Monasticism (from Greek μοναχός, monachos, derived from μόνος, monos, 'alone') or monkhood is a religious way of life in which one renounces worldly pursuits to devote oneself fully to spiritual work. Monastic life plays an important role in many Christian churches, especially in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions. Similar forms of religious life also exist in other faiths, most notably in Buddhism, but also in Hinduism and Jainism, although the expressions differ considerably. By contrast, in other religions monasticism is criticized and not practiced, as in Islam and Zoroastrianism, or plays a marginal role, as in Judaism.
Many monastics live in monasteries to stay away from the secular world. The way of addressing monastics differs between the Christian traditions. As a general rule, in Roman Catholicism, monks and nuns are called brother or sister, while in Eastern Orthodoxy, they are called father or mother.
The Sangha or community of ordained Buddhist bhikkhus ("beggar" or "one who lives by alms".) and original bhikkhunis (nuns) was founded by Gautama Buddha during his lifetime over 2500 years ago. This communal monastic lifestyle grew out of the lifestyle of earlier sects of wandering ascetics, some of whom the Buddha had studied under. It was initially fairly eremitic or reclusive in nature. Bhikkhus and bhikkunis were expected to live with a minimum of possessions, which were to be voluntarily provided by the lay community. Lay followers also provided the daily food that bhikkhus required, and provided shelter for bhikkhus when they needed it.
After the Parinibbana (Final Passing) of the Buddha, the Buddhist monastic order developed into a primarily cenobitic or communal movement. The practice of living communally during the rainy vassa season, prescribed by the Buddha, gradually grew to encompass a settled monastic life centered on life in a community of practitioners. Most of the modern disciplinary rules followed by bhikkhus and bhikkhunis — as encoded in the Patimokkha — relate to such an existence, prescribing in great detail proper methods for living and relating in a community of bhikkhus or bhikkhunis. The number of rules observed varies with the order; Theravada bhikkhus follow around 227 rules, the Vinaya. There are a larger number of rules specified for bhikkhunis (nuns).
The Buddhist monastic order consists of the male bhikkhu assembly and the female bhikkhuni assembly. Initially consisting only of males, it grew to include females after the Buddha's stepmother, Mahaprajapati, asked for and received permission to live as an ordained practitioner.
Bhikkhus and bhikkhunis are expected to fulfill a variety of roles in the Buddhist community. First and foremost, they are expected to preserve the doctrine and discipline now known as Buddhism. They are also expected to provide a living example for the laity, and to serve as a "field of merit" for lay followers—providing laymen and women with the opportunity to earn merit by giving gifts and support to the bhikkhus. In return for the support of the laity, bhikkhus and bhikkhunis are expected to live an austere life focused on the study of Buddhist doctrine, the practice of meditation, and the observance of good moral character.
A bhikkhu (the term in the Pali language) or bhikshu (in Sanskrit), first ordains as a Samanera (novice). Novices often ordain at a young age, but generally no younger than eight. Samaneras live according to the Ten Precepts, but are not responsible for living by the full set of monastic rules. Higher ordination, conferring the status of a full Bhikkhu, is given only to men who are aged 20 or older. Bhikkhunis follow a similar progression, but are required to live as Samaneras for longer periods of time- typically five years.
The disciplinary regulations for bhikkhus and bhikkhunis are intended to create a life that is simple and focused, rather than one of deprivation or severe asceticism. However, celibacy is a fundamental part of this form of monastic discipline.
Monasticism in Christianity, which provides the origins of the words "monk" and "monastery", comprises several diverse forms of religious living. It began to develop early in the history of the Church, but is not mentioned in the scriptures. It has come to be regulated by religious rules (e.g. the Rule of St Basil, the Rule of St Benedict) and, in modern times, the Church law of the respective apostolic Christian churches that have forms of monastic living.
In the beginning, in Egypt, Christians felt called to a more reclusive or eremitic form of monastic living (in the spirit of the "Desert Theology" for the purpose of spiritual renewal and return to God). Saint Anthony the Great is cited by Athanasius as one of these early "Hermit monks". Especially in the Middle East, eremitic monasticism continued to be common until the decline of Syriac Christianity in the late Middle Ages.
The need for some form of organized spiritual guidance was obvious; and around 318 Saint Pachomius started to organize his many followers in what was to become the first Christian cenobitic or communal monastery. Soon, similar institutions were established throughout the Egyptian desert as well as the rest of the eastern half of the Roman Empire. Notable monasteries of the East include:
In the West, the most significant development occurred when the rules for monastic communities were written, the Rule of St Basil being credited with having been the first. The precise dating of the Rule of the Master is problematic; but it has been argued on internal grounds that it antedates the so-called Rule of Saint Benedict created by Benedict of Nursia for his monastery in Monte Cassino, Italy (c. 529), and the other Benedictine monasteries he himself had founded (cf. Order of St Benedict). It would become the most common rule throughout the Middle Ages and is still in use today. The Augustinian Rule, due to its brevity, has been adopted by various communities, chiefly the Canons Regular. Around the 12th century, the Franciscan, Carmelite, Dominican, Servite Order (see Servants of Mary) and Augustinian mendicant orders chose to live in city convents among the people instead of being secluded in monasteries. St. Augustine's Monastery, founded in 1277 in Erfurt, Germany is regarded by many historians and theologians as the "cradle of the Reformation", as it is where Martin Luther lived as a monk from 1505 to 1511.
Today new expressions of Christian monasticism, many of which are ecumenical, are developing in various places such as the Bose Monastic Community in Italy, the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem throughout Europe, the New Skete, the Anglo-Celtic Society of Nativitists, the Taizé Community in France, and the mainly Evangelical Protestant New Monasticism. It is possible that intentional communities such as the Bruderhof could be considered monastic, since they share everything, have a rhythm of life and prayer, and have a degree of separation from the world. Rod Dreher, editor of The American Conservative, said of the Bruderhof, "It would not be stretching it to call them lay monastics".
In their quest to attain the spiritual goal of life, some Hindus choose the path of monasticism (Sannyasa). Monastics commit themselves to a life of simplicity, celibacy, detachment from worldly pursuits, and the contemplation of God. A Hindu monk is called a sanyāsī, sādhu, or swāmi. A nun is called a sanyāsini, sādhvi, or swāmini. Such renunciates are accorded high respect in Hindu society, because their outward renunciation of selfishness and worldliness serves as an inspiration to householders who strive for mental renunciation. Some monastics live in monasteries, while others wander from place to place, trusting in God alone to provide for their physical needs. It is considered a highly meritorious act for a lay devotee to provide sadhus with food or other necessaries. Sādhus are expected to treat all with respect and compassion, whether a person may be poor or rich, good or wicked. They are also expected to be indifferent to praise, blame, pleasure, and pain. A sādhu can typically be recognized by his ochre-colored clothing. Generally, Vaisnava monks shave their heads except for a small patch of hair on the back of the head, while Saivite monks let their hair and beard grow uncut.
A sadhu's vow of renunciation typically forbids him from:
Islam forbids the practice of monasticism. In Sunni Islam, one example is Uthman bin Maz'oon; one of the companions of Muhammad. He was married to Khawlah bint Hakim, both being two of the earliest converts to Islam. There is a Sunni narration that, out of religious devotion, Uthman bin Maz'oon decided to dedicate himself to night prayers and take a vow of chastity from his wife. His wife got upset and spoke to Muhammad about this. Muhammad reminded Uthman that he himself, as the Prophet, also had a family life, and that Uthman had a responsibility to his family and should not adopt monasticism as a form of religious practice.
Muhammad told his companions to ease their burden and avoid excess. According to some Sunni hadiths, in a message to some companions who wanted to put an end to their sexual life, pray all night long or fast continuously, Muhammad said: “Do not do that! Fast on some days and eat on others. Sleep part of the night, and stand in prayer another part. For your body has rights upon you, your eyes have a right upon you, your wife has a right upon you, your guest has a right upon you.” Muhammad once exclaimed, repeating it three times: “Woe to those who exaggerate [who are too strict]!” And, on another occasion, Muhammad said: “Moderation, moderation! For only with moderation will you succeed.”
Monasticism is also mentioned in four places in the following verses of Qur'an:
Then We caused Our messengers to follow in their footsteps; and We caused Jesus, son of Mary, to follow, and gave him the Gospel, and placed compassion and mercy in the hearts of those who followed him. But monasticism they invented - We ordained it not for them - only seeking Allah's pleasure, and they observed it not with right observance. So We give those of them who believe their reward, but many of them are evil-livers.
- —Qur'an Verse 27, Surah Al-Hadid (chapter 57)
They have taken as lords beside Allah their rabbis and their monks and the Messiah son of Mary, when they were bidden to worship only One God. There is no god save Him. Be He glorified from all that they ascribe as partner (unto Him)!
- —Qur'an Verse 31, Surah Al-Tawba (chapter 9)
O ye who believe! Lo! many of the (Jewish) rabbis and the (Christian) monks devour the wealth of mankind wantonly and debar (men) from the way of Allah. They who hoard up gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah, unto them give tidings (O Muhammad) of a painful doom
- —Qur'an Verse 34, Surah Al-Tawba (chapter 9)
Thou wilt find the most vehement of mankind in hostility to those who believe (to be) the Jews and the idolaters. And thou wilt find the nearest of them in affection to those who believe (to be) those who say: Lo! We are Christians. That is because there are among them priests and monks, and because they are not proud.
- —Qur'an Verse 82, Surah Al-Maeda (chapter 5)
In Jainism, monasticism is encouraged and respected. Rules for monasticism are rather strict. A Jain ascetic has neither a permanent home nor any possessions, wandering barefoot from place to place except during the months of Chaturmas. The quality of life they lead is difficult because of the many constraints placed on them. They don't use a vehicle for commuting and always commute barefoot from one place to another, irrespective of the distance. They don't possess any materialistic things and also don't use the basic services like that of a phone, electricity etc. They don't prepare food and live only on what people offer them.
Judaism does not encourage the monastic ideal of celibacy and poverty. To the contrary—all of the Torah's Commandments are a means of sanctifying the physical world. As further disseminated through the teachings of the Yisrael Ba'al Shem Tov, the pursuit of permitted physical pleasures is encouraged as a means to "serve God with joy" (Deut. 28:47).
However, until the Destruction of the Second Temple, about two thousand years ago, taking Nazirite vows was a common feature of the religion. Nazirite Jews (in Hebrew: נזיר) abstained from grape products, haircuts, and contact with the dead. However, they did not withdraw from general society, and they were permitted to marry and own property; moreover, in most cases a Nazirite vow was for a specified time period and not permanent. In Modern Hebrew, the term "Nazir" is most often used to refer to non-Jewish monastics.
Unique among Jewish communities is the monasticism of the Beta Israel of Ethiopia, a practice believed to date to the 15th century.
A form of asceticism was practiced by some individuals in pre–World War II European Jewish communities. Its principal expression was prishut, the practice of a married Talmud student going into self-imposed exile from his home and family to study in the kollel of a different city or town. This practice was associated with, but not exclusive to, the Perushim.
The Essenes (in Modern but not in Ancient Hebrew: אִסִּיִים, Isiyim; Greek: Εσσηνοι, Εσσαιοι, or Οσσαιοι; Essēnoi, Essaioi, or Ossaioi) were a Jewish sect that flourished from the 2nd century BC to AD 100 which some scholars claim seceded from the Zadokite priests. Being much fewer in number than the Pharisees and the Sadducees (the other two major sects at the time), the Essenes lived in various cities but congregated in communal life dedicated to asceticism, voluntary poverty, daily immersion (in mikvah), and abstinence from worldly pleasures, including (for some groups) marriage. Many separate but related religious groups of that era shared similar mystic, eschatological, messianic, and ascetic beliefs. These groups are collectively referred to by various scholars as the "Essenes". Josephus records that Essenes existed in large numbers, and thousands lived throughout Roman Judaea.
The Essenes have gained fame in modern times as a result of the discovery of an extensive group of religious documents known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are commonly believed to be the Essenes' library—although there is no proof that the Essenes wrote them. These documents include multiple preserved copies of the Hebrew Bible which were untouched from as early as 300 years before Christ until their discovery in 1946. Some scholars, however, dispute the notion that the Essenes wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. Rachel Elior, a prominent Israeli scholar, even questions the existence of the Essenes.
Throughout the centuries Taoism developed its own extensive monastic traditions and practices. Particularly well known is the White Cloud Monastery in Beijing, which houses a rare complete copy of the Daozang, a major Taoist Scripture.
In Buddhism, an anagārika (Pali, 'homeless one', [əˈnəɡɑːrɪkə]; f. anagārikā [əˈnəɡɑːrɪkɑː]) is a person who has given up most or all of their worldly possessions and responsibilities to commit full-time to Buddhist practice. It is a midway status between a bhikkhu or bhikkhuni (fully ordained monastics) and laypersons. An anagārika takes the Eight Precepts, and might remain in this state for life.
Anagārikas usually wear white clothes or robes, depending on the tradition they follow. Some traditions have special ordination ceremonies for anagārikas, while others simply take the eight precepts with a special intention.
Given the lack of full ordination for women in modern Theravada Buddhism, women who wish to renounce live as anagārikās under names such as maechi in Thailand, thilashin in Myanmar, and dasa sil mata in Sri Lanka. In Vajrayana Buddhism, many nuns are technically anagārikās or śrāmaṇerikās (novitiates).Ashram
Traditionally, an ashram (Sanskrit: ashrama or ashramam) is a spiritual hermitage or a monastery in Indian religions.Benedictines
The Benedictines, officially the Order of Saint Benedict (Latin: Ordo Sancti Benedicti, abbreviated as OSB), are a monastic Catholic religious order of monks and nuns that follow the Rule of Saint Benedict. They are also sometimes called the Black Monks, in reference to the colour of the members' religious habits.
Despite being called an order, the Benedictines do not operate under a single hierarchy but are instead organised as a collection of independent monastic communities, with each community (monastery, priory or abbey) within the order maintaining its autonomy. Unlike other religious orders, the Benedictines do not have a superior general or motherhouse with universal jurisdiction. Instead, the order is represented internationally by the Benedictine Confederation, an organisation that was set up in 1893 to represent the order's shared interests.Bhikkhu
A bhikkhu (Pali; Sanskrit: bhikṣu) is an ordained male monastic ("monk") in Buddhism. Male and female monastics ("nun", bhikkhuni, Sanskrit bhikṣuṇī) are members of the Buddhist community.The lives of all Buddhist monastics are governed by a set of rules called the prātimokṣa or pātimokkha. Their lifestyles are shaped to support their spiritual practice: to live a simple and meditative life and attain nirvana.A person under the age of 20 cannot be ordained as a bhikkhu or bhikkhuni but can be ordained as a śrāmaṇera or śrāmaṇērī.Buddhist monasticism
Buddhist monasticism is one of the earliest surviving forms of organized monasticism in the history of religion. It is also one of the most fundamental institutions of Buddhism. Monks and nuns are considered to be responsible for the preservation and dissemination of the Buddha's teaching and the guidance of Buddhist lay people.Cenobitic monasticism
Cenobitic (or coenobitic) monasticism is a monastic tradition that stresses community life. Often in the West the community belongs to a religious order, and the life of the cenobitic monk is regulated by a religious rule, a collection of precepts. The older style of monasticism, to live as a hermit, is called eremitic. A third form of monasticism, found primarily in Eastern Christianity, is the skete.
The English words "cenobite" and "cenobitic" are derived, via Latin, from the Greek words koinos (κοινός), "common", and bios (βίος), "life". The adjective can also be cenobiac (κοινοβιακός, koinobiakos). A group of monks living in community is often referred to as a cenobium.
Cenobitic monasticism exists in various religions, although Buddhist and Christian cenobitic monasticism are the most prominent.Christian monasticism
Christian monasticism is the devotional practice of individuals who live ascetic and typically cloistered lives that are dedicated to Christian worship. It began to develop early in the history of the Christian Church, modeled upon scriptural examples and ideals, including those in the Old Testament, but not mandated as an institution in the scriptures. It has come to be regulated by religious rules (e.g. the Rule of Saint Augustine, Anthony the Great, St Pachomius, the Rule of St Basil, the Rule of St Benedict,) and, in modern times, the Canon law of the respective Christian denominations that have forms of monastic living. Those living the monastic life are known by the generic terms monks (men) and nuns (women). The word monk originated from the Greek monachos "monk", itself from monos meaning "alone".Monks did not live in monasteries at first, rather, they began by living alone, as the word monos might suggest. As more people took on the lives of monks, living alone in the wilderness, they started to come together and model themselves after the original monks nearby. Quickly, the monks formed communities to further their ability to observe an ascetic life. According to Christianity historian Robert Louis Wilken, "By creating an alternate social structure within the Church they laid the foundations for one of the most enduring Christian institutions..." Monastics generally dwell in a monastery, whether they live there in community (cenobites), or in seclusion (recluses).Cluniac Reforms
The Cluniac Reforms (also called the Benedictine Reform) were a series of changes within medieval monasticism of the Western Church focused on restoring the traditional monastic life, encouraging art, and caring for the poor. The movement began within the Benedictine order at Cluny Abbey, founded in 910 by William I, Duke of Aquitaine (875–918).The reforms were largely carried out by Saint Odo (c. 878 – 942) and spread throughout France (Burgundy, Provence, Auvergne, Poitou), into England (the English Benedictine Reform), and through much of Italy and Spain.Coptic monasticism
Coptic Monasticism is claimed to be the original form of Monasticism as St. Anthony of Egypt became the first one to be called "monk" (Gr: μοναχός) and he was the first to established a Christian monastery which is now known as the Monastery of Saint Anthony in the Red Sea area. St. Anthony's Monastery (also known as the Monastery of Abba Antonious) is now the oldest monastery in the world.
Although Saint Anthony's way of life was focused on solidarity, Saint Pachomius the Cenobite, a Copt from Upper Egypt, established communal monasticism in his monasteries in upper Egypt which laid the basic monastic structure for many of the monasteries today in many monastic orders (even outside Coptic Orthodoxy).Degrees of Eastern Orthodox monasticism
The degrees of Eastern Orthodox monasticism are the stages an Eastern Orthodox monk or nun passes through in their religious vocation.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the process of becoming a monk or nun is intentionally slow, as the monastic vows taken are considered to entail a lifelong commitment to God, and are not to be entered into lightly. After completing the novitiate, there are three degrees of or steps in conferring the monastic habit.Desert Fathers
The Desert Fathers (along with Desert Mothers) were early Christian hermits, ascetics, and monks who lived mainly in the Scetes desert of Egypt beginning around the third century AD. The Apophthegmata Patrum is a collection of the wisdom of some of the early desert monks and nuns, in print as Sayings of the Desert Fathers. The most well known was Anthony the Great, who moved to the desert in AD 270–271 and became known as both the father and founder of desert monasticism. By the time Anthony died in AD 356, thousands of monks and nuns had been drawn to living in the desert following Anthony's example—his biographer, Athanasius of Alexandria, wrote that "the desert had become a city." The Desert Fathers had a major influence on the development of Christianity.
The desert monastic communities that grew out of the informal gathering of hermit monks became the model for Christian monasticism. The eastern monastic tradition at Mount Athos and the western Rule of Saint Benedict both were strongly influenced by the traditions that began in the desert. All of the monastic revivals of the Middle Ages looked to the desert for inspiration and guidance. Much of Eastern Christian spirituality, including the Hesychast movement, had its roots in the practices of the Desert Fathers. Even religious renewals such as the German evangelicals and Pietists in Pennsylvania, the Devotio Moderna movement, and the Methodist Revival in England are seen by modern scholars as being influenced by the Desert Fathers.Eastern Christian monasticism
Eastern Christian Monasticism is the life followed by monks and nuns of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy, the Church of the East and Eastern Catholicism. Some authors will use the term "Basilian" to describe Eastern monks; however, this is incorrect, since the Eastern Church does not have religious orders, as in the West, nor does Eastern monasticism have monastic Rules, as in the West.Jain monasticism
Jain monasticism refers to the order of monks and nuns in the Jain community. The term nirgrantha ("bondless") was used for Jain monks in the past. The monastic practices of two major sects (Digambara and Śvētāmbara) vary greatly, but the major principles of both are identical.List of Digambar Jain ascetics
This is a list of the ascetics belonging to the Digambara sect of Jainism. These ascetics are known for their contributions to Jain philosophy and Jainism in general. According to Digambar jain history there are about three less than ten million jain ascetics till this date that have achieved Moksha.Monastery
A monastery is a building or complex of buildings comprising the domestic quarters and workplaces of monastics, monks or nuns, whether living in communities or alone (hermits). A monastery generally includes a place reserved for prayer which may be a chapel, church, or temple, and may also serve as an oratory, or in the case of communities anything from a single building housing only one senior and two or three junior monks or nuns, to vast complexes and estates housing tens or hundreds. A monastery complex typically comprises a number of buildings which include a church, dormitory, cloister, refectory, library, balneary and infirmary. Depending on the location, the monastic order and the occupation of its inhabitants, the complex may also include a wide range of buildings that facilitate self-sufficiency and service to the community. These may include a hospice, a school, and a range of agricultural and manufacturing buildings such as a barn, a forge, or a brewery.
In English usage, the term monastery is generally used to denote the buildings of a community of monks. In modern usage, convent tends to be applied only to institutions of female monastics (nuns), particularly communities of teaching or nursing religious sisters. Historically, a convent denoted a house of friars (reflecting the Latin), now more commonly called a friary. Various religions may apply these terms in more specific ways.New Monasticism
New Monasticism is a diverse movement, not limited to a specific religious denomination or church and including varying expressions of contemplative life. These include evangelical Christian communities such as "Simple Way Community" and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove's "Rutba House," European and Irish new monastic communities, such as that formed by Bernadette Flanagnal spiritual communities such as the "Community of the New Monastic Way" founded by feminist contemplative theologian Beverly Lanzetta, and "interspiritual" new monasticism, such as that developed by Rory McEntee and Adam Bucko. These communities expand upon traditional monastic wisdom, translating it into forms that can be lived out in contemporary lives "in the world."Nun
A nun is a member of a religious community of women, typically living under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in the enclosure of a monastery. Communities of nuns exist in numerous religious traditions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Jainism, and Taoism.
In the Buddhist tradition, female monastics are known as Bhikkhuni, and take several additional vows compared to male monastics (bhikkhus). Nuns are most common in Mahayana Buddhism, but have more recently become more prevalent in other traditions.
Within Christianity, women religious, known as nuns or religious sisters, are found in Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran traditions among others. Though the terms are often used interchangeably, nuns historically take solemn vows and live a life of prayer and contemplation in a monastery or convent, while sisters take simple vows and live an active vocation of prayer and charitable works in areas such as education and healthcare. Examples include the monastic Order of Saint Clare founded in 1212 in the Franciscan tradition, or the Missionaries of Charity founded in 1950 by Mother Teresa to care for people living in grave poverty.Pratimokṣa
The Pratimokṣa (Sanskrit prātimokṣa) is a list of rules (contained within the vinaya) governing the behaviour of Buddhist monastics (monks or bhikṣus and nuns or bhikṣuṇīs). Prati means "towards" and mokṣa means "liberation" from cyclic existence (saṃsāra).
It became customary to recite these rules once a fortnight at a meeting of the sangha during which confession would traditionally take place. A number of prātimokṣa codes are extant, including those contained in the Theravāda, Mahāsāṃghika, Mahīśāsaka, Dharmaguptaka, Sarvāstivāda and Mūlasarvāstivāda vinayas. Pratimokṣa texts may also circulate in separate pratimokṣa sūtras, which are extracts from their respective vinayas.Tonsure
Tonsure () is the practice of cutting or shaving some or all of the hair on the scalp, as a sign of religious devotion or humility. The term originates from the Latin word tōnsūra (meaning "clipping" or "shearing") and referred to a specific practice in medieval Catholicism, abandoned by papal order in 1972. Tonsure can also refer to the secular practice of shaving all or part of the scalp to show support or sympathy, or to designate mourning. Current usage more generally refers to cutting or shaving for monks, devotees, or mystics of any religion as a symbol of their renunciation of worldly fashion and esteem.
Tonsure is still a traditional practice in Catholicism by specific religious orders (with papal permission). It is also commonly used in the Eastern Orthodox Church for newly baptized members and is frequently used for Buddhist novices and monks. It exists as a traditional practice in Islam after completion of the Hajj and is also practiced by a number of Hindu religious orders.
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