Buddhist Priests and Contemplatives


Employment Prospects


Priests and some contemplatives work in Buddhist temples, Dharma centers, meditation centers, and centers for the study of Buddhism. Others work at hospitals, hospices, prisons, and in the military. Some priests and contemplatives work as teachers.

Starting Out

A person who is interested in becoming a Buddhist contemplative first becomes a novice. (This is often referred to as “home leaving” or “going forth.”) During this time—which varies by Buddhist tradition—the novice lives at the monastery and explores his or her relationship with the faith—and is guided by an experienced teacher (spiritual guide). In Buddhism, some people can become novices for a short time as a rite of passage (for children) or with a goal of accruing religious merit. Full ordination follows after the novice stage. The length of this process varies by Buddhist tradition.

Aspiring priests began their training by living at a monastery for one or two years. After this time the postulant undertakes intensified training and meets with monastic leaders to determine if ordination is appropriate. If an agreement is made to proceed, the postulant resolves all outside obligations and commitments and trains for an additional three to five years. After the completion of training, the postulant is ordained as a priest.   

Outside the United States, some priest positions are passed down from parent to child. A son or daughter of a priest will train as a monastic, and then returns to their father’s temple to work as a priest.

In the U.S., Buddhist temples advertise openings by word-of-mouth or on Buddhist-oriented job sites.

Advancement Prospects

Someone who is interested in immersing themselves in the philosophy of Buddhism first becomes a novice and then, after a period of time, becomes an ordained monk or nun. The next step would be to become an abbot (who leads a monastery where male contemplatives reside) or abbess (who oversees female contemplatives). Some contemplatives continue their education and spiritual exploration and become priests. The most experienced priests can advance to the position of head priest. Some priests and contemplatives work as chaplains, teachers, and social workers, or in other helping-careers.  

Tips for Entry

Learn the terminology Buddhists use in their religious ceremonies. Visit https://obcon.org/dharma/glossary-of-buddhist-terms for a glossary of terms.  

Visit the following Web site for job listings:

  • https://fpmt.org/fpmt/jobs

Check out the following resources to learn more about Buddhism: 

  • ReligionFacts-Buddhism: http://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism
  • BBC Religions-Buddhism: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/buddhism
  • Tricycle: The Buddhist Review: https://www.tricycle.org
  • Wheel of Dharma newsletter: http://buddhistchurchesofamerica.org/welcome/wheel-of-dharma-newsletter
  • Sangha News: https://www.dharma.org