A Comparison of Buddhist and Christian Monasticism
By what means does an individual seeking relief from the vicissitudes of everyday life attain salvation? Monasticism is a form of religious practice that provides a distinct method for obtaining the absolute by seeking spiritual perfection within a religion either through union with God or through the attainment of Nirvana. Monasticism is a way of life in which persons decides to leave their worldly lives behind to join a community and take religious vows, such as celibacy, poverty and obedience to an order so that they may be completely focused on the goal of salvation. Monastery is derived from the greek words monazein (to live alone) and monos (alone). (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/monastery)There are many different forms of monasticism belonging to a variety of religions. By providing a comparative view of the origins and history of Christian monasticism as practiced by the ‘Desert Fathers’ and Theravada Buddhist monasticism we hope to shed light on the argument that although they are very different in their religious dogma, they share a similar monastic culture and history. St. Antony of Egypt is often credited with being the first Christian monastic, although, there have been instances of earlier Christian monasticism since the time of Christ. Jesus himself was a model for early monasticism as were the celibate women at the time who devoted themselves to lives of prayer and service to the church (CTTp174). Many counsels were given in the Gospels that could be interpreted as a call to a monastic way of life, “If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven” (Mt.19:21). In the mid third century, many Christians began to move out to deserted places to live ascetic lives as hermits and dedicate their lives to Christ, partly because Christianity was gaining acceptance and monasticism began to replace martyrdom as the highest form of spiritual commitment. This form of hermit monasticism is eremitic. Over time, beginning with St. Antony who taught to groups of disciples in the desert, monasticism grew into larger communities because of the difficulties and hardships of living alone. Pachomius developed the rule that monks should live in isolated huts, gather for meals and share chores in order to be self-sustaining within their own community and not have to rely on charity (Hannah p.24). Monasteries developed and became governed by an abbot. This form of monasticism is called cenobitic from the Greek words for common life (CTT p.174) and an emphasis was put on performing charity and service to neighbors. Rules and orders were created to help monks avoid sin such as Augustinian Rule and the rule of St. Benedict. Buddhist monasticism originated before Christian monasticism and shares many similarities in its development over time. Buddhism began 2, 500 years ago in India when Siddhartha Gautama discovered how to free people from suffering. Siddhartha was a prince born in 566 BC, he grew up isolated within a palace never being exposed to the hardships of the world. One day, Siddhartha traveled outside the palace where he encountered the four sights, sickness, old age, poverty, and death. He wondered, “how can I enjoy a life of pleasure when there is so much suffering in the world.” He decided to live an ascetic lifestyle and give up everything he owned to seek an end to suffering. When Siddhartha experienced enlightenment, he became the Buddha and he began teaching his knowledge to others. When the Buddha founded his religion, he conceived it solely as monasticism. Buddhist monasteries are known as Vihara and they emerged sometime around the 4th century BC from the practice of vassa. Vassa is a retreat during the rainy season for three months during which monks would remain in a single place, usually temples, to avoid damaging crops by trampling them. These early fixed vassa retreats were held...
Bibliography: Ian C. Hannah. Christian Monasticism: A Great Force in History. London:George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1924. Print.
Boisvert, Mathieu. “Origins: Comparative Perspectives” The Encyclopedia of Monasticism. Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 2000. Print.
Ian C. Hannah. Christian Monasticism: A Great Force in History. pg.19-31
London:George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1924
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