The monasticism is all activities of monks and nuns practiced spiritually influenced forms of life. Monasticism can be defined as breaking away from the form of religious practice typical of the majority of the members of a religious community and adopting a lifestyle characterized by asceticism and prayer. Monasticism exists in various religions, above all in Buddhism and Christianity , as well as in Hinduism and Daoism . The goals of a monastic (= monastic) life can vary: religious perfection, mystical striving for this worldly union with the deity, reaching the perfect inner emptiness with the direct experience of a divine, transcendent reality, which exceeds the usual cognitive ability of humans.
The word monk comes from the noun ancient Greek μοναχός monachós , which is derived from the adjective ancient Greek μόνος mónos "alone". In ancient Judaism (e.g. Aquila , Symmachus) the word designates a person who is "alone" and leads a religious life. In the 4th century monachós became the common name for a Christian ascetic and replaced other terms. Together with Kloster , Münster , Nun , Mönch is one of the oldest church loan words in German. The borrowing from Latin monachus took place at a time when / ch / was pronounced in Latin like / k / and resulted in Old High German munih , with a sound shift in Middle High German mün (e) ch , mun (i) ch , münich .
The monk or nun is an ascetic living member of a religious order who places himself at the service of his faith for life or for a certain period of time. In common parlance, the term monasticism is mostly used in connection with a certain religion (e.g. "Buddhist monasticism"), but also for a socio-cultural layer (such as "monasticism in the Middle Ages").
Hermitism and community life
- A monk can live alone as a hermit (anchorite), either closed to himself near the human settlements or far away in the wilderness of the woods or in the solitude of the desert ( hermit ). The Irish and Gallic monks of the 5th and 6th centuries built hermitages on remote islands. Buddhist monks in Tibet also practice reclamation , in which they let themselves be walled into a cave that is only connected to the outside world with a hatch for food.
- Other monks, the so-called Koinobites, lead a more or less withdrawn communal life ( Greek κοινὸς βίος) in monasteries .
Vita contemplativa and Vita activa
The distinction between contemplative and active religious life goes back to ancient pagan traditions:
- Ancient Greek βίος πρακτικός bíos Practikós : The vita activa is a way of life in which an outwardly directed activity in a special area of responsibility, the apostolate, plays a formative role.
- ancient Greek βίος δεωρητικός bíos deōrētikós : Vita contemplativa is understood as the monastic ideal of a withdrawn life alone or in community. The Vita contemplativa demands turning away from the things of the world and turning to contemplative adoration and prayer.
The philosophical foundation comes from Plato and Aristotle , the Stoics developed it further; Clement of Alexandria and Origen gave this doctrine a Christian form, and biblical reasons or types were also found later, such as Mary and Martha or John and Peter as models of a contemplative and active life.
Related religious forms of life
Already in many ancient cultures there were behaviors and demands on selected people who anticipated the methods and paths of monasticism. These include B. the strict cultic purity regulations of the high cultures of antiquity or demands for abstinence as a prerequisite for certain ritual and spiritual practices for their priests . Essential elements already become visible in shamanism , as we will later find them again in monasticism of all religions. The term “ shaman ” is the name given to a member of the tribe who has the ability to connect with supernatural powers. Shamans are given the ability to perform magical acts such as heavenly journeys or healings in the form of casting out demons. A main function of the shaman is to protect his tribe or individual members of the tribe from hostile supernatural influences. He negotiates with the good and bad spirits, makes sacrifices and creates visions through trance, or ecstasy through drugs, through fasting, loneliness, pain, but also through dance and music.
With his exercises of celibacy and concentration, the yogi also anticipates methods that are adopted by monasticism. The term yoga denotes a mystical doctrine of Hinduism , which through certain mental and physical exercises, especially meditation and asceticism, is supposed to free people from being bound to the burden of the physical and to enable the individual to unite with the infinite universe. There are many different forms of yoga, each with their own philosophy and practice. Some meditative forms of yoga focus on mental concentration and total immersion, others concentrate more on physical exercises or are more limited to asceticism, such as B. the Yama (discipline and abstinence).
The Essenes were a group in ancient Judaism whose way of life was somewhat similar to that of later Christian monasticism:
- according to Philon of Alexandria : religious country life dedicated to study;
- according to Pliny the Elder : celibacy, no private property;
- according to Flavius Josephus : ascetic, hierarchically organized group with an acceptance ritual.
A hierarchically organized group with a militant counterculture can be identified from the Dead Sea Scrolls ; some practiced celibacy; others had wives and children. There is no direct historical connection between the Qumran community, which ceased to exist during the Jewish War (around the year 70 AD), and early Christian monasticism, which has only been documented since the 3rd century AD.
Philo of Alexandria also describes the group of therapists at Alexandria who lived celibate, withdrawn and meditative lives. In research it is controversial whether this group even existed. She was known to the Church Fathers from reading Philons. Even if Eusebius of Caesarea referred to the therapists as monks, there is no evidence that the Egyptian monks were influenced by Philon's writings.
For today's church historians there is a consensus that the descriptions of early monasticism that ancient Christian authors provide are to be viewed as idealizations. A greater variety of forms of life can be expected, the representatives of which competed with one another in an effort to gain social, political and ecclesiastical recognition.
Six different ascetic forms of life in early Christianity can be shown, some of which have roots in pagan antiquity. Monasticism in the narrower sense developed from this diversity:
- Virgins and widows. These ascetics are considered to be a special class in early church orders; sometimes they lived in house communities.
- Wandering ascetics that received impulses from both the New Testament (apostles) and the Cynical philosophy. A prominent example is Alexander the Sleepless , who traveled with his students through Mesopotamia, Syria and Asia Minor. Conflicts with the bishops of the local parishes led to the condemnation at several councils (as Messalians or Euchites ).
- Private ascetics. Especially upper-class Christian women converted their town house into a kind of small monastery; rural villas could also be converted into monasteries.
- Hermitism. In the Vita Antonii, which he wrote, Athanasius described the life of St. Antonius (around 251–356) as the ideal way of life. As a young man, Antony went into the solitude of the Egyptian desert to live as an anchor . Like Barsanuphios and John of Gaza, Antonius corresponds to the ideal of the hermit as a wise teacher who gives advice to visitors in his hermitage and writes letters to them. As early as 305 imitators gathered around Antonius, who saw his way of life as a model, and thus formed the first monastic communities. The monastic way of life of alternating between times of prayer and physical work is also attributed to Antony.
- Ascetic schools. In analogy to ancient schools of philosophy, communities of Christian scholars emerged, which have also been archaeologically proven in Lower Egypt. The literature of Evagrios Pontikos , Dorotheos of Gaza and Johannes Klimakos belong in this context . Historically, the idea of the monastery as an educational institution is important.
- Coinobitism. Around 320/25 Pachomios (around 292 / 98–346) founded the first Christian monasteries in Upper Egypt, where many monks lived a common ( coinobitic ) life in a closed area. The Koinobion was led by a chief named Abbas ("father", abbot ) and was based on a common rule. Pachomios is therefore also the author of the first rule , the so-called "angel rule". His sister was the first head of a community of consecrated virgins around the same time.
Various factors contributed to the success of coinobitism, which became the epitome of Christian monasticism: Stabilitas loci and collective work organization bring relative prosperity to the community; the monastery becomes a reliable partner for civil and ecclesiastical authorities in the neighborhood; Foreign investments enable further expansion. The existential attitude of Christianity in its first centuries, which can be seen from many ancient texts, as well as the overall poor economic conditions of broad sections of the population made monasticism a real alternative to life.
Monasticism developed regionally different forms in late antiquity:
- Egypt : In addition to Antonius and Pachomius, the monastic settlements in the desert south of Alexandria should be mentioned here ( Nitria , Kellia and Sketis ). Most of the sayings collected in the Apophtegmata Patrum come from this region . To these monk fathers and mothers a real tourism began in the middle of the 4th century; in addition, relations with the Bishop of Alexandria were good and led to the fact that some monks later rose to episcopal offices. In the 5th and 6th centuries several thousand monks populated these desert landscapes (best known: the White Monastery in Atripe). To protect against Bedouins, monastic settlements formed large monasteries, which are typically surrounded by a high wall.
- Sinai, Palestine : The Sinai and South Palestinian monasticism is under strong Egyptian influence, while further north the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Bethlehem and related contacts to Armenia, Georgia and the Latin West determine the character of the settlements; the monks acted as lodging providers and pilgrim guides. In the Judean Desert , Euthymios von Melitene founded the Lavra type of monastery . Sabas , who typically came from Cappadocia, founded the great Lawra Mar Saba , a center of liturgical development and literary production.
- Syria : An older form of Syrian monasticism were wandering ascetics that were condemned as heretical (Messalians, Euchites). Only in the 5th century are the life forms of anchorites and koinobites documented in Syria. The strongly ascetic orientation brought forth numerous columnar statues throughout northern Syria , the most famous of which was Symeon Stylites the elder . From the late fifth century onwards, the Syrian monasteries became centers of opposition to the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon ; here older Christian literature was translated into Syriac. After the Islamic conquest, the Syrian monasteries developed into centers of learning.
- Asia Minor and Constantinople : Monasticism in Asia Minor became apparent in the middle of the 4th century through the resolutions of the Synod of Gangra , which criticized an exclusive group of ascetics. Makrina created a monastic community on her estate, which her brother Gregor von Nyssa recorded in literature. Basil , the older brother, founded the type of socially active city monastery after his episcopal ordination. His monastic rules are fundamental for Orthodox monasticism, and indirectly also influential for Western Latin monasticism. Monasticism in the capital (poor houses and hospitals operated by monks) was also socially committed.
- Italy and Rome : Ascetic household communities of virgins and unions of virgins and celibate men ( acts of syneiss ) are attested as early as the early 3rd century . Pilgrims returning from the east gave these ascetic circles impulses from Egyptian and Palestinian monasticism. Idealized descriptions of the desert monkhood lead to the fact that the retreat to the countryside is more important than in the eastern Mediterranean area when the monastery was founded. Monasteries emerged on several occasions through the initiative of bishops, e. B. Eusebius of Vercelli .
Middle Ages and Modern Times
Since the early Middle Ages, Western monasticism has been shaped by the Regula Benedicti ; in literary terms, this is dependent on the master’s rule . The specialty of the Regula Benedicti lies in the combination of individual work (Eastern Egyptian tradition) and community life in worship and study (Roman aristocratic tradition). The division of monasticism into four groups, which this rule makes in the first chapter, is important from a historical perspective:
|designation||Way of life||rating|
|Coinobites||Monks who serve in the monastery under rule and abbot.||Well|
|Anchorites||Experienced monks who leave the monastery after a period to live as hermits.||very good (but difficult)|
|Sarabaites||Monks who live alone or in small groups without a rule or abbot||bad|
|Gyrophages||Wandering monks||very bad|
The Benedictine vows - Stabilitas loci (steadfastness), Conversio morum (conversion of customs, daily repentance) and obedience - accordingly include observance of the evangelical counsels (celibacy, poverty, obedience). In addition, in his rule, Benedict gives instructions for life in the community and its daily routine. Early medieval monasticism, uniformed as Benedictine monks, was highly functionalized (land development, mission, liturgy, charitable work). The appeal of the monks to the independence of their way of life led to reforms in the 11th century ( Cistercians , Cluniac reforms ).
In the high Middle Ages, Francis of Assisi and Dominic gave new impulses by founding mendicant and preaching orders , which gave rise to a rich religious life . In the Protestant territories came in 16./17. In the 17th century, monasticism largely came to a standstill, while in the 17th century it took an upswing in Catholic territories, which was also reflected in the building program. The end of the 18th century brought the end of medieval Catholic monasticism (revolutions and secularization); the new beginning in the 19th century was favored by romanticism and brought about new forms of devotion as well as (in the time of emigration and colonialism) the worldwide mission as a new field of activity.
In addition to the respective order rules and constitutions, monasticism in the Roman Catholic Church is also subject to the provisions of canon law .
In Eastern Orthodox monasticism, the late antique form of monasticism was continued relatively seamlessly; a differentiation into different orders (as in the Latin West) did not take place. The focus is on the individual monastery, not the congregation. The women's convents were not as strictly closed as in the West. The establishment of the monastic republic of Athos in northern Greece in the 9th century reflects the great importance that monasticism had in the Byzantine Empire ; this corresponds to the important role played by the Meteora monasteries in the late Middle Ages. Theodoros Studites was an important reformer of Orthodox monasticism .
The Kiev- Pechersk Lavra , founded in 1051, was of particular importance in the Slavic region , later Sergiev Posad as the mother monastery of several foundations in northern Russia. Since the 18th century the starz became an important mediator of monastic spirituality. In 1914 there were 1025 male and female monasteries in the Russian Empire with 11845 monks and 17213 nuns, not counting the novices. Socialism led to an extreme slump: in 1980 there were 6 monasteries and 12 nunneries.
In the 19th century there was a wave of monasteries and orders founded in the Anglican community (medieval romanticism , Oxford movement ), most of which performed pastoral or charitable tasks; but there are also contemplative monasteries.
Muslims conquered the regions of origin of Christian monasticism early on: Egypt, Palestine and Syria. The Koran mentions Christian monasticism and takes an ambivalent position on it:
“And we let Jesus, the son of Mary, follow and gave him the gospel, and we let mildness take hold in the hearts of those who joined him (literally: we put mildness in the hearts of those who joined him) , Mercy and monasticism. They brought it up (ie monasticism) (of their own accord). We didn't tell them to. Rather, (they) took it upon themselves (of their own accord) in the pursuit of God's good pleasure. But they did not keep it properly (once they had taken it upon themselves). And we gave their reward to those of them who believed (in the truth of the revelation conveyed to them). But many of them were wicked. ”( Sura 57:27 )
The much-quoted sentence is ascribed to the prophet Mohammed: “There is no monasticism in Islam.” However, Muslim and Western scholars doubt whether Mohammed expressed this in this way. “Despite the Koranic concerns, the monks became a role model for various ascetic and mystical Muslims. These developed a special Islamic version of Christian monasticism and became known as Sufis . "
Far Eastern Religions
The monks of Hinduism are the sadhus (sadhu = the good) who are addressed as Swami or as Baba , father. Sadhus, the holy men of India, often live as wandering, homeless mendicant monks in constant asceticism and homelessness. Others, however, form communities in an ashram or a temple complex. They appear in various religious forms. Among the various Hindu orders there are e.g. B. Vaishnava , the followers of Vishnu , outwardly recognizable by the fact that they shave their hair down to a tuft at the back of the head, or Shaivas , the followers of Shiva , who let their hair grow wildly in the form of jata, dreadlocks. After his decision to renounce, the future sadhu joins a guru who introduces him to spiritual teaching as well as to techniques of asceticism and meditation ( yoga ) and whom he serves as a student. These ascetics are also called muni .
A sadhu takes a personal vow that imposes different requirements depending on the prescriptions of his guru. This can be homelessness, poverty, sexual abstinence, fasting and complete lack of needs. Some sadhus are not allowed to have social contacts with their fellow human beings, never stay long in one place and live off what they receive from their fellow human beings. Some of them stand out for their bizarre behavior, extreme forms of asceticism and self-torture, others are known for the use of entheogens. Many sadhus see the world as Maya (illusion), which one renounces and which one should kill oneself in order to attain enlightenment in the transcendent reality. They seek redemption from the eternal cycle of life, death and rebirth.
Since the eighth century there have also been monasteries ( matha ) in Hinduism , which are mostly associated with temples. The first were founded under Shankara , a great Hindu philosopher who wanted to strengthen Hinduism with his monks against the growing Buddhism. The Samnyasin living there , the “renunciators”, still follow the old ideal of asceticism today, seek spiritual growth, study and teach the Holy Scriptures. Hindu monks who are engaged in philanthropic and humanistic tasks in addition to spiritual activities are especially those of the Ramakrishna mission and those of the Swaminarayan mission, both of which are very popular in India. The Ramakrishna order also includes nuns.
The Jainism has two schools, the Digambaras and Svetambaras. The Digambaras ( Sanskrit "the air-clad") are predominantly monks; they are strict ascetics and defenders of the unrestricted right to exist of every living being. In their everyday life, they take precautions to avoid accidentally killing or injuring other living beings. So they wear z. B. a mouth mask to prevent accidental inhalation of insects. Digambaras reject material possessions and are usually only clothed with a loincloth. They live partially or completely naked; hence the name Digambara - the air-clad. The Digambaras interpret the commandments of Jainism more strictly than the Shvetambaras , who are also believers of Jainism, but mostly lay people.
→ Main article: Buddhist monasticism
In Buddhism , the monk community ( Sangha ) existed from the beginning, i.e. around 500 BC. BC, initially only for monks and later also for nuns. Both orders were founded by Buddha himself (around 560-480 BC). In the early years, candidates were only ordained personally by the Buddha. Later, as the congregation grew rapidly, he transferred the right to admit monks to his disciples. At first there were only homeless wandering monks, it was only later that accommodation and accommodation facilities were donated. Until then, huts were only built during the rainy season, which were then torn down again at the end.
The great veneration that is shown to the Buddhist monks is less for the person themselves than for the respect for the Dharma that the monk or nun embodies or represents.
Monastery life in Thailand
In the whole of Thailand there were around 30,678 Buddhist temples ( Wat ) in 1998 , which are not only the center of religious but also social life, especially in rural areas. The number of monks in 1998 was around 260,000. Traditionally, almost every male Thai, but only a few women, enters a monastery once in a lifetime for several weeks to practice meditation and to submit to the rules of the monk or nun community (see also Sangha ). About a third of the male youth between 12 and 18/20 years of age live as novices in the temple for one to six years and go from there to special monastic schools with a focus on " religious instruction ", but also with other subjects.
After finishing school, most of them take off their habit and return to society as laypeople to study, do an apprenticeship or look for a job. If a novice is still in the temple at the age of 20, he must decide to quit or become a monk. When someone in the family dies, it is customary for a family member, usually a son, grandson, or nephew, to be ordained to accompany the funeral as a member of the Sangha; most of the time this temple stay lasts only three, five or seven days. If someone is in a personal crisis, stressed by business life, has fulfilled his duties as a father of a family or has become a widower, he can be a monk up to three times, whereby he can freely choose the monastery and the duration of his ordination. This retreat often lasts for a rainy season (three months) or a year. Older people also say goodbye to professional life and remain monks for the rest of their lives. Monks, novices and nuns are seen as role models and enjoy great respect in society.
See also: Monasticism in Thailand
China and Japan
In Daoism , too, there are monasteries that were established after the model of Buddhism from the 12th century. The school of Daoism, in which celibate monks and nuns in monasteries live a life of meditation and asceticism , is Neidan ( Quanzhen ). The school of Quanzhen emphasizes that the goal is not physical immortality, as in the earlier schools of Daoism (e.g. the sky masters or Shangqing), but that it is about purely internal processes that set the spirit over the world . The Quanzhen School was the first school of Daoism, which built monasteries on the model of Chan Buddhism and introduced strict rules of celibacy, abstinence from alcohol, meat, lust, anger and riches.
The Shaolin Buddhist monastery in the Chinese province of Henan was founded around 500. According to legend, the Indian monk Bodhidharma came to the monastery in 527 and founded the teaching of Chan Buddhism (in Japanese Zen Buddhism), which emphasized the meditative aspect of monasticism. With the Shaolin monastery, it makes sense to differentiate between martial activity and the development of a special martial art. As early as the Tang Dynasty , the monks were involved in wars, but there is no evidence in the sources that they acted any differently than other warriors of their time. The development of the actual Shaolin martial art took place in two phases:
- From the 12th to the 16th centuries the monks specialized in stick fighting and were famous as masters of the art in the late Ming period .
- Since the 16th century the monks developed unarmed fighting techniques; especially her hand techniques (quan) found worldwide distribution.
Independently of stick and hand techniques, Shaolin monks fought in the course of their history with swords and other usual weapons, which were more effective in combat.
Japanese Zen monasticism
Zen Buddhism or Zen ( Japanese禅) is a line of Mahayana Buddhism that emerged in China from the 5th century AD and was significantly influenced by Daoism. The Chinese name 禅 ( Chan ) comes from the Sanskrit word Dhyana , which was translated into Chinese as 禅 那 ( Chan'na ). From the 12th century onwards, Zen was also carried over to Japan. The Zen terms used in the West mostly come from Japanese.
The central element of the practice of Zen is the sitting meditation Zazen , which is practiced in the lotus seat in strict external discipline, especially in monasteries. By bringing all of his thoughts to rest, the practitioner enables the mystical experience of enlightenment ( Satori ), an often sudden experience of universal unity and emptiness, which corresponds to overall Buddhist enlightenment ( Sanskrit bodhi ). In this context there is often talk of becoming a Buddha, or the realization of one's own Buddha nature . Language and communication can only access this experience indirectly. According to a study in Japan in the mid-1980s, however, zazen or shikantaza "only exceptionally belonged to the usual practice" in temples of Sōtō-Zen Buddhism, which is particularly associated with meditation; In other branches of Japanese Buddhism, meditation in the narrower sense is not practiced at all.
Celibacy has been abolished in almost all Buddhist schools that are widespread in Japan, most monks have families and run their temples like a family business that is later passed on to the children. Such family temples are often surrounded by a small cemetery and provide religious services to a local community of believers, particularly in the event of death. The mountain ascetics ( yamabushi ) occupy a marginal position among the Buddhist monks . They have their own costume and their own rites, which are strongly influenced by esoteric Buddhism.
Buddhist monasteries appear to have been centers of homosexual activity early on in ancient Japan; Mount Koya, the seat of Kukai's monastery, became a nickname for same-sex love. On the other hand, neither Shinto nor the Japanese version of Confucianism contain any prohibitions. Sufficient monks seem to have believed that their vows of chastity did not extend to same-sex relationships, so stories telling of affairs between monks and followers were popular under the term "Chigo Monogatari". Such affairs were mildly ridiculed as long as the passions did not escalate to physical violence, which was by no means unusual. Jesuits reported appalled at the spread of "sodomy" among Buddhist monks.
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