Buddhist Ordination

Ordaining for ministry in Buddhism is somewhat distinct from the ordination track of various other religions and their denominations. For one thing, because Buddhism includes many different traditions, lineages and cultures from around the world, and there is no one standard ordination process for Buddhist “clergy.”

Additionally, traditional ordination is usually set within the monastic context and consists of two particular stages for ordaining monks and nuns:

  • “novice ordination,” usually for youth or those newly entering the monastic life
  • “higher ordination” designating one as a full monk or nun

This occurs under the guidance of a teacher and is set within a particular lineage of training, practice and study.

Readiness for the higher ordination may involve the transmission from teacher to student of the authority to impart Buddhist teachings, or providing the student with trainings, or “empowerments,” around specific meditation practices. This stage of ordination will also rely on such factors as

  • progress in formal practice
  • keeping the monastic precepts and renunciation
  • study and skillful comprehension of Buddhist teachings and texts
  • performing ritual practices which the monk or nun may officiate in ceremonial events

Moreover, titles are conferred onto the student by his or her teacher according to the lineage, such as Lama, Rinpoche, Geshe, Bhante, Roshi, and so on.

Today in the West, there is an increasing number of lay practitioners (non-monastic students or sangha leaders) being authorized to teach or lead meditation in practice communities. Authorization to teach is here too conferred by one’s teacher and can involve completion of various lengths of long-term meditation retreats and courses of study designed by the teacher and deemed necessary for the laity to guide others on the path.

Although Buddhism has no overall single ordination process or certifying body for ministry outside the monastic context, questions of a non-monastic ordination in the West are increasingly being raised as an alternative path of service in the Dharma.