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Monasticism (from Greek: monachos—a solitary person) is the religious practice of renouncing all worldly pursuits in order to fully devote one's life to spiritual work. Many religions have monastic elements, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity, and Islam, though the expressions differ considerably. Those pursuing a monastic life are usually called monks or brothers (male), and nuns or sisters (female). Both monks and nuns may also be called monastics.

Table of contents
1 Hindu monasticism
2 Buddhist monasticism
3 Christian monasticism
4 Sufi brotherhoods in Islam

Hindu monasticism

In Hinduism, monastic tradition varies somewhat from sect to sect. Historically this path has been open to males only, but some traditions now accept female renunciates as well. Hindu monks are called Sadhus and in most traditions are easily recognized by their saffron robes. Vaisnava monks shave their heads except for a small patch of hair on the back of the head, while Saivite monks in most traditions let their hair and beard grow uncut.

A Sadhu's vow of renunciation typically forbids him from:

Buddhist monasticism

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The Sangha, democratic order of Buddhist monks and nuns, was founded by Gautama Buddha during his lifetime of missionary work over 2500 years ago. Established to preserve the doctrine and discipline now known as Buddhism, they are a living example for the laity. A monk, known as a Bhikkhu in Pali, firstly ordains as a Samanera (novice) for a year or until the ripe age of 20. If deemed acceptable and able by the order, he then receives full ordination and now lives by the 227 monastic rules, called the Patimokkha, which are stated in the Tripitaka. Once a year as a novice monastic, and if 20 years old, the female Samaneri becomes a nun or Bhikkhuni and will adhere to 311 rules of discipline. Monastics eat one vegetarian meal at noon and fast until sunrise the following day. Between midday and the next day, a strict life of celibacy, scripture study, chanting, meditation and occasional cleaning forms most of the duties. It is necessary for not only monks but the laity to practice with intuitive insight, in a state of mindfulness and concentration, here and now, to benefit from the experience. Only then is Enlightenment possible.

The distinction between Sangha and lay persons has always been important and forms the Purisa, Buddhist community. Here, monastics teach and counsel the laity at request while laymen and laywomen offer donations for their future support. This inter-connectedness serves as a marriage and has sustained Buddhism to this day.

The legendary Shaolin monasteries of China are perhaps best known in the Western hemisphere from martial art films. Practicing Ch'an of the Mahayana school, this form of Buddhism spread to Korea and subsequently to Japan where it is now known as Zen. According to legend, their founder is known alternatively as Bodhidharma or Ta Mo.

In Tibet, before the Communist invasion in the late 1940s and early '50s, more than half of the country's male population was ordained. Due to the oppression, and destruction of monasteries and libraries by the Chinese, Tibetans now live in exile. Hoping to find religious freedom, many Tibetan monks annually risk crossing the Himalayas, often trying to reach India.

In Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar where the religious prevalence is Theravada, there is a common tradition of short ordination. During a school break, many young men usually ordain for a week or two to earn merit for loved ones and to gain knowledge of the Dharma, Buddhist teaching.

Christian monasticism

Monasticism in Christianity is a family of similar traditions that began to develop early in the history of the Christian Church, modeled upon Scriptural examples and ideals, but not mandated as an institution by the Scriptures.

While most people think of Christian or Catholic monks or nuns as "something to do with living in a monastery", from the Church's point of view the focus has nothing to do with living in a monastery or performing any specific activity, rather the focus is on an ideal called the religious life, also called the state of perfection. This idea is expressed everywhere that the things of God are sought above all other things, as seen for example in the Philokalia, a book of monastic writings. In other words, a monk or nun is a person who has vowed to follow not only the commandments of the Church, but also the counsels (e.g., vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience). The words of Jesus which are the cornerstone for this ideal are "be ye perfect like your heavenly Father is perfect".

Main article: Christian monasticism

Sufi brotherhoods in Islam

Some of the Sufi orders have set up communities that have been compared to monasteries, though there is as much reason to consider them Ashrams. [this needs to be elaborated]

See Sufism and Islam.

See also: