After retiring from IBM, John Skeats ’73 became an ordained Buddhist monk.

For 40 years, John Skeats ’73 has lived 10 minutes away from Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (KTD), the Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Woodstock, N.Y. Though he hiked the trails surrounding KTD, which is nestled in the woods on Overlook Mountain, Skeats never set foot inside, nor did he know much about Buddhism until five years ago. 

Today, he is an ordained Buddhist monk known as Yonten Rabgye, which translates to “abundant and flourishing virtues.” In accordance with his vows, Skeats shaves his head, wears his crimson robes at all times — whether he’s doing yard work or grocery shopping — and spends most days at the monastery spreading knowledge about Buddhism and doing his personal practices of chanting, meditation, and study. He also takes part in pujas (group practices) throughout the day and the evening, when he often leads chants in Tibetan.

His spiritual journey to Buddhism began in 2018, when a visiting friend invited him to a ceremony at KTD. Skeats, a father of four who spent 39 years at IBM before retiring in 2012, was curious. 

KTD is the North American seat of His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa who, like the Dalai Lama, is the spiritual leader of one of the four major lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, the Karma Kagyu lineage. That day, the Karmapa participated in puja. 

Before leaving the monastery, Skeats picked up a brochure of upcoming events and, a few weeks later, he started an eight-week Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism class. He worked at the monastery for five years and, in early 2023, he decided to become a monk. 

The change from suburban dad and tech professional to Buddhist monk has been “amazingly profound,” says Skeats, whose previous life was filled with accomplishments. In addition to his career at IBM, which he wrapped up as the manager of a corporate risk management process and a member of the global Corporate Threat Management team, he was a Scout leader, a high-level swim official (getting involved when his four kids swam, and continuing to officiate at national and world-level events), and an unpublished novelist. After retiring from IBM, he was a major contributor to Google’s Product Expert Program, primarily focusing on the Google+ product, amassing 835,000 followers. 

But none of it, he says, compares to what he does now. 

“Putting on my robes each day is like a celebration of the path I’m on and a renewal of the vows I’ve taken,” he explains. 

Skeats grew up Protestant, but after studying philosophy and religion at Colgate, he began questioning his beliefs. “How is it fair and just that some children are born into loving, Christian families with a comparatively easy path to salvation, while others are born into situations where they have to struggle to stay alive?” The answers didn’t satisfy him and shook his confidence in his faith. He later explored other religions, but felt there was always something missing.

His study of Tibetan Buddhism filled in the missing piece, specifically the difference between enlightenment and Buddahood. “Many religions offer paths to something equivalent to enlightenment, but for my benefit. Buddhahood, a higher goal than enlightenment in Buddhism, can only be attained for totally altruistic reasons: so that one can bring all other sentient beings to that same state.”

As he gets dressed each morning, Skeats reflects on his vows and makes “aspirations to find opportunities to take actions to fulfill the vows that day.” After the evening pujas, he often invites visitors to have a cup of tea and chat about Buddhism before heading home. “If I see an opportunity to help somebody, anybody, I’ll take it,” says Skeats. 

“We’ve all felt at times that we just found something we’d been looking for our whole lives. Only after I became engaged with Buddhism did I recognize what was missing from my life: Buddhism.” A paycheck, he says, “is worth nothing by comparison.” 

Yonten/John would love to welcome old friends from Colgate as visitors to KTD and to offer them tours — or just to hear from anyone who is interested. You can reach him at: