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Monastery Stewardship

An image of monks and lay people

Are you interested in spending time volunteering as a resident steward? In many monasteries like Empty Cloud, the community generally depends on the help of a long-term lay person. This person volunteers their time to take care of several necessary tasks. In turn, the monastic community can have more time to focus on practice and teaching.

It’s an excellent opportunity for someone looking to study the Buddha’s teachings, meditate more frequently, and offer meritorious acts of service to the Sangha—all while dwelling in a serene community of like-minded individuals.

A steward observes the Eight Precepts and follows the daily schedule of meditation and pūjas. There are also lots of opportunities for individual meditation practice.

Duties of a resident steward include:

  • preparing and offering meals
  • caring for and managing the kitchen
  • indoor and outdoor work including cleaning, gardening and property maintenance
  • assisting with office and administrative tasks

A suitable candidate:

  • Has a regular Dhamma practice
  • Wishes to deepen their practice of generosity by serving in a monastic setting
  • Is able to make a firm commitment to live at the monastery as a resident for a definite period of at least three months
  • Willingness to learn and adapt; to live and cooperate harmoniously in community
  • Very helpful to have a driver’s license (Canadian or American)
  • Good physical and mental health
  • Commitment to abide by the Eight Precepts while at the monastery

Benefits of serving as a steward include:

  • Lots of free time for meditation or study
  • Opportunity to learn from senior monastics and dedicated practitioners
  • Access to library of Dhamma books
  • The chance to make heaps of merit!

How to Apply:

If you are interested in serving as a steward at Empty Cloud Monastery, please read the general steward guidelines and descriptions shown above. To apply, please click the “Apply Now” button below to submit a letter of interest.

Many people’s perceptions of life at a monastery rarely match the realities of living in community. For all new stewards, even those people who have visited us as guests in the past, the first two weeks of your service period will be treated as a trial period to assess our mutual suitability.

Also, all prospective stewards are expected to have monastery retreat experience of at least seven days, preferably longer as a resident. Getting a sense of our way of being in advance of any long-term commitment may help you, and us, should you decide to join us at some point as a steward. Please see our Residency Guidelines page for more information on staying as a lay resident.

Before applying we also ask that all steward candidates read through our Residency Guidelines to get a sense of daily community life here at the monastery. Long-term stays are subject to the two-week probationary period mentioned above, as well as periodic approvals by the abbots and the monastic community.

Please don’t hesitate to email us at info [at] emptycloud.org if you have any questions.

APPLY NOW

Residency Guidelines

The Experience of Residency at Empty Cloud Monastery

Please note, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have modified our residency guidelines as follows:

  • Short-term residents must commit to staying at the monastery for at least two weeks.
  • All residents are required to be fully vaccinated, with two weeks having passed since receiving the final dose of an approved vaccine.
  • If you are traveling from out-of-state, please review the CDC’s guidance on traveling to minimize risks.
  • If you are interested in a longer-term stay, please read about our stewardship opportunities here.

A monastery is not just a place where monks live—it’s a haven of peace and wisdom for the world. Accordingly, it is common for lay people to come and stay at the monastery for periods of time, experiencing the serenity of the monastery and learning how to integrate Buddhist wisdom into daily life. Here at Empty Cloud Monastery, we invite you to come experience residency at the monastery, immersing yourself in the Dhamma for a period of time.

The resident community is made up of monks of various gender identities, who follow hundreds of monastic precepts, as well as lay people who follow a basic set of training rules (see the “Residency Guidelines” and the “Eight Precepts,” listed below). Perhaps you are a layperson who would like to experience the benefits of monastic life for a period of time. Or you may be exploring the possibility of becoming a monk. Living and practicing with the monastic community could be an excellent opportunity to develop your spiritual practice.

First-time guests may stay for two weeks. If your first stay goes well, you may request to stay for a longer period of time. Returning guests may stay for up to one month.

Please read through all the information below, and feel free to ask any questions by email to the Guest Monk through the form on this page. Once you’ve read through all the information, please submit a residency application by clicking here.

Staying at the Monastery

The monastery is located on about three acres of property in West Orange, NJ. We are dedicated to studying, practicing, and sharing the teachings of the Buddha, and we invite interested laypeople to join us for a time, following the same routines and experiencing the blessings of monastery life.

How Much Does It Cost?

In keeping with the ancient Buddhist practice of generosity, there is no charge for anything at Empty Cloud, which is supported entirely by voluntary donations in the form of food and other material requisites, donations, and work tasks. While there is no obligatory charge to stay, guests are encouraged to consider how they might contribute to the needs of maintaining the monastery, developing the virtues of generosity, gratitude and kindness which are important qualities supporting the practice of mental cultivation.

Meditative Frame of Mind

A monastery is a sanctuary from the usual business of the world, which gives us the opportunity to commit fully to spiritual practice. In order to minimize distraction, maximize the benefits of your time here, and help you blend harmoniously with the resident community, it is advisable to set aside all external engagements for the entire time you plan to be at the monastery. Therefore, please take care of all relevant business before your arrival so that you can dedicate yourself wholeheartedly to the monastic practice during your stay.

Residency Guidelines

Conduct

  • Be thoughtful and considerate of all living beings, at all times.
  • When speaking, use gentle and loving speech, with a mind of kindness and compassion.
  • Follow the Eight Precepts at all times, whether in the monastery or outside of it.
  • Clean up after yourself, and help with kitchen cleanup after each meal.
  • Maintain an attitude of courtesy and respect towards the monastics.
  • Do not enter any area marked “Monks Only.” If you need to enter such an area, you must ask for permission from a resident monastic on each occasion.
  • Do not speak in or near the meditation hall at any time, even if there is no formal meditation session in progress.
  • To help keep the monastery a haven of quiet and simplicity, Internet and phone use is limited.
  • Personal correspondence is permissible in the basement on Rest Days from 8am to 2pm.
  • This is not an appropriate place to engage in flirtation or to seek a sexual relationship.
  • During your stay here, please refrain from any spiritual practices other than Buddhist training as taught by the monastics here.

Schedule

  • Follow the daily schedule and attend all scheduled activities.
  • Do not leave the monastery grounds. If you need permission to leave the grounds, ask for permission during the work meeting, as far in advance as possible.
  • When there are no scheduled activities, you are expected to engage in personal practice and study.
  • On Rest Days, although there is no formal work period, you may still be asked to help with meal preparation and cleanup.
  • If you are staying longer than one week, you may do personal laundry during your free time. Please do full loads; you may combine your laundry with other guests or with monastery laundry.
  • There are no permanently assigned rooms or beds. All residents should be prepared to move to a different room or different bed whenever necessary (such as during retreats).
  • If you wish to have people visit you at the monastery, discuss it with the monastic residents first.

Food

  • Only eat the food served at the monastery at scheduled mealtimes. Do not eat at other times or places. If there are exceptional circumstances, first ask permission from the monastic community.
  • Out of compassion, we follow the practice of only serving food that is vegetarian, cruelty-free, and free of harmful chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, hormones, etc.).
  • If you wish to offer food to the monastery or to invite the monastics to a meal outside the monastery, please discuss it with the Meal Coordinator first.
  • Do not store food or beverages anywhere in the monastery. Any personal food items found may be discarded or used in preparing the community meals.
  • The only edible items available in the evening are standard Theravāda “allowables” (juice, cheese, dark chocolate, honey, molasses, maple syrup, etc. – for more details about what is allowable, ask one of the monastics). Do not eat anything else in the evening, and do not eat allowables at times other than the scheduled time.
  • Do not enter the kitchen except during the work period on a day you are assigned to kitchen work.

Sample Daily Schedule

  • 5:30 AM Chanting & Meditation
  • 7:00 AM Breakfast
  • 8:00 AM Sutta Study 
  • 9:00 AM Work Period
  • 11:00 AM Lunch
  • 2:00 PM Personal Practice
  • 5:00 PM Tea Break
  • 6:00 PM Chanting & Meditation
  • 7:30 PM Dhamma Talk

The Eight Precepts

All guests at Empty Cloud Monastery follow the Eight Precepts. The Eight Precepts are:

  1. To refrain from taking the life of any living creature (including insects)
  2. To refrain from taking that which is not given
  3. To refrain from all kinds of sexual activity
  4. To refrain from false and harmful speech 
  5. To refrain from consuming intoxicating drinks or drugs
  6. To refrain from eating at inappropriate times (after midday)
  7. To refrain from dancing, singing, listening to music, watching entertainment, wearing jewelry or makeup or otherwise beautifying the body
  8. To refrain from sleeping on luxurious bedding

Items to Bring With You when Staying

Please bring your own:

  • twin-sized bedsheets or sleeping bag
  • pillow case
  • towel
  • toiletries
  • outdoor work boots/shoes
  • simple work clothes
  • sun hat
  • weather appropriate-clothing

Winter Retreat at Empty Cloud

The silence and stillness of wintertime provides ideal conditions for deep meditation practice. 

Accordingly, many Buddhist monasteries hold an in-house retreat for a period of 2-3 months during the winter months. This is a time for the resident monastics to put down all activities and engagements and focus entirely on the intensive development of concentration and insight. 

Here at Empty Cloud Monastery, our winter retreat will take place during January and February 2021. Joining the monastery as a lay resident during this time means supporting the monastics in their retreat time, by helping with the daily duties of cleaning, cooking, and maintenance, so that the monastics have more time to practice. Lay residents are also able to join in the majority of the retreat activities. 

Applicants must be willing to stay for at least one month, and must already have experience living at monasteries and provide references who can speak to your Buddhist practice. Ideally, applicants will be able to stay for the full two months (or at minimum for one month). 

They would join in most of the group practice periods and there will likely be much unstructured solitary time to use to further one’s practice. Therefore they should be experienced in staying in a silent retreat atmosphere, and comfortable with solitude. 

Update December 2020: We are no longer accepting applications for the 2021 winter retreat. Thank you to all who applied. If you would like to visit the monastery after the retreat, we will resume accepting regular residency applications in spring 2021 here.

 

 

Meet our Resident Community

The community at Empty Cloud Monastery is in constant growth.

RESIDENT MONKS

Bhante Suddhāso is a Buddhist monk living in New Jersey, USA. He is one of the co-founders of Buddhist Insights, a non-profit organization created to help connect laypeople with Buddhist monastics. Bhante Suddhāso is a practitioner of both Theravāda and Mahāyāna Buddhism, with a particular emphasis on the teachings found in the Pāli Suttas and the methods of practice used in Chan/Zen. His teachings focus on incorporating multiple step-by-step meditation techniques, as well as on detailed explanations of the Buddhist scriptures that provide the underlying theoretical framework for Buddhist meditation. Bhante Suddhāso has studied under the direct guidance of some of the most well-respected monastics in Western Buddhism, including Ajahn Pasanno, Ajahn Amaro, Ajahn Vīradhammo, and Bhante Gunaratana. His monastic life began at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, where he was trained in Soto Zen Buddhism; during that time, he discovered a deep affinity for the Theravāda Forest Tradition, which led him to receive ordination at Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery in California. Since then he has lived at several different monasteries of various Buddhist traditions. In 2019, together with Ayyā Somā, he co-founded Empty Cloud Monastery in New Jersey, where he currently resides as co-abbot.

Ayya Soma is an Italian Buddhist monk and co-abbot of Empty Cloud Monastery in New Jersey. As the co-founder of Buddhist Insights, a non-profit organization connecting people with monastics, she has learned the Dharma through the perspective of monks of all different traditions, and incorporates aspects from all of them in her own practice. Her spiritual path is inspired by the social engagement of Venerable Paññāvati Bhikkhuni; by the knowledge and wisdom of Ven. Robina Courtin; and by the compassion of Khenmo Drolma.

Bhante Sumano is a Jamaican Buddhist monk. Rather than adhering to one tradition of Buddhism, Bhante Sumano prefers to seek the essence of the Buddhadhamma present in all traditions. He practices in accordance with the teachings of the Buddha as described in the Pāli Canon and the Chinese Āgamas, and values the contemporary wisdom of past and present meditation masters. Seeing that the Dhamma is ultimately a practice of the heart, Bhante Sumano is most interested in the teachings that lead to final liberation.

OTHER RESIDENTS


Stan
is the resident cat at Empty Cloud. Also known as Ajahn Metta, he adores meeting new humans and teaching them loving-kindness by purring and sitting on their lap while they are doing sitting meditation. Stan appreciates all the donations his human friends send him to help with his skin allergies.

 

 

 

PAST RESIDENTS

Antoinette was a long-term resident at Empty Cloud. She was born in Jamaica and raised in New York (Harlem and the Bronx). As a poet, she was drawn to Buddhist Insights by the silence, attending numerous retreats in Rockaway to study with visiting monastics and Ajahn Stan below. As a Black woman, she was drawn to Empty Cloud by the presence of wisdom and compassion through the Dhamma. As a resident, she came to serve and to also learn how Buddhist teachings can support an enlightened world free of misogyny and racism.