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Dharma Worker Program

What Is the Dharma Worker Program? The Dharma Worker Program is a modern adaptation of the traditional temporary renunciation custom for lay people that is still in practice in the Buddhist countries in Asia.

Aside from the religious significance of such a temporary renunciation after Buddha Shakyamuni, the rationale behind the social custom is a common belief that the monastic experience and spiritual awakening of lay people would benefit society.

The Dharma Worker Program is a three to six-month, both residential and nonresidential novice monk training. The program is comprised of self-cultivation and volunteer service (practice of boundless love).

Self-cultivation is comparable to entering a monastery for monastic training; that is, temporary renunciation in imitation of Buddha Shakyamuni before His Great Enlightenment, while the practice of boundless love resembles the return to the world as a lay bodhisattva, or entering into the marketplace with a helping hand.

The residential program allows novice Dharma workers to go to work from the temple and participate in the temple schedule after the day's work. The nonresidential novice Dharma worker does the program on weekends. The program is designed to train people in the art of mindful living and helping and in the advancement of a self-sufficient and non-consumerist culture.

The program consists of:
1. Meditation
2. Mindfulness
3. Right Livelihood
4. Water Practice and
5. Study of Prajnaparamita Sutra.

In Meditation, the novice Dharma worker trains to attain calm and clarity of mind.

In Mindfulness, the novice Dharma worker learns skillful means such as not wasting and polluting things or hurting living beings, and trains to extend him/herself and help others selflessly, and to do more with less.

In Water Practice, the novice Dharma worker trains to bend and lower him/herself in love and humility, and learns to always rise and renew him/herself fresh like flowing water that purifies itself pure and clean.

In the Study of Prajnaparamita Sutra, the novice Dharma worker learns to recite the Heart Sutra and Diamond Sutra and studies Wisdom of Perfect Enlightenment.

The vital spirit of training is to cultivate a full heart for the Way of Buddha and develop Dharma habits through a strong focus and repetition in order to remove karmic obstacles and gain freedom of mind. Like the novice monk in training the novice Dharma worker concentrates and repeats the same task of Dharma over and over again countless times with non-retrogressing mind. He/she never grows tired of trying and repeating the same task, for the novice Dharma worker knows that there is no other secret to attaining emancipation. The image of the novice monk who repeats her/himself after Buddha is the eternal image of all beings who aspire to the highest truth and freedom.

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All novice Dharma workers must adhere to the Eight Precepts of BSCW and follow the spirit of the Ten Vows of Bodhisattva Samantabhadra as guiding principles. Novice Dharma workers in the residential program also take Five Monastic Vows:

Vow of Poverty
Vow of Selfless Service
Vow of Community Life
Vow of Humility; and
Vow of Boundless Heart

The priests of the Buddhist Society for Compassionate Wisdom (BSCW) act as teachers to the novice Dharma workers in the three to six-month training and provide instruction and encouragement. All novice Dharma workers must attend and serve their teachers.


The residential novice Dharma worker is required to make a $500 donation to the temple each month to cover the expenses of room, board and training. For nonresidential novice Dharma workers please inquire your local temple.

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Who Can Apply for the Dharma Worker Program?

  • Any member of the Zen Buddhist Temple who has completed the 3-month trial membership.
  • Anyone who is sincere and willing to help in order to promote peace and happiness in the society. They must first take the Introductory Meditation Course.

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What Do Dharma Workers Do After Their Training?

All Dharma workers must strive to bring peace and happiness to their family, relatives and friends.

Dharma worker is divided into two categories depending on the type of volunteer service they render: Religious Worker and Non-Religious Social Worker. Religious Workers are those who attach great importance to the establishment of the Buddhist religion in our society and volunteer their service exclusively for Buddhist projects.

Social Workers are those who feel the need for helping in the world and volunteer their service for charitable causes and non-violent social struggles. Dharma workers can be active or inactive depending on their circumstances. Always let the temple know whether you are active and available for volunteer service or not.

Dharma Worker Subsections


Who can apply to the dharma worker program?

What do dharma workers do after their training?


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