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A monk is a person who practices religious asceticism, living either alone or with any number of monks, while always maintaining some degree of physical separation from those not sharing the same purpose. The concept is ancient and can be seen in many religions and in philosophy. In the Greek language the term can apply to men or women; but in modern English it is in use only for men, while nun is used for female monastic. Although the term monachos (³monk´) is of Christian origin, in the English language it tends to be used analogously or loosely also for both male and female ascetics from other religious or philosophical backgrounds. The term monk is generic and in some religious or philosophical traditions it therefore may be considered interchangeable with other terms such as ascetic. However, being generic, it is not interchangeable with terms that denote particular kinds of monk, such as cenobite, hermit, anchorite, hesychast, solitary. The first famous Christian known to adopt the life in a desert was St. Anthony the Great (251356). Anthony lived alone as an anchorite in the Egyptian desert until he attracted a circle of followers, after which he retired further into the desert to escape the adulation of men. He is said by St. Athanasius in his Life of Anthony to have been the first to go out into the desert for the sole purpose of pursuing God in solitude. As the idea of devoting one's entire life to God grew, more and more monks joined him, even in the far desert. Under St. Anthony's system, they each lived in isolation. Later, loose-knit communities began to be formed, coming together only on Sundays and major feast days for Holy Communion. The concept of monks all living together under one roof and under the rule of a single person ² that is, monasticism as such ² is attributed to St Pachomius. At this same time, St. Pachomius' sister became the first woman to lead a monastery of women, or convent. Christian monasticism spread throughout the Eastern Roman Empire. At its height it was not uncommon for monasteries to house upwards of 30,000 monks. As Christianity grew and diversified, so did the style of monasticism. In the East, monastic norms came to be regular. Monasticism came to be accepted in the West as well. In the beginning, Western monasticism followed much the same pattern as its Eastern forebears, but over time the traditions diversified.
In the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, monasticism is a far more common lifestyle than in the Roman Catholic Church and holds a very special and important place. The Orthodox Church measures its health by the quality of its monks and nuns.
Obedience requires that monks are willing to obey the Catholic Church. and it is the same for both monks and nuns. spiritual study. Conversion of life means.``Orthodox monastics separate themselves from the world in order to pray unceasingly for the world. Benedict. Degrees of Eastern Orthodox monasticism: The process of becoming a monk is intentionally slow. that the monk will release 2 . and are not to be entered into lightly. Eastern monasticism is found in three distinct forms: anchoritic (a solitary living in isolation). or "Great Habit". working and praying the rest of the time in solitude. who come together only on Sundays and feast days. There is only one monastic habit in the Eastern Church (with certain slight regional variations). and the "middle way" between the two. These vows were three in number: obedience. which is an abbot or prior. (b) hard manual labour. known as the skete (a community of individuals living separately but in close proximity to one another. He established the first monastic community in the west and authored the Rule of St. generally. as the vows taken are considered to entail a life-long commitment to God. Orthodox monastics have little or no contact with the outside world. the full habit being worn only by those in the highest grade. including their own families. and rest when necessary. and stability. Most communities are self-supporting. but under the direction of an elder). Benedict of Nursia is considered to be the founder of western monasticism. abbey. In general. Benedict. and (c) private prayer. and obedience. Food is usually simple and is eaten in silence while one of the brethren reads aloud from the spiritual writings of the Holy Fathers. Benedict and all of its reforms such as the Cistercians and the Trappists. Meals are usually taken in common in a sizable dining hall known as a trapeze at elongated refectory tables. In Orthodox monasticism after completing the novitiate. Western Christianity: Roman Catholicism Within Roman Catholicism. Benedict) and under the vows of poverty. Each successive grade is given a portion of the habit. which is the foundation for the Order of St. there are three ranks of monasticism. chastity. as represented by the superior person of the monastery. a monk is a member of a religious order who lives a communal life in a monastery. known for that reason as the "Great Schema". cenobitic (a community living and worshiping together under the direct rule of an abbot or abbess). or priory under a monastic rule of life (such as the Rule of St. and the monastic¶s daily life is usually divided into three parts: (a) communal worship in the catholicon (the monastery's main church). conversion of life. St. The religious vows taken in the West were first developed by St.
In Mahayana Buddhism. be an instrument for God's work while here on Earth). These vows are also called "conservative" vows. Cistercians. as well as other monastic orders such as the Society of Saint John the Evangelist. bhikkhu is the term for monk. While many monks were executed. Franciscans. upon death. The local people give food for the monks to eat.himself from the binds and false hopes of this earthly life and dedicate his life to working for God (i. In Theravada Buddhism. friars and other religious communities for men in the Anglican Communion. Shortly after the beginning of the revival of the Catholic Movement in the Church of England. the term 'Sangha' strictly speaking refers to those who have achieved 3 . there have been (re-)established many communities of monks. Dominicans). and. There are Anglican Benedictines. In the 1840s. Their disciplinary code is called the patimokkha. they are ordained (as deacons) but are also organized into a religious order. during which all of the monasteries within England were destroyed. There are many present-day Lutherans who practice the monastic teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Buddhism Although the European term "monk" is often applied to Buddhism. He initiated the Dissolution of the Monasteries. the situation of Buddhist asceticism is different. many fled to continental European monasteries where they were able to continue their monastic life. which is part of the larger Vinaya.e. Methodism Within the Worldwide Methodist Church there exist a number of diaconal orders. Like Roman Catholic canons and Jesuits. Lutheranism Loccum Abbey and Amelungsborn Abbey have the longest traditions as Lutheran monasteries. and are not supposed to lead a luxurious life. Anglican priest John Henry Newman established a community of men at Littlemore near Oxford. From then on. will be buried "oncampus". Both bhikkhus and samaneras eat only in the morning. though the monks are not permitted to positively ask for anything. there was felt to be a need for a restoration of the monastic life. Anglicanism Monastic life in England came to an abrupt end when King Henry VIII broke from the Roman Catholic Church establishing the Church of England. Stability means they vow to stay in that single monastery for the remainder of their lives. there has been a renewal in the monastic life among Lutheranism. The latter vow is currently unique to Benedictines. and in the Episcopal Church in the USA. Since the 19th and 20th century.
Such austerities are undertaken according to the physical and mental limits of the individual ascetic. Digambara monks have only a single meal a day. Fasting (i. Male Digambara monks do not wear any clothes and carry nothing with them except a soft broom made of shed peacock feathers (pinchi) and eat from their hands. n Thailand and Burma. there were about 110. Austerities and other daily practices Other austerities include meditation in seated or standing posture near river banks in the cold wind. Jainism Asceticism. food. one's highest goal should be attaining Nirvana or Moksha. yoga practices. In Mongolia during the 1920s.e. Dietary practices Jain ascetics follow a strict vegetarian diet without root vegetables.certain levels of understanding. and monks are frequently important characters in martial arts films. monkhood is part of the system of 'vows of individual liberation'. According to Jains. including children. or meditation atop hills and mountains. abstinence from food and sometimes water) is a routine feature of Jain asceticism. Jainism encourages fasting. Most stay for only a few years and then leave. Some Jains (Shvetambara monks and nuns) own only unstitched white robes (an upper and lower garment) and a bowl used for eating and collecting alms. Ascetic vows As per the Jain vows. can be found in one of the oldest religion in the world known as Jainism. and water are abandoned) 4 . it is common for boys to spend some time living as a monk in a monastery. n Vajrayana Buddhism. but a number continue on in the ascetic life for the rest of their lives. be it an insect or a human. They do not hurt any living being. Many Jain ascetics take a final vow of Santhara or Sallekhana (i. Shvetambara monks do not cook food but solicit alms from householders. who made up about one-third of the male population. Chinese Buddhist monks have been traditionally and stereotypically linked with the practice of the Chinese martial arts or Kung fu. these vows are taken in order to develop one's own personal ethical discipline. Fasts last for a day or longer. Jain ascetics practice complete non-violence.. a peaceful and detached death where medicines. up to a month. meditation in difficult postures.e.000 monks. and other austerities. Ahimsa is the first and foremost vow of a Jain ascetic. the monks and nuns renounce all relations and possessions. in one of its most intense forms.. many of whom were killed in the purges of Choibalsan. especially at noon when the sun is at its fiercest.
e. Tulasi neckbeads and tilaka markings²and social customs (sadhana) date back many thousands of years to the Vedic era with its varnasrama society. the Dwaita philosopher. He appointed a monk (called swamiji or swamigalu in local parlance) for each matha or monastery who has the right to worship Madhvacharya's murti of Lord Krishna by rotation. They are a common sight in many places around the world. This ritual is called Paryaya and has been used also outside his sampradaya. shaved head with sikha.Vaishnava Madhvaacharya (Madhvacharya). Each matha's swamiji gets a chance to worship after fourteen years. Similar in appearance to Buddhist monks.g. brahmacari monks from the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). or Hare Krishnas as they are popularly known. established ashta matha (Eight Monasteries). are the best known Vaishnava monks outside India. Their appearance² simple saffron dhoti. 5 . in Gaudiya Vaisnava Radharamana temple in Vrindavan.
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