Monk

Monk

[muhngk]
Monk, Meredith Jane, 1942-, American dancer, choreographer, composer, singer, director, and filmmaker, b. Lima, Peru, grad. Sarah Lawrence College, 1964. A major figure in the avant-garde, she began her career in the 1960s as a choreographer with the experimental Judson Dance Theater, New York City. In 1968 she formed her own performance group, The House. Monk is best known for innovative ensemble performance pieces. These often concern a journey or quest, sometimes incorporate video or film, and are unified by a continuing stream of rather minimalist music and expressive movement. Since the late 1970s she has largely concentrated on her musical compositions. Her works are mainly vocal, ranging from solos (e.g., Our Lady of Late, 1972) to large chorales (e.g., Dolmen Music, 1979), and she has recorded several albums of her own songs. The 40-character multimedia theater piece Quarry (1976) is widely recognized as her masterpiece. Monk's other works include the "epic" Vessel (1971), built around the life and death of Joan of Arc; the films Ellis Island (1981) and Book of Days (1988); the opera Atlas (1991); her first orchestral work, Possible Sky (2001); and the instrumental/vocal/dance piece Songs of Ascension (2009).
Monk, Thelonius (Thelonius Sphere Monk), 1917-82, American jazz pianist, composer, and arranger, b. Rocky Mount, N.C. Monk is considered one of the most important, and eccentric, figures in modern jazz. He spent most of his life in New York City, playing in nightclubs; in the 1940s he was one of the first players of bop. His style was astringent, marked by discordant harmonies, alternating rhythms, and melodic interpretations. There was a subtle mixture of cynicism, humor, and warmth in his interpretations. Among the many jazz pieces Monk composed, the best known is probably "Round Midnight." Others that have become standards include "Monk's Mood," "Straight No Chaser," "Crepuscule with Nellie," and "Epistrophy."

See biographies by L. Gourse (1997) and R. G. G. Kelley (2009); study ed. by R. Van Der Bliek (2001); C. Zwerin, dir., Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser (documentary film, 1989).

monk: see monasticism.

(born Nov. 20, 1942, Lima, Peru) Peruvian-born U.S. composer and performance artist. She was raised in Connecticut and New York and attended Sarah Lawrence College. She soon formed her first group, The House (1968), to explore extended vocal techniques (many learned from study of other cultures) in combination with dance, film, theatre, and other elements, in genre-defying works such as Juice (1969). One of the original creators of performance art, she has remained unique and unclassifiable.

Learn more about Monk, Meredith (Jane) with a free trial on Britannica.com.

(born Nov. 20, 1942, Lima, Peru) Peruvian-born U.S. composer and performance artist. She was raised in Connecticut and New York and attended Sarah Lawrence College. She soon formed her first group, The House (1968), to explore extended vocal techniques (many learned from study of other cultures) in combination with dance, film, theatre, and other elements, in genre-defying works such as Juice (1969). One of the original creators of performance art, she has remained unique and unclassifiable.

Learn more about Monk, Meredith (Jane) with a free trial on Britannica.com.

A monk (μοναχός, monachos), derived from Greek monos (alone), in modern parlance also referred to as a monastic, is a person who practices religious asceticism, the conditioning of mind and body in favor of the spirit, and does so living either alone or with any number of like-minded people, whilst 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 monastics.

Although the term monachos (“monk”) is of Christian origin, in the English language it tends to be used analogously or loosely also for 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 generic 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.

Etymology

A monk (Old English munuc < Latin monachus < Ancient Greek μοναχός - monachos, "single, solitary" < μόνος (monos) "alone") is a general term for a person who leads the "monastic life" in a "monastery".

Nowadays it is often wrongly assumed that it signifies a monk living in community, who is merely one kind of monk who lives with other monks, namely a cenobite (Greek: κοινοβιακός).

From early Church times there has been a lively discussion of the meaning of the term monk (derived from Greek: monos, alone), namely whether it denotes someone living alone/away from the rest of society, or someone celibate/focused on God alone. The Western rule giver Benedict of Nursia understood it as meaning the latter, namely a celibate dedicated to God. This is evident from the fact that his list of the four kinds of monks includes hermits.

The four kinds of monks identified by Benedict of Nursia in chapter 1 of his Rule for Monks as well as in the Rule of the Master are the following:

  1. The cenobites live in community in a monastery, serve God under a religious rule and do so under the leadership of an abbot (or in the case of a community of women, an abbess). Benedict points out in ch. 1.13 that they are the "strong kind", which by logic of the context must mean the larger number rather than the better kind.
  2. The hermits and anchorites have thorough experience as cenobites in a monastery. "They have built up their strength and go from the battle line in the ranks of their brothers to the single combat of the desert; self-reliant now, without the support of another, they are ready with God's help to grapple single-handed with the vices of body and mind". Benedict himself twice lived for prolonged periods as a hermit, which may account for the comparative length of the characteristics of their life in this list.
  3. The sarabaites, censured by Benedict as the most detestable kind of monks, are pretenders that have no cenobitic experience, follow no rule and have no superior.
  4. The gyrovagues, censured by Benedict as worse than loubski, are wandering monks without stability in a particular monastery.

In the English language, but not in German and French, a distinction is made between monks and friars, the latter being members of mendicant orders. A distinction is also made between monks and Canons Regular.

Monastery

Main article: Monastery

A monastery is the dwelling of one or more monks.

The term monastery is already used by the Jewish philosopher Philo (c. 20 BC - 50 AD, resident in Alexandria, Egypt) in his description of the life of the Therapeutae and Therapeutides, people with common religious aspirations who then were dwelling on a low-lying hill above the Mareotic Lake near Alexandria in houses at a distance of each other that safeguarded both solitude and security (cf. On the Contemplative Life ch. III, in the Loeb Classical Library edition see §25).

In each house there is a consecrated room which is called a sanctuary or closet (monastērion), and closeted (monoumenoi) in this they are initiated into the mysteries of the sanctified life. They take nothing into it, either drink or food or any other of the things necessary for the needs of the body, but laws and oracles delivered through the mouth of prophets, and hymns and anything else which fosters and perfects knowledge and piety. They keep the memory of God alive and never forget it … Twice every day they pray, at dawn and at eventide … The interval between early morning and evening is spent entirely in spiritual exercise. They read the holy scriptures and seek wisdom from their ancestral philosophy … For six days they seek wisdom by themselves in solitude in the closets (monastēriois) mentioned above … But every seventh day they meet together as for a general assembly … (in a) common sanctuary … (Philo, On The Contemplative Life, ch. III).

Christian monks



History of Christian monasticism

Monasticism drew its origin from the examples of the Prophet Elias and John the Baptist who both lived alone in the desert, the desert having been regarded throughout Old Testament times as a place of spiritual renewal and return to God, whether for the benefit of the individual and as a representative of the community. At the beginning of his public ministry Jesus of Nazareth subjected himself for forty days to physical and spiritual testing in the desert; and the Gospels record other times in which he retired for periods of solitary prayer. In the early church, individuals would live ascetic lives, though usually on the outskirts of civilization. Communities of virgins are also mentioned by early church authors, but again these communities were either located in towns, or near the edges of them.

The first famous Christian known to adopt the life in a desert was St. Anthony the Great (251-356), sometime in the latter part of the 3rd century. He 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. In the beginning, St. Anthony had an experienced ascetic who gave him advice, but he also lived near the town. St. Anthony was 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. These are referred to as sketes, named after the location in Egypt where this system began. The concept of monks all living together under one roof and under the rule of a single abbot is attributed to St Pachomius (c. 292-348), who lived in the beginning of the 4th century, and is referred to as cenobitic monasticism. At this same time, St. Pachomius' sister became the first abbess of a monastery of women (convent). Christian monasticism spread throughout the Eastern Roman Empire. At its height it was not uncommon for coenobitic 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 regularized through the writings of St. Basil the Great (c. 330-379) and St. Theodore the Studite (c. 758-c. 826), coalescing more or less into the form in which it is still found today. In the West, there was initially some distrust of monasticism, due to fears of extremism previously observed in certain heretical groups, most notably Gnosticism. Largely through the writings of St. John Cassian (c. 360–433) monasticism came to be accepted in the West as well. St. Benedict of Nursia (c. 480–547) set forth the very first monastic rule in the west. In the beginning, Western monasticism followed much the same pattern as its Eastern forebears, but over time the traditions diversified.

Monasticism in Eastern Christianity

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. Orthodox monastics separate themselves from the world in order to pray unceasingly for the world. They do not, in general, have as their primary purpose the running of social services, as is common in Western Christianity, but instead are concerned with attaining theosis, or union with God. However, care for the poor and needy has always been an obligation of monasticism, so Orthodox monasteries are not normally "cloistered" like some contemplative Western houses are, though the level of contact will vary from community to community. Orthodox hermits, on the other hand, have little or no contact with the outside world.

Orthodox monasticism does not have religious orders as are found in the West, nor do they have Rules in the same sense as the Rule of St. Benedict. Rather, Eastern monastics study and draw inspiration from the writings of the Desert Fathers as well as other Church Fathers; probably the most influential of which are the Greater Asketikon and Lesser Asketikon of St. Basil the Great and the Philokalia, which was compiled by St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth. Hesychasm is of primary importance in the ascetical theology of the Orthodox Church.

Most communities are self-supporting, and the monastic’s daily life is usually divided into three parts: (a) communal worship in the catholicon (the monastery's main church); (b) hard manual labour; and (c) private prayer, spiritual study, and rest when necessary. Meals are usually taken in common in a sizable dining hall known as a trapeza (refectory), at elongated refectory tables. Food is usually simple and is eaten in silence while one of the brethren reads aloud from the spiritual writings of the Holy Fathers. The monastic lifestyle takes a great deal of serious commitment and hard work, it forces the person to overcome their own flaws and weaknesses; those newcomers with romantic notions about this sort of lifestyle usually do not last more than a few days. Within the cenobitic community, all monks conform to a common way of living based on the traditions of that particular monastery. In struggling to attain this conformity, the monastic comes to realize his own shortcomings and is guided by his spiritual father in how to deal honestly with them. Attaining this level of self-discipline is perhaps the most difficult and painful accomplishment any human being can make; but the end goal, to become like an angel on earth (an "earthly angel and a heavenly man", as the church hymns put it), is the reason monastics are held in such high esteem. For this same reason, Bishops are almost always chosen from the ranks of monks.

Eastern monasticism is found in three distinct forms: anchoritic (a solitary living in isolation), cenobitic (a community living and worshiping together under the direct rule of an abbot or abbess), and the "middle way" between the two, known as the skete (a community of individuals living separately but in close proximity to one another, who come together only on Sundays and feast days, working and praying the rest of the time in solitude, but under the direction of an elder). One normally enters a cenobitic community first, and only after testing and spiritual growth would one go on to the skete or, for the most advanced, become a solitary anchorite. However, one is not necessarily expected to join a skete or become a solitary; most monastics remain in the cenobuim the whole of their lives. The form of monastic life an individual embraces is considered to be his vocation; that is to say, it is dependent upon the will of God, and is revealed by grace.

In general, Orthodox monastics have little or no contact with the outside world, including their own families. The purpose of the monastic life is union with God, the means is through leaving the world (i.e., the life of the passions). After tonsure, Orthodox monks and nuns are never permitted to cut their hair. The hair of the head and the beard remain uncut as a symbol of the vows they have taken, reminiscent of the Nazarites from the Old Testament. The Tonsure of monks is the token of a consecrated life, and symbolizes the cutting off of their self-will.

Degrees of Christian Orthodox monasticism

The process of becoming a monk is intentionally slow, as the vows taken are considered to entail a life-long commitment to God, and are not to be entered into lightly. In Orthodox monasticism after completing the novitiate, there are three ranks of monasticism. There is only one monastic habit in the Eastern Church (with certain slight regional variations), and it is the same for both monks and nuns. Each successive grade is given a portion of the habit, the full habit being worn only by those in the highest grade, known for that reason as the "Great Schema", or "Great Habit". One is free to enter any monastery of one's choice; but after being accepted by the abbot (or abbess) and making vows, one may not move from place to place without the blessing of one's ecclesiastical superior.

The various profession rites are normally performed by the Abbot, but if the abbot has not been ordained a priest, or if the monastic community is a convent, a hieromonk will perform the service. The abbot or hieromonk who performs a tonsure must be of at least the rank he is tonsuring into. In other words, only a hieromonk who has been tonsured into the Great Schema may himself tonsure a Schemamonk. A bishop, however, may tonsure into any rank, regardless of his own.

Novice (Slavonic: Poslushnik), lit. "one under obedience"—Those wishing to join a monastery begin their lives as novices. After coming to the monastery and living as a guest for not less than three days, the abbot or abbess may bless the candidate to become a novice. There is no formal ceremony for the clothing of a novice, he or she simply receives permission to wear the clothing of a novice. In the Eastern monastic tradition, novices may or may not dress in the black inner cassock (Greek: Anterion, Eisorasson; Slavonic: Podriasnik) and wear the soft monastic hat (Greek: Skoufos, Slavonic: Skufia), depending on the tradition of the local community, and in accordance to the abbot’s directives. The inner-cassock and the skoufos are the first part of the Orthodox monastic "habit. In some communities, the novice also wears the leather belt. He is also given a prayer rope and instructed in the use of the Jesus Prayer. If a novice chooses to leave during the period of the novitiate, no penalty is incurred. He may also be asked to leave at any time if his behaviour does not conform to the monastic life, or if the superior discerns that he is not called to monasticism. When the abbot or abbess deems the novice ready, he is asked if he wishes to join the monastery. Some, out of humility, will choose to remain novices all their lives. Every stage of the monastic life must be entered into voluntarily.

Rassaphore, (Slavonic: Ryassophore), lit. "Robe-bearer"—If the novice continues on to become a monk, he is clothed in the first degree of monasticism at a formal service known as the Tonsure. Although there are no formal vows made at this point, the candidate is normally required to affirm his commitment to persevere in the monastic life. The abbot will then perform the tonsure, cutting a small amount of hair from four spots on the head, forming a cross. He is then given the outer cassock (Greek: Rasson, Exorasson, or Mandorrason; Slavonic: Riassa)—an outer robe with wide sleeves, something like the cowl used in the West, but without a hood—from which the name of Rassaphore is derived. He is also given a brimless hat with a veil, known as a klobuk, and a leather belt is fastened around his waist. His habit is usually black, signifying that he is now dead to the world, and he receives a new name. Although the Rassaphore does not make formal vows, he is still morally obligated to continue in the monastic estate for the rest of his life. Some will remain Rassaphores permanently without going on to the higher degrees.

Stavrophore, (Slavonic: Krestonosets), lit. "Cross-bearer"—The next level for Eastern monastics takes place some years after the first tonsure when the abbot feels the monk has reached an appropriate level of discipline, dedication, and humility. This degree is also known as the Little Schema, and is considered to be a "betrothal" to the Great Schema. At this stage, the monk makes formal vows of stability, chastity, obedience and poverty. Then he is tonsured and clothed in the habit, which in addition to that worn by the Rassaphore, includes the paramandyas (Slavonic: paraman), a piece of square cloth worn on the back, embroidered with the instruments of the Passion, and connected by ties to a wooden cross worn over the heart. The paramandyas represents the yoke of Christ. Because of this addition he is now called Stavrophore, or Cross-bearer. He is also given a wooden hand cross (or "profession cross"), which he should keep in his icon corner, and a beeswax candle, symbolic of monastic vigilance the sacrificing of himself for God. He will be buried holding the cross, and the candle will be burned at his funeral. In the Slavic practice, the Stavrophore also wears the monastic mantle. The rasson (outer robe) worn by the Stavrophore is more ample than that worn by the Rassaphore. The abbot increases the Stavrophore monk’s prayer rule, allows a more strict personal ascetic practice, and gives the monk more responsibility.

Great Schema (Greek: Megaloschemos, Slavonic: Skhimnik)—Monks whose abbot feels they have reached a high level of spiritual excellence reach the final stage, called the Great Schema. The tonsure of a Schemamonk follows the same format as the Stavrophore, and he makes the same vows and is tonsured in the same manner. But in addition to all the garments worn by the Stavrophore, he is given the Analavos (Slavonic: Analav) which is the article of monastic vesture emblematic of the Great Schema. For this reason, the analavos itself is sometimes called the "Great Schema" (see picture above). The analavos comes down in the front and the back, somewhat like the scapular in Western monasticism, although the two garments are probably not related. It is often intricately embroidered with the instruments of the Passion and the Trisagion (the angelic hymn). The Greek form does not have a hood, the Slavic form has a hood and lappets on the shoulders, so that the garment forms a large cross covering the monk's shoulders, chest, and back. Another piece added is the Polystavrion or "Many Crosses", which consists of a cord with a number of small crosses plaited into it. The polystavrion forms a yoke around the monk and serves to hold the analavos in place, and reminds the monastic that he is bound to Christ and that his arms are no longer fit for worldly activities, but that he must labor only for the Kingdom of Heaven. Among the Greeks, the mantle is added at this stage. The paramandyas of the Megaloschemos is larger than that of the Stavrophore, and if he wears the klobuk, it is of a distinctive thimble shape, called a koukoulion, the veil of which is usually embroidered with crosses. In some monastic traditions the Great Schema is only given to monks and nuns on their death bed, while in others they may be elevated after as little as 25 years of service.

Eastern Orthodox monks are addressed as "Father" even if they are not priests; but when conversing among themselves, monks will often address one another as "Brother." Novices are always referred to as "Brother." Among the Greeks, old monks are often called Gheronda, or "Elder", out of respect for their dedication. In the Slavic tradition, the title of Elder (Slavonic: Starets) is normally reserved for those who are of an advanced spiritual life, and who serve as guides to others.

For the Orthodox, Mother is the correct term for nuns who have been tonsured Stavrophore or higher. Novices and Rassophores are addressed as "Sister". Nuns live identical ascetic lives to their male counterparts and are therefore also called monachai (the feminine plural of monachos), and their community is likewise called a monastery.

Many (but not all) Orthodox seminaries are attached to monasteries, combining academic preparation for ordination with participation in the community's life of prayer, and hopefully benefiting from the example and wise counsel of the monks. Bishops are required by the sacred canons of the Orthodox Church to be chosen from among the monastic clergy. It should be noted that the requirement is specifically that they be monastics, not simply celibate (see clerical celibacy). Monks who have been ordained to the priesthood are called hieromonks (priest-monks); monks who have been ordained to the diaconate are called hierodeacons (deacon-monks). A Schemamonk who is a priest is called a Hieroschemamonk. Most monks are not ordained; a community will normally only present as many candidates for ordination to the bishop as the liturgical needs of the community require.

Monasticism in Western Christianity

Roman Catholic Monks

Within Roman Catholicism, a monk is a member of a religious order who lives a communal life in a monastery, abbey, or priory under a monastic rule of life (such as the Rule of St. Benedict) and under the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. St. Benedict of Nursia is considered to be the founder of western monasticism. He established the first monastic community in the west and authored the Rule of St. Benedict, which is the foundation for the Order of St. Benedict and all of its reforms such as the Cistercians and the Trappists.

The religious vows taken in the West were first developed by St. Benedict. These vows were three in number: obedience, conversion of life, and stability. Among later Western religious orders, these developed into the solemn vows of obedience, poverty, and chastity. Obedience requires that monks are willing obey the Catholic Church, as represented by the superior. Chastity requires that since they were willing to dedicate their lives to God, they sacrificed the love between men and women and would not marry. Poverty requires they renounced any ownership of property or assets, except for items that were allowed to them by their superior (such as a religious habit, shoes, a cloak, etc.), and to live meekly, sharing whatever they might have with the poor.

To become a monk, one first must become a postulant, during which time the man lives at the monastery to evaluate whether he is called to become a monk. As a postulant, the man is not bound by any vows, and is free to leave the monastery at any time. If the postulant and the community agree that the postulant should become a monk, the man is received as a novice, at which time he is given his religious habit, and begins to participate more fully in the life of the monastery. Following a period as a novice, usually six months to a year, the novice is given the option to take the solemn vows, which can be renewed annually for a period of years. After a few years, the monk can make permanent vows, which are binding for life.

The monastic life generally consists of prayer in the form of the Liturgy of the Hours (also known as the Divine Office) and divine reading (lectio divina) and manual labor. Among most religious orders, monks live in simple, austere rooms called cells and come together daily to celebrate the Conventual Mass and to recite the Liturgy of the Hours. In most communities, the monks take their meals together in the refectory. While there is no vow of silence, many communities have a period of silence lasting from evening until the next morning and some others restrict talking to only when it is necessary for the monks to perform their work and during weekly recreation. Monks who have been or will be ordained into Holy Orders as priests or deacons, are referred to as choir monks, as they have the obligation to recite the entire Divine Office daily in choir. Those monks who are not ordained into Holy Orders are referred to as lay brothers. In most monastic communities today, little distinction exists between the lay brothers and the choir monks. However, historically, the roles of the two groups of monks within the monastery differed. The work of the choir monks was considered to be prayer, chanting the seven hours of the Divine Office and celebrating the Mass daily whereas the lay brothers provided for the material needs of the community by growing food, preparing meals, maintaining the monastery and the grounds. This distinction arose historically because generally those monks who could read Latin typically became choir monks, while those monks who were illiterate or could not read Latin became lay brothers. Since the lay brothers could not recite the Divine Office in Latin, they would instead pray easily memorizable prayers such as the Our Father or the Hail Mary as many as 150 times per day. Since the Second Vatican Council, the distinction between choir monks and lay brothers have become less important, as the council allowed the Divine Office to be said in the vernacular language, effectively opening participation to all of the monks.

Within western monasticism, it is important to differentiate between monks and friars. Monks generally live a contemplative life of prayer confined within a cloistered monastery while friars usually engage in an active ministry of service to the outside community. The monastic orders include all Benedictines, the Order of Saint Benedict and its later reforms including the Cistercians, and the Trappists. The Carthusians are also a monastic order, although they do not follow the Rule of St. Benedict. Orders of friars include the Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, and Augustinians. Although the Canons Regular, such as the Norbertines, live in community, they are neither monks nor friars as they are characterized by their clerical state and not by any monastic vows.

Anglican Monks

Monastic life in England came to an abrupt end when King Henry VIII broke from the Roman Catholic Church establishing the Church of England. He initiated the Dissolution of the Monasteries, during which all of the monasteries within England were destroyed. While many monks were executed, many fled to continental European monasteries where they were able to continue their monastic life.

Shortly after the beginning of the revival of the Catholic Movement in the Church of England, there was felt to be a need for a restoration of the monastic life. In the 1840s, Anglican priest John Henry Newman established a community of men at Littlemore near Oxford. From then on, there have been (re-)established many communities of monks, friars and other religious communities for men in the Anglican Communion. There are Anglican Benedictines, Franciscans, Cistercians, and in the Episcopal Church in the USA, Dominicans), as well as other monastic orders such as the Society of Saint John the Evangelist.

Some Anglican religious communities are contemplative, some active, but a distinguishing feature of the monastic life among Anglicans is that most practice the so-called "mixed life." Anglican monks recite the Divine Office in choir daily, either the full eight services of the Breviary or the four offices found in the Book of Common Prayer and celebrate the Eucharist daily. Many orders take on external works such as service to the poor, giving religious retreats, or other active ministries within their immediate communities. Like Roman Catholic monks, Anglican monks also take the monastic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

In the early 20th century when the Catholic Movement was at its height, the Anglican Communion had hundreds of orders and communities, and thousands of religious followers. However, since the 1960s there has been a sharp falling off in the numbers of religious in many parts of the Anglican Communion. Many, once large and international communities have been reduced to a single convent or monastery comprised of elderly men or women. In the last few decades of the 20th century, novices have for most communities been few and far between. Some orders and communities have already become extinct.

There are however, still several thousand Anglican monks working today in approximately 200 communities around the world. The most surprising growth has been in the Melanesian countries of the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea. The Melanesian Brotherhood, founded at Tabalia, Guadalcanal, in 1925 by Ini Kopuria, is now the largest Anglican Community in the world with over 450 brothers in the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and the United Kingdom.

Buddhist monks

Main article at Bhikkhu

Although the European term "monk" is often applied to Buddhism, the situation of Buddhist asceticism is different.

There is often a trial period prior to ordination, to see if a candidate wishes to become a Buddhist monk. If he does, he remains in the monastery; otherwise, he is free to leave.

In Theravada Buddhism, bhikkhu is the term for monk. Their disciplinary code is called the patimokkha, which is part of the larger Vinaya. They live lives of mendicancy, and go on a morning almsround (Pali: pindapata) every day. The local people give food for the monks to eat, though the monks are not permitted to positively ask for anything. The monks live in monasteries, and have an important function in traditional Asian society. Young boys can be ordained as samaneras. Both bhikkhus and samaneras eat only in the morning, and are not supposed to lead a luxurious life. Their rules forbid the use of money, although this rule is nowadays not kept by all monks. The monks are part of the Sangha, the third of the Triple Gem of Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha.

In Mahayana Buddhism, the term 'Sangha' is in principle restricted to those who have achieved certain levels of understanding. They are therefore called 'community of the excellent ones' (mchog kyi tshogs); however, these in turn need not be monks (i.e., hold such vows).

Several Mahayana orders accept female practitioners as monks, instead of using the normal title of "nun", and they are considered equal to male ascetics in all respects.

The Bhikkhus are only allowed 4 items: a razor, a needle, an alms bowl and a water strainer. In Vajrayana Buddhism, monkhood is part of the system of 'vows of individual liberation'; these vows are taken in order to develop one's own personal ethical discipline. The monks and nuns form the (ordinary) sangha. As for the Vajrayana vows of individual liberation, there are four steps: A lay person may take the 5 vows called 'approaching virtue' (in Tibetan 'genyen' <dge snyan>). The next step is to enter the monastic way of life (Tib. rabjung) which includes wearing monk's or nun's robes. After that, one can become a 'novice' (Pali samanera, Tib. getshül); the last and final step is to take all vows of the 'fully ordained monk' (gelong). This term 'gelong' (Tib. <dge long>, in the female form gelongma) is the translation of Skt. bikshu (for women bikshuni) which is the equivalent of the Pali term bhikkhuni; bhikkhu is the word used in Theravada Buddhism (Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand).

Chinese Buddhist monks have been traditionally and stereotypically linked with the practice of the Chinese martial arts or Kung fu, and monks are frequently important characters in martial arts films. This association is focused around the Shaolin Monastery. The Buddhist monk Bodhidharma, traditionally credited as the founder of Zen Buddhism in China, is also claimed to have introduced Kung fu to the country. This latter claim has however been a source of much controversy (see Bodhidharma, the martial arts, and the disputed India connection).

In Thailand, it is common for boys to spend some time living as a monk in a monastery. Most stay for only a few years and then leave, but a number continue on in the ascetic life for the rest of their lives.

Vaishnava monks

Similar in appearance to Buddhist monks, monks from the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), or Hare Krishnas as they are popularly known, are the best known Vaishnava monks outside India. They are a common sight in many places around the world. Their appearance—simple saffron dhoti, shaved head with sikha, Tulasi neckbeads and tilaka markings—and social customs (sadhana) date back many thousands of years to the Vedic era with its varnasrama society. This social scheme includes both monastic and lay stages meant for various persons in various stages of life as per their characteristics (guna) and work (karma).

ISKCON started as a predominantly monastic group but nowadays the majority of members live as lay persons. Many of them, however, spent some time as monks. New persons joining ISKCON as full-time members (living in its centers) first undergo a three-month Bhakta training, which includes learning the basics of brahmacari (monastic) life. After that they can decide if they prefer to continue as monks or as married Grihasthas.

Brahmacari older than fifty years can become sannyasi. Sannyasa, a life of full dedication to spiritual pursuits, is the highest stage of life in the varnasrama society. It is permanent and one cannot give it up. A Sannyasi is given the title Swami. Older grihastha with grown-up children are traditionally expected to accept vanaprastha (celibate retired) life.

The role of monastic orders in Indian and now also Western society has to some extent been adapted over the years in accordance with ever-changing social structures.

Madhvaacharya (Madhvacharya), the Dwaita philosopher, established ashta matha (Eight Monasteries). He appointed a monk (called swamiji or swamigalu in local parlance) for each matha or monastery who has the right to worship Lord Krishna by rotation. Each matha's swamiji gets a chance to worship after fourteen years. This ritual is called Paryaya.

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