Frequently Asked Questions
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The physical heart of the Monastic Academy sits in the Green Mountains of Lowell, Vermont. Surrounded by hundreds of acres of forest, the natural beauty outside reflects the natural beauty that residents discover within.
Residents are given ample time to spend in the natural world surrounding the center. Key to the teachings at the Monastic Academy is appreciation and love for the Earth, and the natural abundance that surrounds our center serves as a constant reminder of the singular beauty of this precious planet.
Your proximity to the natural world and your embeddedness in a community of practice is a rich and precious opportunity that will transform your world from the inside out.
It depends on how you look at it.
One way to look at life at the Monastic Academy is that it is challenging. The meditation periods are long; you get little sleep; you don’t have time to do much outside of the program; you spend a lot of time with a small group of people.
Another way to look at life at the Monastic Academy is that it is heavenly. The meditation periods develop mindfulness, which leads to happiness and compassion independent of conditions. The mild sleep deprivation provides an opportunity to break through drowsiness once and for all. Not doing much outside the program is fine because mindfulness and non-profit work are completely fulfilling (and you do get some free time every day, so that you can walk, nap, draw, etc.). You are surrounded by an ever-smiling, supportive community.
Meals are a special event at the Monastic Academy. They are an opportunity to give thanks for sustenance, for community, and for the bounty of the earth.
Meals begin with a chanting of the Metta Sutta, the discourse on loving kindness. It is a daily reminder to bring kindness and love into everything we do.
In the morning, the meal is taken in silence, occasionally with a guided meditation.
Lunch is often accompanied by a conversation topic of some sort. Topics can vary from issues in the community, discussing practice, or watching a TED talk and discussing it.
The meal ends with a brief chant. The chant at the end of the meal serves as a reminder of the shared intention that brings the community together.
There are two meals a day. Strictly speaking, our meals are vegetarian, but we aim for a vegan diet. In practical terms, this means that we do not purchase dairy or animal products, with the exception of honey. We do eat dairy products if they are donated. However, residents are welcome to buy their own meat or dairy products. We buy local and organic food whenever possible. This is greatly facilitated by Vermont’s thriving local/organic food system.
We are happy to make any reasonable dietary accommodations.
Chanting is one of the only practices found in every mystical tradition in the world and it is also a core practice of the Monastic Academy.
The act of chanting as a community is an embodiment of the bonds that tie together the individual and the collective. It fosters concentration and collective joy.
Each morning residents chant the Five Precepts and Gate Gate.
Before each meal residents chant the Metta Sutta and, after each meal, the Four Vows.
In the evening, residents chant Om Mani Padme Hum.
The language of these chants include Tibetan, Pali, Sanskrit, Japanese and English.
The plurality of traditions and languages embodies the Monastic Academy’s non-sectarian nature and a deep appreciation for all the world’s mystical traditions.
During your stay at the Monastic Academy, you’ll have regular meetings with Soryu Forall (or whoever is currently serving as head teacher. These meetings are an opportunity for Forall to support you in your practice. You can ask him anything—“beginner” questions like, “How do I sit cross-legged?” Practical questions, such as: “What are thought process meditations?” or “How do I combat sleepiness?” Or, his favorite, the juicy questions, such as: “How do I take advantage of being in an existential crisis?” or “How do I deal with overwhelming bursts of euphoric energy flowing through my body?”
One-on-one attention from a meditation teacher is extremely valuable, allowing you to overcome hurdles and take advantage of opportunities to move forward more quickly.
The meditation instruction at the Monastic Academy strives to combine aspects of old school, industrial-strength Asian monastic training with modern, pluralistic, and conceptually clear pedagogies.
Soryu Forall, our guiding teacher, did most of his training in the Rinzai Zen tradition, which is the origin of the old-school, monastic influence on our training program. The Zen influence is seen in many aspects of the training, including: one-on-one interviews between teacher and student, a focus on practice in motion (e.g. while doing chores or walking), and a somewhat strict and cold tone during retreats (But do not despair! This tone comes not from stiffness and disdain, but from elegance and a profound love and belief in the student’s – perhaps unrealized – magnificent abilities.).
The modern, pluralistic influence is seen in many aspects of the training, including: permission to explore a wide variety of meditation techniques from all spiritual traditions (e.g. breath practice, noting, compassion, non-dual practice, yoga, and Native American ceremony); opportunity to engage in creative activities such as art, music, and dance; extremely clear conceptual frameworks for what mindfulness is, how to practice mindfulness, and why to practice mindfulness; Dharma Talks that cover both traditional Buddhist topics and non-traditional contemporary topics (such as psychological research and funny stories).
This is a tricky question and deserves close analysis.
The Monastic Academy does not ascribe to a particular system of concepts and practices (e.g. Vajrayana Buddhism, Christianity, or Islam). Instead, we draw concepts and practices from a variety of traditions (e.g. while we do lots of seated Buddhist-style meditation practice, we also spent a week studying St. John of the Cross’s poem, The Dark Night of the Soul). To be clear, we use concepts and practices from religious traditions (e.g. we chant and bow), but we do not draw from one tradition only.
An underlying current that makes this discussion uncomfortable surrounds belief. While residents wholeheartedly engage in religious practices, there is no emphasis on believing in anything specific. Instead, what the Monastic Academy explores is how to remain deeply open-minded and consistently question assumptions. A quote from our teacher, Soryu Forall address this tension skillfully:
A definition of spirituality is ‘seeing beyond one’s own limited perspective.’ Therefore, within the context of spiritual practice: if you believe in god, that belief will be stripped away from you; if you don’t believe in god, that belief will be stripped away from you.
Apprenticeship & Residency
Apprentices and service guests will typically be supporting the Monastic Academy’s Buildings and Grounds department. Daily tasks include cooking meals, cleaning and maintaining the facilities, and setting up for retreats or other programs. Depending on the season there are often special projects, such as trail maintenance, building projects, or snow removal.
For residents the work culture at the Monastic Academy is part growing non-profit and part startup, and the responsibilities are varied and eclectic.
One day you might be working on a new marketing campaign, the next day you’ll be creating a new teaching program, and the next you’ll be cooking a meal for the community.
While the mission is for the benefit of all, the tactics and strategies used borrow heavily from the startup world. As such, you’ll find yourself regularly experimenting with new technologies and organizational practices to optimize performance and results.
Absolutely. The Monastic Academy will make any reasonable accommodation for residents and apprentice health needs.
Nope, but you should be excited to learn!
New residents commit to the training period of one year, but can stay as long as they are in good standing with the community. Some residents have been training for two, three, or even four years as of the writing of this (June 2019).
Residents can take four free days a month, twenty days of vacation per year, and one retreat off. Free and vacation days can be scheduled at essentially any time (provided that the resident’s responsibilities are taken care of, and the vacation does not substantially inconvenience the organization). Additionally, each year, residents may do one meditation retreat at another center, for up to seven days.
No, you do not. However, we ask that residents and apprentices refrain from having romantic or sexual relationships with other residents, apprentices, or teachers during their time at the Monastic Academy.
Accepted residents pay a $6,000 one-time training cost. However, there is significant financial aid available for those unable to pay the full amount. After the first month trial period, the resident and the Academy will discuss whether the resident will continue. If the resident continues, he or she receives free room and board, and a monthly living allowance. Health insurance is not covered by the Monastic Academy. Most residents receive healthcare through medicaid.
The world desperately needs awakened leaders.
Will you answer the call?