List of Monastic Communities and their Lifestyle

There is a very long list of monastic communities and their lifestyle existing presently in the world today. This had started ever since the advent of religions such as Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Daoism, etc. and it has continued and expanded into various forms and communities.

Monasticism is known to be an institutionalized religious practice or movement whose members attempt to live by a rule that requires works that go beyond those of either the laity or the ordinary spiritual leaders of their religions. Monasticism is derived from the Greek monachos meaning living alone, but this etymology highlights only one of the elements of monasticism and is somewhat misleading because a large proportion of the world’s monastics live in cenobitic (common life) communities.

It also implies celibacy, or living alone in the sense of lacking a spouse, which became a socially and historically crucial feature of the monastic life. Many see it as a religious way of life in which one renounces worldly pursuits to devote oneself fully to spiritual work. Meanwhile, monastic life plays an important role in the society and in the many religions of the world.

In other religions monasticism is criticized and not practiced, as in Islam and Zoroastrianism, or plays a marginal role, as in modern Judaism. Many monastics live in abbeys, convents, monasteries or priories to separate themselves from the secular world, unless they are in mendicant or missionary orders.

Reasons for Monastic Life

  • Self- Discovery
  • Victory Over Imperfections
  • Self-Freedom
  • Spiritual Delimitations and Perfections
  • Redemption from Dark Possessions
  • Consciousness Renewed
  • Moralization of the Society

List of Monastic Communities and their Lifestyle

1. Eremitic

There have been a variety of types of monastic institutions. Arising first was the eremitic type, including the early Christian hermits or anchorites; the actual or legendary rishis (“seers”) of Vedic India (pre-800 BCE); some of the earliest Jain shramanas (“ascetics”), particularly Mahavira and Parshvanatha, the semi-historical founders of Jainism; the Daoist recluses of early southwestern China; and sporadic hermits in the various areas of the modern world—such as Gauribala in Sri Lanka, the Mother in Puducherry, India, and Western converts to Asian belief systems without organized monastic trappings. Some European and American neo-mystics also should be included in this class.

Common to all true hermits and eremitical institutions is an emphasis on living alone, on pursuing a highly regularized contemplative life (with individually generated, often experimental spiritual disciplines), and on frequently idiosyncratic and sometimes heretical interpretations of scriptural or disciplinary codes. Self-mortification and individual austerities can be detected, but these are incidental to the eremitical style.

List of Monastic Communities and their Lifestyle

2. Quasi-eremitic: Lauras

The Lauras (communities of anchorites) of early Christianity in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Greece, and Cyrenaica—perpetuated today in the Mount Athos (a monastic complex founded in Greece in the 10th century) tradition—as well as the small-scale ashrams (religious retreats) of monastic Hinduism since at least 300 BCE are best called quasi-eremitic. Similar in function were the semiformal congregations of the early Buddhist monks and nuns, which preceded the establishment of the sangha (monastic order or community). Common elements of quasi-eremitic monasticism include a loose organizational structure with no administrative links to mother institutions and no external hierarchies. This type of monasticism marks a transition between the eremitic and the cenobitic; in many cases, certain groups displayed eremitic and cenobitic features alternately, either during different annual seasons or on the occasion of special gatherings. For example, in early 4th-century Egypt and Syria, hermits attached to the Christian Lauras lived alone during the week but gathered on Sunday (sometimes also on Saturday) for worship and fellowship. In the 20th century some Nepalese followers of Gorakhnath (8th century CE) lived as recluses most of the time but formed a quasi-military association on certain occasions—such as the Kumbh Mela, or all-Indian monastic assemblies, held every sixth year at certain pilgrimage centres. During these periods they were organizationally indistinguishable from the most highly structured cenobitic units at the conventions.

3. Cenobitic

It is probably not wrong to equate proper “monasticism” with cenobitism. There seems to be a correlation between a formulated rule, or set of rules (known as regula in the Christian orders and as vinaya and shila in the Buddhist canon), and cenobitic institutions; eremitic and quasi-eremitic settings lack or diverge from formulated rules and give more scope to the individual’s self-imposed disciplines. In fact, the first Christian cenobitical communities were based on a rule prepared by Pachomius (c. 290–346) of the Thebaid, the traditional founder of organized cenobitism in the Western world, who is said to have built nine monasteries for men and two for women that were said to have had more than 7,000 residents. Smaller monasteries for men and women emerged in Cappadocia under the influence of the Greek theologian St. Basil the Great (c. 330–379), who composed the first widely authoritative monastic rule in Eastern Orthodox Christianity. The basis for all subsequent Eastern Christian (Greek) monastic institutions, it was simpler than some of the regulae of the orders founded in later centuries in western Europe. Avoiding the extreme austerities of the Desert Fathers, St. Basil’s rule was strict but not severe. Its asceticism was dedicated to the service of God, which was to be pursued through community life and obedience. Liturgical prayer and manual and mental work were obligatory. The Rule of St. Basil also enjoined or implied chastity and poverty, though these were far less explicitly stated than in the later regulae. Basil’s sister St. Macrina (c. 327–380) initiated monastic communities for women and “double houses” for both women and men.

List of Monastic Communities and their Lifestyle

What Basil’s rule was for Eastern monachism, St. Benedict’s was for early Western monasticism. Benedict of Nursia (c. 480–547) was a practical Roman whose rule, which was based on an earlier monastic rule known as the Rule of the Master, is often recognized for its humanity and moderation. His regula, which enjoined poverty, chastity, obedience, and stability, was followed until the 13th century by diverse orders, including the Knights Templars and most other paramilitary aristocratic orders, and it remains the rule of the Benedictine order today. It is notable for providing an effective model of monastic government and for its requirement, adopted by all subsequent Roman Catholic monastic orders, that the individual monk not own property.

The core of canonical literature in the southern Buddhist Theravada (Pali: “Way of the Elders”) tradition is vinaya (regulations concerning comportment), which is said to be the Buddha’s own formulation of more than 200 rules for his monks. These regulations constitute the distinguishing feature of Buddhist (particularly Theravada) monasticism; strictly speaking, there is no Buddhist monasticism apart from the life lived according to the vinaya. The vinaya has always exacted more intense asceticism from women than from men because, according to tradition, the historical Buddha did not at first desire women monastics and laid extra obligations on them when he conceded their existence.

4. Knights Templars

The Templars were inspired by the Knights Hospitallers (or Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem), founded at the end of the 11th century. The classic nursing order, the Hospitallers were probably the first to provide genuine medical and hospital services, initially for pilgrims to Jerusalem. Their first foundation was the Hospital Saint-Antoine-de-Viennois (c. 1100), which was followed by foundations in southern France, Germany, and Italy. Their chief officers were ordained priests, but the majority of members were nonsacerdotal “hospitallers,” or lay brothers and sisters. They followed the Benedictine rule until 1231, meeting under an elected master and at an annually rotating chapter-general of “commanders”; the order switched to the “modern” rule of St. Augustine in 1247. Changing conditions in the eastern Mediterranean forced the Hospitallers to move their headquarters from Jerusalem to Acre and then to Cyprus and Rhodes. After moving to Malta in 1530, they became known as the Knights of Malta.

List of Monastic Communities and their Lifestyle

Paramilitary, or quasi-monastic, associations are another type of monastic group. Whereas most Christian orders of this sort also fulfilled medical or healing commitments, non-Christian monastic orders of this type did not cater to the sick. The Knights Templars, a Crusading order founded in the Holy Land in the early 12th century, became the most prestigious and later the most defamed aristocratic organization in medieval Europe. Identifying themselves as “poor knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon,” the Templars took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience; the foundational commitment was the protection and the guidance of pilgrims en route to and in the Holy Land. The military model was evident in their hierarchical structure—there were chaplains, knights, and sergeants under a grand master—and their numbers grew rapidly, in part because of the support of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who wrote their rule. The fall of the last Crusader stronghold, Acre, in 1291 and highly sensationalized rumours that the knights denied Jesus Christ, spat on the cross, and were kissed on the mouth, the navel, and the base of the spine at their initiation into the order enabled the French king Philip IV the Fair, who coveted the Templars’ immense wealth, to bring about their destruction in the early 14th century.

5. The Teutonic Order

This was founded in Jerusalem in 1189/90, enjoyed an independent relationship with Rome and with the papal administrative bureaucracy, the Curia. This arrangement was specially defined by more than 100 papal bulls. The grand master, who enjoyed the same rights as a prince of the Holy Roman Empire, was assisted by five “grand commanders.” The organization was composed of knights (usually noblemen), priests, and serving brothers and was established to do hospital service, later focusing more on military service. After the fall of Acre, the order moved its headquarters to various places in Europe. But the order revived its military function starting in the early 13th century, when European rulers, including the Holy Roman emperor Frederick II, authorized it to do battle against the Altaic and the Prussian pagan peoples. The order went into decline during the Reformation and was completely dissolved by Napoleon in the early 19th century, though it was revived by the Austrian emperor in 1834. It survives today in Germany and Austria as a service organization.

List of Monastic Communities and their Lifestyle

Other Monastic Communities can be found in Jainism, Sikhism, Judaism, Daoism, Hinduism, etc.

Leave a Reply