Buddhist Priests and Contemplatives


Education and Training Requirements

High School

Recommended classes for an aspiring U.S.-based priest include business, accounting, religion, philosophy, science, mathematics, speech, and computer science. If you plan to work in a temple in the United States, you should have a good command of English, as well as proficiency in the languages spoken by your congregants (typically languages spoken by people in China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Laos, Cambodia, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and Mongolia). Other than teaching Mandarin or perhaps Japanese or Korean, few American high schools offer instruction in any of the aforementioned languages, but language classes may be available at Buddhist community centers or local colleges.

Postsecondary Education

Priests receive their training first at monasteries in the United States and overseas (such as the Sri Subodharama International Bhikku Education Centre in Sri Lanka) and then from a master teacher. At the Education Centre, students take courses on meditation (theory and practice), as well as in English, Pali, Sanskrit, and Sinhala. The education process can take anywhere from five to 10 years depending on the age they begin training.

Some colleges and universities (such as the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California) offer Buddhist studies majors or concentrations, but they do not typically prepare people to become Buddhist priests or contemplatives. Visit https://tricycle.org/magazine/where-to-study for a list of graduate programs in Buddhist studies. Some schools offer more specialized training. According to its Web site, the Buddhist Ministry Initiative (BMI) at Harvard Divinity School “trains future Buddhist religious professionals in terms appropriate to modern, global conditions. Drawing on the strengths of Harvard’s unique faculty resources in the academic study of religion and Buddhist studies, the BMI coordinates a range of courses on the history, thought, and practice of Buddhism, in Buddhist languages, and in Buddhist arts of ministry. The initiative also supports the field education of Buddhist ministry students in hospitals and other sites of pastoral care.” Maitripa College, the first Tibetan Buddhist college in the Pacific Northwest, awards graduate degrees in divinity and Buddhist studies. It was founded in 2008.

Other Education or Training

The Buddhist Churches of America’s Center for Buddhist Education offers continuing education opportunities for ministers, training sessions for certified minister’s assistants, leadership training and support to temple leaders, and other educational resource. Visit http://buddhistchurchesofamerica.org/center-for-buddhist-education for more information.


The Graduate Theological Union offers certificate programs in Asian and Oceanic Cultures and Faith Traditions, Buddhist Chaplaincy, and Women’s Studies in Religion. While these certificates alone will not prepare you to become a Buddhist priest or contemplative, they will provide you with a better understanding of the religion and related faiths. Visit https://gtu.edu/academics/certificate-programs for more information. Some colleges and universities offer undergraduate and graduate certificates in Asian languages. Contact schools in your area to learn about available programs. The Won Institute of Graduate Studies (https://www.woninstitute.edu) offers an 18-credit, retreat-based Buddhist Pastoral Care Certificate Program to prepare students for service in hospitals, hospices, and prisons.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Buddhism is a highly decentralized religion, with no predominant central leader or organizations for the various traditions. As a result, there is no certification for priests. Buddhist priests or contemplatives who work as chaplains in hospitals, hospices, and the military can become certified by the Association of Professional Chaplains.

Other Requirements

Novice contemplatives must be at least eight years old. Priests must be at least 20 years old before they can be ordained.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

It takes five to seven years to receive the necessary training and experience to become a Buddhist priest. No experience is needed to become a contemplative.

Successful priests and contemplatives are kind, thoughtful, and peaceful. They have a deep knowledge and understanding of The Three Treasures of Buddhism, Four Noble Truths, and the Noble Eightfold Path. Priests have strong communication and interpersonal skills and are dedicated to serving others. Many U.S.-based temples require priests to be proficient in English, have an understanding of basic business principles, and be able to use Microsoft Word and Excel.