes and consequences.
    9. instead of seeking to conquer others, working with our own mind.
    10. thinking long term.
    11. cultivating the four immeasurables: love, compassion, joy and equanimity.

  5. Q&A: Is obedience a characteristic of the monastic mind?


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Session 10

[70 min] : Download mp3 file

  1. Attachment as the origin of dukka. Many of the monastic vows deal with attachment. How attachment manifests in community living. Cultivating Gratitude. Achieving balance in the mind. When the shift from a lay mind to a monastic mind occurs.

  2. Higher Training in Ethical Discipline. The purpose of precepts:
    1. to promote harmony within the Sangha
    2. to transform the society
    3. to bring about individual liberation


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Session 11

[86 min] : Download mp3 file

  1. The law of cause and effect – thinking of what long term results we want and the actions we need to do now to attain them.

  2. Qualities of a monastic lifestyle: Simplicity – the practical aspect and the ‘value’ aspect of it. The advantages of living simply.

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Session 12

[83 min] : Download mp3 file

  1. Our negative qualities (attachment, anger, etc) are non-inherently existent.

  2. Essentials of monastic life:
    • celibacy. Ramifications of not being celibate. Benefits of taking the celibacy vow.
  3. Q&A, Discussion.



[91 min] : Download mp3 file

  1. Essentials of monastic life: Simplicity

  2. As a monastic, how to relate to and communicate with one’s family, in particular one’s parents.

  3. The impact of living on the donations of others as opposed to being self-supporting.

  4. A major difference between the novice ordination and the bhikshuni ordination.

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Session 14

[74 min] : Download mp3 file

  1. Attributes of a Monastic Life:
    1. Spending time on the Dharma vs. on entertainment. How the media conditions us mentally and physically.
    2. Community life and following a spiritual mentor.

  2. Discussion and Q&A on listening to spiritual music.

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Session 15

[73 min] : Download mp3 file

  1. Community Life and Monastic Ordination.

  2. One of the foundations of monastic life: The six harmonies - how the Sangha lives together in harmony.
    1. physical harmony
    2. verbal harmony
    3. mental harmony
    4. harmony in the precepts
    5. harmony in views
    6. harmony in welfare

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[50 min] : Download mp3 file

Rev. Master Meiko of Shasta Abbey talks about life as a monastic from her personal experience.



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