Private Practice

In the midst of all the hustle and bustle of life, one cannot help but crave moments of silence and solitude to clear the mind and recharge.  For the average person, these times are occasional.  However, for a monk, this is an everyday state of being.  The concept of being a monk dates back to ancient times and has surfaced in different religions and philosophy.  In Greek, a monk may describe a female, but in modern English, it refers exclusively to men.

The dictionary defines a monk as”originally, a man who retired from the world and devoted himself to asceticism as a solitary or cenobite; now, specifically, a member of a religious order, as the Benedictines or Cistercians, devoted primarily to contemplation and solemn liturgical observances.”  Separate from the rest of society, monks perform their activities within the confines of a monastic establishment, either alone or in communion with other monks.  A monk does not see “the ordinary as relevant”, but believes that “our perception of its depth is undermined by inattention”.  Thus, he has a single minded focus and believes the greatest flaw is a divided heart, which is why his practices are private and void of distractions.

Monk’s Robe and Hood:

Monk's Robe and Hood

As monks appear in different religions, here are some of the main sects.  Paving the way for Christianity was the monastic discipline of Judaism.  Jewish groups such as the Essenes and Nazurites were among the earliest to create sanctuaries for meditation of the Holy Scriptures and prayer.  In following along the lines of Judaism came monastic practices in Christianity.  Inspired by the examples of John the Baptist and Elijah, who both lived a time of solitude in the desert, Saint Anthony of Egypt was the first famous Christian monk.  He spent many years living alone in the Egyptian desert in an effort to solely pursue God.  As this idea of leading a disciplined life for God’s service grew, so did monasticism.  People soon started to follow Saint Anthony’s example of living in isolation.  These individuals would only congregate on Sundays for communion.  From these gatherings came the idea of monastery communities.

Taking a little different shape than monks of Judaism and Christianity are monks in Buddhism.  Buddhist monks stay in monasteries, living a life of mendicancy.  Every morning, they go on rounds and the local people give them food to eat.  However, they are not allowed to ask for anything from the locals.  Monks are not to live luxurious lives and the use of money is forbidden, although this rule is not always kept in present day.  In Thailand, boys are often required to live in a monastery for a period of time.  In different cultures, the role of a Buddhist monk may be altered.  For example, Chine Buddhist monks are commonly linked to the martial arts practice of Kung Fu and appear as characters in Chinese martial arts films.

Monk’s Robe for Children:

Monk's Robe for Children

In addition to monks in Judaism, Christianity, and Buddhism, monks also have pertinent roles in Hinduism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and most other major religions.  While monastic practices may look different and vary, one thing is agreed upon.  The life of a monk is strict, far from glamorous, and solitary.

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