Personal Development

How to Live in a Monastery

My house was gone and I needed somewhere to live. I wanted to save money for my travels—even a studio apartment was pricey. So I went to a monastery.

Since then that post has become one of my most popular ever. Apparently a lot of people want to live in a monastery. I get an email a week asking how. So here it is: if you’re wondering how to get started living in a monastery, this is your guide.

The monastery where I lived in Minneapolis.

1. Are You Religious?

I moved into a Buddhist monastery even though I am not Buddhist. However, I am a priest of another religion and I have respect for Buddhist practice. I was able to hold conversations about meditation, chanting and other techniques and trade thoughts with the head lama.

You don’t need to be an advanced practitioner, but if you want to live in a monastery for free you should think about why. Monasteries exist to create a supportive environment for the religious practices of the monks or nuns who live there. They may have other missions as well—charity work, teaching classes—but at a minimum they support individual and group religious practice.

Are you religious? Are you part of their religion? If not, why would you live there?

If you’re “spiritual but not religious” you may not have a place in a community of dedicated religious clergy. Monasteries aren’t hostels; while they perform a lot of charity work to help outsiders, bringing in a roommate who doesn’t support their shared beliefs is hard on the whole community.

Maybe you can still find a place in a monastery regardless of your beliefs. I did. But the most obvious way to live in a monastery is to become a monk or nun.

2. Ask

When I decided to approach the monastery, I did it with a clear proposal for how I would earn my keep.

In my case, I already knew the head lama from my past interfaith work, but we were by no means close friends. I wrote her a formal letter pitching my idea. I sent it more than two months before I needed to move (don’t rush it!). I waited about a week, then called the lama and left a message saying I’d like to follow up.

You can see the actual letter here, but here are the highlights:

  1. I explained my situation and made a clear request. I didn’t seem needy or desperate.
  2. I established a clear timeline for when I’d be arriving and when I’d be leaving.
  3. I offered a service of value to the monastery.

Of these, the last point is by far the most important.

3. Offer Value

I believe this is the only reason that I, as a non-Buddhist, was allowed to move into a Buddhist monastery. Maybe if you’re starving they’ll take you in out of kindness, but if like me you’re just some kid looking for a free room—you need to give back in some way.

The services I offered were circumstantial. They were based on what I’m good at doing, and on what  they needed. I had already done my homework and seen that the Monastery had a bad website and no social media presence. Since they acted as a meditation center for the greater Minneapolis area, that was a problem (and it was one I could solve).

What you offer might be very different. Maybe you know that your monastery wants to put in an organic garden, and you’re good at landscaping. Maybe you’re a roofer and they have a storm-damaged roof. Maybe their office is a mess.

The point is to make a useful offer: don’t offer to organize the office and answer phones if they already have an administrative assistant on staff.

(Offering general labor is fine too—“I’ll spend this many hours a week doing whatever needs doing”—but I’m convinced that’s less appealing than offering a specific skill. The monks all pitch in for random unskilled work; more hands may not be needed.)

One word of warning: Decide how much time you’re willing to give. In the business world, work-for-lodging is always bad for the worker—if it was cheaper to pay you a wage and charge for the room, that’s what they would do. In a monastery there may be a purer intention, but non-profits are always starved for help and often work volunteers relentlessly.

Know your boundaries and offer a fixed number of hours per week.

4. Meet

If your offer is appealing you’ll probably be asked to come in and meet in person. Most people don’t accept a roommate sight-unseen, and many monasteries won’t either.

Being asked to come in and meet doesn’t mean they’ve accepted your request. Put your best foot forward, but be transparent: they’ll see the real you soon enough if you live with them.

At my meeting with the lama, she:

  • Wanted to know more about my travel plan and why I was doing this
  • Asked me to justify my proposed social media work, and wanted to know how it would benefit the Monastery’s mission
  • Proposed other projects she would want me to help with in addition to the work I had offered

But this is a two-way interview. I also asked questions about the rules of the monastery and what it would be like to live there. I needed to know that I could come and go at my own hours, that it was understood that I was not a practicing Buddhist, and that we had the potential to be mutually happy roommates.

5. Negotiation

I had expected the monastery’s goals to include increasing attendance at the meditation classes, and attracting more newcomers. This was not their goal at all—recruitment just wasn’t a priority for them.

I did make a case for how social media would still be useful, and ultimately the lama agreed with me. But the value of the social media work was less, and she asked me to take on other projects as well. I had to consider this carefully, go back to my own boundaries (remember that warning above?) and told her yes, but with very clear limits on how many hours I would put in. (One afternoon per week gardening.)

She also wanted me to pay $50/month toward utilities. I considered this fair and accepted. Since I wasn’t charged rent, I still consider that I lived there for free.

6. Monastery Rules

Ask about the rules of the monastery and which ones you, as a lodger, have to follow. For instance, if the monks are vegetarian are you allowed to eat meat, or not? If they have a communal cook, are you allowed to eat the food or are you on your own? What behavior expectations do they have?

Ask specific questions about potential problems. I told the lama I am not a huge drinker but I do like to relax with a drink in the evening. If she came down to the kitchen one night and saw me drinking a margarita, would it be a problem?

“I’d probably ask you to make one for me, too.”

I lucked out because this monastery was small and easygoing. As long as I was respectful I could pretty much do as I pleased. I didn’t have to follow their diet code and there was no curfew or lights-out time.

But if there was, I would respect it.

Even though you’re an outsider, not a monk, it’s completely fair to tell you to follow the monastic rules. If the monks have an early pre-dawn prayer hour, yes you do need to be silent in your room by curfew. If they are sworn off alcohol, it is rude—maybe even downright mean—to pop open a beer in front of them.

I wouldn’t expect to have sex in the monastery, by the way.

In Western monasticism, the Rule of an order is the definitive feature uniting their way of life. In Buddhism monastic rules exist to help limit attachment and craving. Either way, house guests who don’t follow them create a roadblock for everyone.

If you can’t follow the rules, don’t move in.

A Perfect Life

The reason I offer so much caution is to help you make the best arrangement possible. If you follow the advice above, you’ll maximize your chance of being accepted and create a sustainable situation.

Life in the monastery was really idyllic. There were tough moments (I’ve scaled a monastery wall in a thunderstorm and picked a lock to sneak in) but also great ones (I’ve high-fived a lama). One night I made dinner for the whole group of us and served it in the garden with a bit of wine. It’s one of my fondest memories.

My life at the monastery was extremely low-stress. There were day to day tensions, like dealing with a very sick cat or defending my time boundary on how much gardening I could do. But I was with peaceful people who led a simple life. I had no money concerns and I could spoil my friends while paying down my debt. It was relaxing to wake up there, and relaxing to come home.

The greatest experience was seeing how human these practitioners are: a lama is a human being. Many Buddhists never see that.

I gave up that peaceful life for one of risk and challenge. I prefer to struggle for greatness, to make love to the world, to love her as she is. The monks may inherit the earth: today it’s for those who struggle.

Fellowship of the Wheel bicycle adventure

I’m launching a group bicycle ride across Mexico with some of the most fascinating adventurers in the world—including beginners and experts, 20 year olds and 60 year olds, women and men. You can help out & join us from home every step of the way: The Fellowship of the Wheel


38 thoughts on “How to Live in a Monastery

  1. Pingback: How to Live for Free |   Rogue Priest

  2. Tamrah Troy says:

    Thank you for your wonderful information. A friend suggested to me some kind of retreat. I have failed after a five year career change. I am at the end of my rope financially and emotionally. I am spiritual but not experiencing the manifestation I want or need. I am stuck or blocked somehow. I suffer from depression, have taken medication for years and grew up in a violent home with a mentality ill alcoholic mother. I believe something from my past must be blocking me. I need deep healing. Have you any suggestions? A friend suggested ayawhasca to me…do you know where I could find help for my spirit?

    • Hi Tamrah. This may sounds like odd advice coming from a priest, but focus less on spirituality.

      Spirituality is <em?incredibly valuable, but a lot of spiritual/new age books make claims that spiritual activity will lead to material manifestation. That’s not what spirituality does and I’m not surprised it has not worked for you. I see this over and over with sincere, good people who expect change to come from spiritual transformation.

      Material change comes from changing the habits and patterns in your life. Should you try ayawhahasca? If you had lots of disposable income and time I would say sure. But I suggest the reverse: evaluate what habits you can change, create material change in your life, and then watch as the sense of spiritual fulfillment follows suit.

      If you do use a retreat or monastery as a refuge from the world I would use it as a sabbatical to plan your changes and set a deadline (6 months?) to come back out into the world.

      • Elizabeth says:

        This is wise advice. I started on a spiritual path myself, and realized in the process that bringing my physical life into balance was a prerequisite for the spiritual path (for me). Getting my energy level, possessions, emotions, relationships and finances under control has been a painful process. I used spiritual principles as a guide.

      • Daryl O Neill says:

        Hi Drew. My name is Daryl O Neill. Please tell me you can help me find a place like this. I have been searching for weeks on end. i suffer with depression and anxiety and i need a place like this to go and find some inner peace and learn to sit with myself and basically find myself. If you could find it in youre heart to contact me please do.

        Kind reguards

        Daryl O Neill

    • Toby Baxter says:

      Yes I can my friend as I to have had a similar start in life and never got any further. Now I have seen many things and can promise you. Jesus Christ, The Father is the answer. He suffered in ways not known to save & understand us. You have to “Let Go” give in fully to the Saviour on prayer and you must know it is levels of attainment so you might not feel the Holy Spirit at that time but that simply means “Not “Yet” he is “The Way, The Truth & “The Life” I am a vessel for Christ and would never write my Fathers name in vain. My prayers are with you and the power of Words in prayer are Powerful. Try and meet sensible Righteous children of God. There mostly normal mate. God bless Toby x

  3. River Armstrong says:

    I’m currently at a point in my life where I have nowhere else to go. I want give all of my being to become a monk and live my life in peace. I would like to live at a monastery and devote my entire life to Buddhism. But I don’t know where to begin. Any advice?

  4. Tanner ketcherside says:

    My name is Tanner Lynn Ketcherside, I find myself lost and afraid, I am 22 ears old and am looking for a direction in witch I can find some shred of peace, I am tiered of struggling alone and could use some assistance getting on a path.

  5. John says:

    I am one person that wish to live in a Catholic monastery preferably in South America, I’m not seeking for free lodging I can pay a reasonable amount of USD to live in seclusion with monks away from the hoi poloi. I made some research but not too successfully and I wonder if such place exist?

    Any assistance will be greatly appreciated.


  6. Erina says:

    I am a child of God, the Creator who is not attached to a specific religion. I’m a white american woman who seeks a simple community of peace. I could provide a novel, resume, commercial and I find it unnecessary. I can provide kindness, care of children and the sick. If that is not good enough for any village God will show me another or I will create one.

  7. Jeff lipsitz says:

    I’m tired of living in the United States I find it to be based on greed I would like to live in a monk colony and become one I have funds and am willing to help I suffer from depression and anxiety I’m looking for peace but can’t find any how can I accomplish this? Jeff

    • Dan says:

      Hi, I’m Dan and can completely relate to you Jeff. I also suffer from depression and anxiety and would like to travel outside of the U.S. on a path to become a monk. Contact me if you’d like to venture together.

  8. gary davidson says:

    I am thinking of changing my life from a Christian married man to a life without my wife in a monastry

  9. Hi Andre Sólo,
    i am from india i have had this conversation with many spiritual gurus (or at least tried to have) but haven’t been able to get a candid answer or a suggestion.

    i have a life as any individual at 31 years of age would have a house a wife a 2 year old kid and financial i am ok no debt and some savings(nothing huge). i am good at my job ( i work for a chain of eye hospitals) i am doing good for the society.
    but i do not feel contend with anything.Any target i make(personal/professional) i know i will achieve the same.
    but i seem to have lost the purpose of life. also i feel really low on energy (no physically but mentally)
    some time back i decided i needed a break .so i quit my job and i have put in my resignation.
    i want to meditate live a quiet and simple life learn some of the buddhist yogic techniques to control your mind and body.
    any suggestions for me.
    i am open to criticism as well.

    • saurabh sharma says:

      i’m currently at a point in my life where I have nowhere else to go. I want give all of my being to become a monk and live my life in peace. I would like to live at a monastery and devote my entire life to Buddhism. But I don’t know where to begin. Any advice?

  10. Lilawati Nongbri says:

    I am 18 years old girl and i have always been in love with buddhism.i have just passed my 12th exams and still preparing for medical but I want to be a Buddhist bun I want to live my entire life as a no, so please kindly give me any information about how can I do this.

  11. Jess says:

    I live in Thailand since 15 years. I would like to say thanks for sharing your experience. On this moment, i spend my time to search and find a good temple. I haved an experience also 1 years ago but in Thailand, but he was not i looking for. Since i’m back to the normal life, i always keep my life like a monk, but day after day, this be come difficult in this real life. I know, that this life is not my life, i miss to much to live in temple. So to spend my time, i prepare myself physicly and train hard everyday until i find another temple where i will live there for the rest of my life.

    My best friend tell me to take time and try to adapt yourself at my life, works and create a family, but is not what i want. In another hand, he respect my decision and i appreciate that. I don’t want any money, or adapt my life to this society even I respect the system, but is not what i want. I would like to live a simple life without anything and learn what i like, the chinese, the kung fu and meditation and the sport. i will go with my legs to China until i find a temple to accept me. A monk don’t need any transport, this will be my new experience to test my mental and my physique. I will probably not post another message here, but if i get an opportunity to add a more post, i will.

    Thank you for all advice, i take note. Good luck for the rest of your life.

  12. Greg says:

    Hello my friend
    I would like to live in monastery for two-three weeks to feel that live and of course learn meditation.
    Can you give me any idea how to do this?
    Thank you

  13. Jeff Zoellner says:

    As a monk, were you allowed to read and do things like run and workout?

    These are important to me, and I wonder about your experience.

    Also, laptops and smartphones….

    Please take a moment to answer if you can; it would mean a lot to me.

  14. Jeff Cancilla says:

    Im a 49 year old ys citizen living in reynosa Mexico im homeless and cant find a job mainly bc i dont speak Spanish. I have nothing to go back to in the USA i would like to join a monastery in Mexico as close to reynosa Mexico if possible. I was a construction worker in the usa mainly carpentry. My email address is and my us phone number is 201 647 3175 .
    Sincerely jeff Cancilla

  15. My name is jeff and im a 49 year old us citizen living in reynosa Mexico im homeless and cant find work mainly bc I don’t speak Spanish. I was a carpenter in the USA. I suffer from depression and I believe a fullfulling monastery life would be my salvation. I have no reason to ever go back to the usa. So i want to join a monastery as close to reynosa Mexico as possible..i am willing to make a lifetime commitment

  16. Jeff Cancilla says:

    Im looking to join a monastery as close to reynosa Mexico as possible on the Mexican side of the border. As soon as possible. .i really somewhere to go and i want to tirn my life over to god

  17. Michael Donofrio says:

    I’m seriously interested in joining and living in a monastery-but not for free. I’ve wanted to become a priest-but at my age the Catholic Church says “I’m too old”. My response would be-“What is too old for a true Christian, wanting to help those in a monastery scenario”. My answer would be what our Almighty GOD would say—there is NO age that would make one “too old” to do so.
    Could you please give me some direction in this regard. I’m a Florida resident, am a Roman Catholic for all my life, believe in the Trinity and want so much to leave this disoriented, immoral world and put all my energies into the LORD and his needs in this world. My email address is “”. My phone is 7274743939.Thank you for your consideration and response.

  18. Deenadayal choudhary says:

    Sir I want to live in budhhist monastery. I will pay for it by teaching poor children. I have for years experience and all that. Now I am broken. I just think about suiside but however I lost everything. I want to spent rest of my life with children. I am a teacher and I just want to do this for children

  19. Apurva Meshram says:

    It’s such a nice thing to be a part of monestary n do social help. Can I join in d monestry n live there for meditation n helping other people

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