How Can I Be a Monk and Can I Train With You?

zen-training_587408954_01-193x290This week I got three emails from people in places far away from where I live asking if they could be my student and two emails asking how to become a monk. This is about my weekly average. So I thought I’d take some time to write a blog about it.

As far as training to be a monk… what can I say? I never really trained formally. I was kind of talked into ordaining as a monk when I really didn’t want to. It was all very informal. You can read my book Hardcore Zen to find out how I did it. It’s available in the store section of this website in both print and audiobook format. The ebook version is available at a number of on-line outlets.

The San Francisco Zen Center (SFZC) has a fairly straight-forward formal training program for monks — quite unlike what I did. There is a specific set of requirements one must meet. You have to live at one of their centers for a certain number of years and do certain specified things, like attend a set number of 90-day practice periods and so forth. I believe the temple founded by John Daido Loori in NY State has a similar program. There are probably others I’m not aware of. Or you could go to Japan and enroll in one of the monk training programs there. But I know nothing at all about that stuff.

One of the people who asked about this said she’d heard that one training center she looked into was said to be bureaucratic, culty and fishy by its detractors on the Internets. But really, for every place you might find that does formal Zen training like this you will be able to find someone saying it’s culty or fishy or bureaucratic. Formally training to be a Zen monk involves a certain degree of getting involved with religious bureaucracy, which is, by it’s very nature, a bit culty. You’re gonna be in a cloistered space surrounded by shaven-headed Buddhist nerds in black robes administered by a hierarchically structured organization that attempts to turn spiritual training into something that can be done in more or less the same way with the same results by anyone who happens to sign up. You really can’t expect anything other than a somewhat culty bureaucracy that lots of people would find fishy.

That is not to say that places like SFZC and others who offer formal Zen training are all fishy and culty. I don’t think they all are (some are, but not all of them). I’ve spent a lot of time at SFZC’s monastic training center Tassajara and it’s definitely not a cult. But you’re always going to be able to find plenty of people who will say these kinds of places are.

Or you could try the video game Zen Training. They say it’s a “relaxing, yet challenging puzzle game with a Tetris-like feeling of urgency.”

But seriously, folks, Muho over at Antaiji has a very detailed article about what it takes to meet the Soto-shu’s standards of becoming a Zen monk. It’s pretty good, so take a look if you want to know what Soto-shu’s standards are.

As far as becoming my student by proxy from far away, I just don’t have any means by which to do that. If you send me emails I’ll probably lose half of them, or forget who you are and what I’ve already said to you. It would be a mess. I’m too hard to reach by telephone or Skype since I travel constantly. It’s just not something I feel like I can do, at least not now.

But if you want to do some short term training with me, I am on tour right this very minute and offering a butt-load of opportunities to do that. Here they are:

– Oct. 2-6. 5-day retreat in Benediktushof. There is still time to sign up. Go to their website for details. The topic of discussion will be the Zen classic Song of the Jewel Mirror Samadhi. I will do dokusan (personal interviews/discussion) with all members who want to.

(Also, the movie about me, Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen is having its world premiere at the Buddhist Film Festival of Europe in Amsterdam on October 5th at 6pm. Director Pirooz Kalayeh will be there.)

– October 7th I’m speaking in Frankfurt on  at Dogen Zendo. Info is here. Please stop by for a chat about Zen!

– October 9th I’ll be speaking at Dharma Buchladen in Berlin

– On October 11th, I’ll be speaking in Amsterdam.

– On October 12th, I’ll be speaking at Groningen University in the Netherlands.I think the details are somewhere on this page. But it’s in Dutch so I’m not sure.

– On Oct. 13 and 14th I’ll be in Bonn, Germany. The details about that are on this page. The 13th will be an all-day sitting and on the 14th I’ll do a talk in the evening.

– Thursday 17th October
In Conversation with Brad Warner and Jon Robb – The Punk meets the Monk
Manchester, UK

– 18-19 October Zen Retreat    /    20th October  Public Talk in Hebden Bridge, England

–  23 October 7pm, I’ll be speaking in London.
Caledonian Road Centre
486 Caledonian Road
London N7 9RP

– 24 October, 8pm, I’ll be speaking in Oxford

Merton College, Oxford
Hosted the Neave Society (

**Oxford University students only**

– 25 Oct In Conversation 7pm-9pm  / 26 October Zazen Day

Merchant City Yoga Centre Glasgow, Scotland

– November 8-10 Zen and Yoga Retreat at Mount Baldy Zen Center in Southern California (1 & 1/2 hours east of Los Angeles)

*   *   *

I’m self-financing all of these, so please feel free to help out a little by sending a donation! Thanks!

Sharing is caring! Tweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on StumbleUponDigg this

31 Responses

Page 1 of 1
  1. mika
    mika October 2, 2013 at 1:37 am |

    The link to “Zen Training” doesn’t work.

  2. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel October 2, 2013 at 5:30 am |

    The link “Zen Training” is a bad joke.
    I’d say, if you want to become a monk, that is, being able to perform ceremonies and all that, you need to take that training, even though you might find it tedious, bureaucratic, and even cultic or fishy. It’s just like any other sort of training: it all depends what you make with it afterwards.
    There is a community need for people sympathetic to Buddhism, but who are absolutely not likely to engage into serious practice. Those need those ceremonies and all, so it’s not a bad thing to offer them to them. Then, it’s just like funerals. Zen in Japan has degenerated into a funerals system and little more. That is not to say that funerals are useless. They are a necessary thing for the living. Take, for instance, that devotion to Jizo Bosatsu, in Japan. It allows mothers who have had a miscarriage or even an abortion to mourn their non-born child, which christianity doesn’t allow.

    But, as far as real buddhist practice is concerned, these are only sidedishes.

  3. Heffyson
    Heffyson October 2, 2013 at 7:27 am |

    Thanks for the honesty and suggestions.

  4. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote October 2, 2013 at 11:04 am |

    Brad, congratulations to you and Pirooz on making the film and good luck with the premier this weekend!

    I enjoyed this post very much.

    I have received emails from folks who read your blog as well, and I’ve enjoyed brief correspondences with them on some aspect of practice. I appreciate their sharing with me, and I learn from their experiences (which are often very dissimilar to mine). I have some friends I’ve met here, how about that.

    I enjoyed the article by Muho as well. I learned a lot, about the formalities of becoming a monk and of receiving shiho (transmission). As he puts it, in an analogy between shiho papers and a marriage certificate:

    “The papers can not replace the marriage, they are no guarantee for a happy marriage. But there is a difference between being “married in your mind”, or in black and white.”

    Muho does point out that in Japan, Soto Zen priests are mostly engaged in the funeral ceremony business. As I read that, I thought to myself, this too is a lot like the formal marriage: although many people would like to think of it as a romantic fulfillment, the reality is that it is a civil matter involving the property and money. I wonder what the laws are regarding temple property in Japan; I know that the temple is commonly passed down in the same family, and I would guess that the son who receives control of the property has gotten the papers from an institution something like the Soto-shu to show that he is bona fide. The funeral ceremony business depends on the belief of the persons who pay for the ceremony in the bona fide religious credentials of the person conducting the ceremony.

    I’m sure Muho is right, is what a person makes of it.

    John, thanks for the article about the Desert Fathers, learned a lot there.

  5. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote October 2, 2013 at 11:18 am |

    ah, yes:

    “Some words about the “officially recognized training monasteries”. These are called sodo in Japanese, literally a monk’s hall. Antaiji consideres itself a sodo, but we are not an officially recognized one. That means that you can train here for as many years as you like, you will not be promoted to any rank (except osho, if you receive the dharma transmission – about which we learned two months ago). If you want to become a full-fledged priest who can take over a Soto temple in Japan, you have to spent at least a couple of months to a couple of years in one of thirty something training monasteries in Japan.” (from here

  6. Fred
    Fred October 2, 2013 at 4:40 pm |

    “YANGON (Reuters) – Terrified Muslims hid in their homes in northwest Myanmar on Monday after armed police dispersed a Buddhist mob that torched houses and surrounded a mosque in the latest outbreak of sectarian tension.

    Clashes between majority Buddhists and Muslims have killed at least 237 people and left more than 150,000 homeless since June 2012.”

    Watch out for those Burmese Buddha monks on crack and ecstasy

  7. Fred
    Fred October 2, 2013 at 4:52 pm |

    “Decay is inherent in all compound things. Strive on with diligence.”

  8. Fred
    Fred October 2, 2013 at 5:00 pm |

    All things arise and pass away. It is comforting for this sense of self to seek a
    state that transcends the decay of the body and mind, but there is none

  9. zacharythax
    zacharythax October 2, 2013 at 6:02 pm |

    I’m really lucky because there is a Soto Zen priory right near my house in Columbia, SC. They even have a picture of Reverend Master Jiyu Kennett on the walls. We recite the Great Heart of Wisdom Sutra and do a lot of bowing. It’s everything Brad writes about.

  10. Mumbles
    Mumbles October 2, 2013 at 7:12 pm |

    Yes, Brad, for what its worth, this is one of your very best posts IMO. One reason why I have been here off and on for so long: you’re real. If more “teachers” were as open about what they have to offer, there wouldn’t be so much confusion, or people writing to you for guidance every week. You understand their motivation, they’ve been fed a line that people like yourself possess powers like Ultraman only as a sorta Zenultraman-type that might, just might alleviate their all-too-human foibles.

    The best that one can get here is the message that Brad as an individual has done what he has done and that YOU -as the unique wonderful manifestation of a human or whatchamacallit- can do whatever it is that you can do, too. Celebrate yourself. Laugh a lot. Keep a light touch.

  11. mtto
    mtto October 2, 2013 at 7:57 pm |

    I’ve always thought that this was a strange question. Brad teaches twice a week in the L.A. area. If you want to study Zen with him, show up, ask questions, practice, and hang out.

    And now, Dogen Sangha Los Angeles is hosting two retreats a year that Brad is teaching. So, two classes a week, two retreats a year. Show up regularly, and you are studying Zen with Brad Warner. Simple as that.

  12. AnneMH
    AnneMH October 2, 2013 at 9:17 pm |

    Very good points from everyone. I have been practicing awhile and have not consistently had a teacher. I have one right now who is a nun in another tradition but honestly the tradition to me is secondary to the quality of the teacher. As a larger group we support her, bring meals when she does not do her alms rounds to be fed, drive her as needed, fix things around the house, etc. It is a big job. I had one other teacher and he did have a regular job but we paid for all his travel and related expenses to teaching us.

    So it is a strange question to me. Brad doesn’t do the type of teaching it sounds like people are asking for yet he also finances himself. I have to wonder if the people asking for this are willing to play the role students often do of providing for the teacher.

  13. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote October 3, 2013 at 10:24 am |

    Let’s hope the film’s a smash!

    I took judo from a man who worked as a janitor to support his family. I owe that man a lot.

    I think things are not so different now; I see where I can sign up for judo locally, as part of the park and recs program, and there’s a fee of $50 a month that supports the dojo. Park and recs kicks in something, hopefully; probably a dozen regular students if the teacher is lucky, so he has another job. Kudos to him.

    Then there’s Rev. Bill Kwong, who received a gift of land outside Santa Rosa and has been teaching there ever since, all on donations so far as I know. With the love and help of Shinko Kwong, and for awhile now his son Demian. Wikipedia says he has been recognized as a Zen teacher by the Soto-shu:

    “He received the title Dendo Kyoshi (or, Zen teacher) from the Soto School of Japan in 1995.”

    The schedule at Sonoma Mountain Zen Center is pretty demanding, and the Kwongs have been living it all of their lives, for the most part. Wonder what you have to do to be certified as a sodo by Soto-shu?- maybe not heat the buildings in winter, like Eiheiji, serve 2000 calories a day, and make people get by on 5 hours sleep or less a night.

    The question in America would be, do they do these things so that the public will feel their graduates are worthy to perform funerals, or do they do these things because once a person has dropped their worldly attachments, it comes naturally? Second question would be, is that the only mode of living that comes naturally to someone who has dropped their worldly attachments, or are there others? Seems like there are others.

  14. Fred
    Fred October 3, 2013 at 11:13 am |

    “maybe not heat the buildings in winter, like Eiheiji, serve 2000 calories a day, and make people get by on 5 hours sleep or less a night.”

    That’s also what they do in brainwashing. And if you are breaking down your
    students psychologically it’s probably easier to for the teacher to ask
    for and receive sexual favo(u)rs from them.

    If the worldly attachments have been dropped and there is no clinging to
    conditioning, austerity isn’t necessary.

    Swinging into a radical mode of living is a form of clinging.

    1. Daniel_D
      Daniel_D October 13, 2013 at 3:39 pm |

      I didn’t find my time in a Zen monastic environment, following a similar schedule, to be brainwashing. I can’t say those around me found it brainwashing either. If any, it was challenging yet pleasant.

      I’m sure you’re aware that the schedule serves as a tool. Also, many fantastic teachers have come from such environments, to say the least.

  15. Amiga-Freak
    Amiga-Freak October 3, 2013 at 1:05 pm |

    Whats wrong with 2000 calories? If I eat that amount my weight already starts to go up. And I have usually a BMI of about 22-23

  16. Johnny Tet
    Johnny Tet October 3, 2013 at 6:31 pm |

    Austerity in training-

    there are many rooms in the house
    some well furnished
    others not
    this house has many entrances and exits

    personally love the adversity of austerity, makes me feel badass, sublime suffering- very clingee

  17. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer October 3, 2013 at 6:35 pm |

    I am reading a biography of Freeman Dyson, a physicist acknowledged by his peers as one of the most brilliant thinkers in the sciences. I thought this quote by him was quite interesting :

    “I do not feel like an alien in this universe. The more I examine this universe and study the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe, in some sense, must have known that we were coming.”


  18. Mumbles
    Mumbles October 3, 2013 at 6:51 pm |

    That’s pretty darn good Alan, thanks.

  19. AnneMH
    AnneMH October 3, 2013 at 7:48 pm |

    Had a great idea, tell the ambitious new people to check out the training video, Fight Club, and then get back to you. Those guys shave their heads, follow orders, live communally. I even recall a lovely garden amongst the socially inappropriate actions. However as a female I think the peeing in the soup is outside of my range

  20. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote October 3, 2013 at 8:08 pm |

    Amiga-Freak, I see where 2000 calories is about right for a woman, by some estimates. To tell the truth, I’ve never counted calories, I just read something about how little they ate in monasteries in Japan in “Ambiguous Zen” and 2000 was the number I remembered.

    Also found this:

    “if you eat less, will you live longer? It is tempting to quip that
    life would at least seem longer. But the question is serious and has
    intrigued scientists since the 1930s, when it was discovered that a very
    low-calorie diet would lengthen rats’ maximum life spans from three
    years to four, an increase of 33 percent.

    Over the years, the finding has been confirmed many times in mice
    and other small animals, and has proved the only reliable means of
    extending a mammal’s life span…

    People are already practicing caloric restriction. Many base their
    diets on books by Dr. Roy Walford, a researcher at the University
    of California at Los Angeles who recommends cutting back calories
    and body weight by about 20 percent. In eight people he has studied
    on such a plan, Dr. Walford has found beneficial changes in blood
    pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. A person who begins 20 percent calorie restriction at age 18 might live to be 140 years old, Dr. Walford has estimated. At 73, he himself eats only 1,800 calories a day, as opposed to the 2,000 to 2,800 normally recommended for a man his age.”
    NY Times, Oct 7/97.

  21. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote October 3, 2013 at 8:08 pm |




  22. Mumbles
    Mumbles October 4, 2013 at 4:55 am |

    Don’t be sorry, Mark, unless you’re considering how many calories there are in a can of beer! I researched the low-calorie-longer-life subject ten years ago and began to adapt a common sense approach to calorie intake. Like any good alchemist would do, I used my wife’s Weight Watcher’s information to find out how many calories were in various foods and kept a diary of what I ate. Eating is just a habit among habits and can be modified like any other. After a while I let go of keeping track because my good eating habits were well established. There is a ton of stuff on YouTube about calorie restriction dieting. Start here:

  23. Mumbles
    Mumbles October 4, 2013 at 4:58 am |

    Another good motivator I found that might lead to establishing better eating habits is this test:

  24. Amiga-Freak
    Amiga-Freak October 4, 2013 at 7:39 am |

    @Mark: I had heavy overweight until 12 years ago.
    Back then I started counting calories. My experience is that my weight stays constant with 1600 – max 2000 calories. Theoretically my need is 2300. Probably I slowed my metabolism by dieting. But in general 2000 is not so few if you are not a heavy worker.

  25. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote October 4, 2013 at 11:38 am |

    Here’s my favorite nutritional science piece; this is a debunk of the mythology around cholesterol and a low-fat diet, by a guy who got his M.D. in surgery and left medicine to do statistics for an insurance company:

    it’s an hour slide-show presentation, but it’s riveting to me. America has been had, but what else is new…

Comments are closed.