Starting a New Monastic Order
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This book is for the average person interested in loving God and their neighbor. It is meant to be a guide on how to be "good". This is also a book for those interested in helping others be "good". The point of the book is to be a guide to renewing the monastic orders for today, for both the teachers and the taught. Both of which, in the understanding of this author, and hopefully those contributing to the development of this guide, are one and the same. Sometimes we teach, always we learn.
The guide will look at the spiritual disciples, rules of life, and the practice of the virtues at the very least. Since it is easiest for those without an identifiable faith in a higher being to engage in this discussion (and we do not wish to exclude anyone from trying to be "good") we will start there. Those who wish may continue on to discussions on the practice of those disciplines which are overtly "spiritual" in nature and how they might be incorporated into a rule of life.
Introduction[edit | edit source]
What is Monasticism?[edit | edit source]
When we think of Monasticism we think of monks and nuns. Strange people wearing strange clothes doing strange things. We think of them as wholly and completely "different" than us. And this is not without their intention. The funny clothing and practices are meant to "set them apart" from the local crowd in the town square. Otherwise, why would they dress and act in such a peculiar manner? Many (myself included), often dismiss monastics as cranks, wackos, or just plain old eccentrics. We know very little to nothing of their inner lives, nor their personal lives outside of passing them in the bakery or grocery. A very few of us might harbor a vague notion that these are 'holy' people dedicated to god in some profound manner in which we, as normal people, are not.
As you might have guessed, this is not a full, or accurate, picture of what it means to be a part of a monastic order. It is regrettable to me that we as human beings so often dismiss, or even mistrust, that which is different from us. With respect to the monastic orders, this is a double tragedy. Not only does our lack of familiarity with the substance of monasticism keep the average person from forming relationships with these extraordinary people, and thus immensely enriching our own lives. It also keeps us from coming into contact with the spiritual disciplines practiced by these 'peculiar' folk. This second tragedy is perhaps the greater. A fact that is confirmed by the very fact that monastics of all types might agree that the world might or might not be better off knowing them as individuals, but is surely impoverished by being unfamiliar with the practices to which they so humbly dedicate themselves. Fortunately, this is a reversible error.
So far, I have intimated that there indeed is something of great values swaddled up in the monastic orders. Cloaked as it were from the outside, this Pearl of Great Price is indeed difficult to see, much less observe in great detail. Seeing is difficult enough. Describing is even harder. Yet, that is my task, and I shall begin, as is easiest with most difficult topics, at the beginning.
How was it historically practiced?[edit | edit source]
It is often noted that Jesus was the first monastic, but this is simply too simplistic. What or who was Jesus's example? Perhaps the lilly or sparrow, perhaps John the Baptist or even more likely the old testament saints and prophets. But there is a sense that after the time of Jesus the practice of holy living began new...
Different Forms of Monasticism[edit | edit source]
There are many forms of 'monasticism' in many of the worlds largest and smallest religious belief systems. This fact helps us make the observation that "monasticism" is not an expression of spiritual practice owned by any one sect or order, rather, it is a human trait. To many, this is threatening and sounds like syncretism. I think this danger is more apparent than real. All forms of monasticism grow out of a deep love and respect for the tradition in which it is founded (even the reformist monastics). Corruptions or non-harmonic inclusions of foreign practices, beliefs or traits will surely be guarded against by those entrusted to "keep" their various traditions intact.
The point is that far from being a phenomenon owned (and hoarded) by any one order against the need of all. All can benefit by the practices of, in fact, any order (even if that is what NOT to practice). To make the point concrete. In some sense, it is appropriate to look at the practices of all monastics as a spiritual buffet from which we can pick and choose those practices that bring us the most spiritual sustenance. Yes, to be sure, there are dangers to this approach. Those will be addressed later. However, the point should not be missed. We can all benefit by incorporating the practices of the very devout into our very ordinary lives. It is OK to start with those practices that we most easily understand, can incorporate into our lives, and bring the most benefit to us spiritually.
The Early Practitioners[edit | edit source]
The Major Orders[edit | edit source]
The Franciscans[edit | edit source]
The Dominicans[edit | edit source]
The Capuchins[edit | edit source]
The Sisters of Mercy[edit | edit source]
The Benedictines[edit | edit source]
Is there anything "good" about it?[edit | edit source]
Why would the average person want to practice it?[edit | edit source]
The Virtues[edit | edit source]
Courage[edit | edit source]
What is courage? This is a tough question. This can be a surprise. We all know what courage is--right? People who do scary things, they are courageous. People who show no fear when everyone else around them is scared, they too are courageous. Yet, to be able to recognize a thing is not the same as to be able to describe it. This is the case with courage as we will soon see. This is the case with all virtues.
So, let us take to the task. Is courage simply a lack of fear? This is a good start, but let's examine it closer. Can we think of a time when someone who might lack fear might also be described as lacking courage? Sure, the image of a man, asleep in his bed on a rainy night, dead to the world and snoring away as a rushing torrent careens down through a swollen river channel, over its banks, and straight towards his house and his certain death. This man is likely to be completely unaware of his impending doom, and also completely at peace though facing certain death. Yet, we are not likely to describe him as courageous.
So, a lack of fear is not to be equated with being courageous. Courage apart from merely being the absence of something else, such as fear, must also affirmatively BE something. In a way, describing any virtues is like describing the wind. It is easier to see what the wind does than to describe the thing itself. So with the virtues.
Nonetheless, that is our task. So, if we can say that courage IS NOT the lack of fear, or some other quality, what can we say that it IS? Let's again look at our previous example. Can we imagine a circumstance under which we might describe the man in his bed as courageous? Would we describe the man in his bed as courageous if he were awake in his bed? Perhaps, it seems, given our last example, that consciousness is at least one necessary condition for courage. Sleeping men do not fear. Unless, of course, they are having a nightmare, but this is a different topic.
Wisdom[edit | edit source]
Persistence[edit | edit source]
Temperance[edit | edit source]
"Refrain from alcohol.
Most western people struggle to mentally accept temperance as a valid observance toward God realization. Yet among sincere monastic orders around the world, temperance is a key pillar in their purifications toward God-Clarity. Alcohol as wonderful as it may be for the layman, is a dangerous detour for a practicing monastic. Alcohol mires a monastics inner clarity, inducing drowsiness, lethargy, addiction, comfort, lowering inhibitions, arousing sexuality, over mentation, letting down his guard and succumbing to frivolous temptations that he would be strong enough to overcome in a sober state. Alcohol is the great mind destabilizer, that for a monastic slows his progress toward full God realization.
The most ardent monastics put a high value on constant temperance (soberness) in their God-quest. The first year is usually the hardest for monastics who were once lay persons using alcohol.
If one looks at the major vows and precepts from the major religions in the world, temperance is woven into Daoism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam but is treated in a more liberal manner by modern Christianity and Judaism. Considering the root of the five precepts originated in the Far East (Indo-China) thousands of years ago, as men migrated from the Middle East to Europe, the vow of temperance seems to have fallen away perhaps due to extreme winters where a form of alcohol would have been used for winter survival.
In a more general sense sincere monastics take sobriety (temperance) very seriously and make a commitment to uphold the vow to refrain from intoxication. In the West temperance is more of an idea than an actual practise. Western monastic orders may drink alcohol, even produce alcohol as part of their monasteries income stream.
For the sincere aspirant seeking God-realisation rather than a position of power in his belief, the aspirant will quickly realize the clarity that comes from remaining in temperance."
The Spiritual Disciplines[edit | edit source]
Prayer[edit | edit source]
There are many concepts of prayer, and ways to go about them. In the original hebrew, prayer means to be "self-introspective" or "self-judgemental". In context, it means to actively contemplate a topic, theme, or object or that brings closer to union with the Father.
this goes for Vedic and other Indian spiritual systems as well, in their devotion to silent meditation, or chanting mantra.
to the sincere student: reading deeply all spiritual scripture, from all great religions worthy of the name, one will discern in all of them, some form of active rest. this is no coincidence. how can one look within (keystone of religious thought) if one is perpetually engaged with the outer flesh?
look for yourself. read scripture, not books about religion. then take up a prayerful practice, some meditative path, and see if what they say is true. who else but you will know?
Charity[edit | edit source]
Solitude[edit | edit source]
"Solitude for the spiritual aspirant is one of the most vital ingredients for deep inner God Realization. Solitude is a long term catalyst to unclutter the mind, creating a conducive yet challenging environment for the aspirant to face their inner reality whether that inner world be in chaos or in harmony. In the worlds history of ascetics and renunciates from the land of China, India, Middle East, and the Western World, solitude has been used to enter deeply into a god awareness by the aspirant choosing to abstain from excessive company and its tempting distractions that trigger the "ever-thinking" mind back into its old chaotic, habitual and addictive ways.
In our modern world of excessive-extroversion, solitude is sorely misunderstood, feared and loathed. For many householders, the thought of being in solitude is incomprehensible as we are driven to adapt to modern technology and its norms that dictate constant talking, constant activity, constant consumption, constant desiring, constant fearing, constant obsession and constant mentation. These very things become biases and obstacles that an aspirant must face and overcome, to be free from the co-dependency of attachment to impermanent things.
Solitude takes a lot of courage. The feelings of aloneness, inadequacy, rejection, the re-emergence of old unresolved wounds, lack of closure and old traumas all resurface during solitude. The aspirant accepts this as a vital stage to work through as part of the overall process of purification. Facing your own solitude there is a time for all the "guff" to come out. but with a commitment to the practise, the calm after the storm does come in its opportune time as the aspirant passes the stage of facing their own chaotic inner world.
This timeline for the most ardent monastics may only start showing results around ten years of practise. But as any practising aspirant who has been committed to solitude will confess, it most definitely gets better with time, but the results are not of the "fast food" variety. There is no quick fix, progress is slow, patience is vital, non-self-competitiveness essential. Sincere aspirants may choose to use solitude to heal deeply rooted trauma as part of their slow journey, choosing to reconnect with nature in a lonely place to face their own flaws, accept them, and then begin the work to overcome them.
In my experience I have found solitude comes in waves or seasons. It is hard to live in solitude indefinitely. Most aspirants come from a mindset that constant talking and activity are fulfilling. In time they will all come to disagree with that statement as they find a way to bring solitude with them no matter if they live in a forest or a city. The beauty of solitude is that with patience, those precious God moments do come, where no words are needed, no activity can satisfy, no thought can mire, the stillness and silence is full, the heart and mind receptive, desires calmed for a while, the universe speaks without words. See - Purification.
Contemplation[edit | edit source]
Service[edit | edit source]
Advocacy[edit | edit source]
Sacrifice[edit | edit source]
Celibacy[edit | edit source]
a mark of devotion to God. One has alchemically sacrificed sexual desire in order to transmute it back into its original essence, the purity of childhood. in doing so, an adult monastic seeks to marry the human and the divine in one body - the knowledge and experience of the world (flesh) and the Presence of Awareness, or baby mind/buddha mind (Spirit)
"Celibacy is hard for the householder/merchant to understand. The reason is that the householder has a wife or husband to please. There is a job to do or a business to run, there is a demanding social life, perhaps kids to raise." By one act of marriage, a man or woman has to split their attention on many worldly things, which dilutes the time they are able to spend in their quest for God-Realization. The stress of money, career, family, reputation all erode the householders ability to remain solely dedicated to any spiritual quest he or she might have.
A monastic takes this vow so as to avoid the many distractions that come with a householder life. Where a householder has to compromise and juggle all his or her worldly affairs, the monastic is able to give his sole dedication to his/her spiritual quest." atmasol.
Fasting[edit | edit source]
In some religions, people speak of the fasting of the body, abstaining from food and water for a certain period of time, usually between sunrise and sunset.
However, one should also consider the fasting of the mind and soul, being mindful of one's thoughts and actions throughout the day as well.
"There is a paraphrased saying, "The soul sleeps while the body is in opulence". Fasting as a counter to this phenomena of opulence does something inside the body and mind that modern science is only now beginning to acknowledge. Fasting in its broader context has a wide range of benefits for practitioners, whether monastic or lay person. People from all walks of life attest to the benefits of fasting in all its forms. Not all fasting means "no-food". Some people can handle a fruit juice fast, others a water fast, other can only cut out meat as their bodies are ill adapted to the chemical changes that occur due to fasting and its powerful detoxification processes.
If we marry ancient mysticism with modern science we come to see that according to modern science, the human cell has two operating modes. The one mode is to divide, multiply and grow, the other mode is self-repair. The former occurs when we eat all the time, the latter only happens when we fast.
Fasting as practice can be very difficult in the early days. The best advice is to tailor the fast to the aspirant. For example, prescribing a fast of a fixed duration is not always the best way to begin it. Why? The mind is self competitive, and begins to strive toward the goal of x days fasting. The problem with this strategy is that it may harm the aspirants body if they push too far. A better guide is to "refrain from measuring" your progress. Every day is day 1, when your body feels it needs to tap out, listen to that and tap out gently.
In time just as a marathon runner starts training just a few kilometers a day to eventually a full marathon many years later, fasting done well adopts this same modus operandi. Go slow.
Issues with fasting include not being aware of acidosis in the first three days when most people tap out. When ending a fast, not doing a soft tap out with fruit, juice and nuts for three days. Coming off a fast straight into a feeding frenzy or binge which brings on heart burn and excessive stomach acid, too sudden stress from high volumes of food that a dormant digestive system has to suddenly attempt to process and the difficulty the digestive system has in eliminating stools.
Do your research, find small shorts fasts to build your endurance, don't expect big results, be aware that fasting when used inappropriately can harm your body. When done correctly, many beneficial results may come from chemical and blood re-balancing, mood calming, mental clarity, soothing from mental illnesses such as ptsd and trauma.
Self-Denial[edit | edit source]
"Why give up the things you love to see, hear, feel, drink, eat and possess? Its a harsh reality to the lay person who cannot grasp why a person would deprive themselves of worldly gratifications. For a sincere monastic, he seeks to refine his senses to perceive the subtle world, and he knows very well how the gross distractions of material existence mire his primal vision to perceive that which is subtle, wondrous, eternal.
There is no modern understanding of self-denial. Our modern age is one where the general populace is branded not as citizens but as consumers. Those who simply eat, drink, accumulate wealth and make merry. Self-denial is seen as a crazy idea in a world of sweet meats and dainty treats, where unrestrained gratification leads to morbid obesity, mental health issues, physical illness and disease and premature aging as some examples.
So why do monastics practice self-denial? One could argue that if a drinker can't put down his liquor, he is addicted to it, a slave to it. In monastic practice everything is seen as a potential intoxicant, an addiction if uncontrolled, but the practice is not always to stop what you love eating, drinking and pursuing, but rather to moderate, to reduce, to find a balance of the things we love. We know well enough from modern dietary and nutrition science that excesses of the food and drink we love so much, do indeed slowly kill us. All our illness and disease comes from the excesses of the foods we eat, but sadly it is an inconvenient truth for most lay people who cannot understand why one would want to reduce or moderate their eating and drinking habits, let alone deny themselves the pleasures of sex, wealth, fame and power.
From experience I have found I still eat and drink what I enjoy, but I do not need it everyday, my portions are smaller, I enjoy the food more than I did when my stomach was always full. The results in my physiology speak for themselves. I used to gain weight very fast. Now I have no issue keeping the flab off, I do not even need regular exercise. I can live on one meal a day most days, with an occasional weekend feast on Friday and Saturday. If I take modern science again as a sounding board, we already know the powerful effects of limiting what we consume (intermittent fasting) and how it reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer and mental illness later in life.
Self-denial is broader than this for monastics. Some examples from (for example) Theravadin Buddhism, include taking vows to refrain from entertainments like music, dancing, movies, fictional books, etc. Refraining from living in luxury and opulence that keeps the soul within asleep. Refraining from socializing with the opposite sex.
How does it aid the monastic? It has a direct impact on the overall process of internal purification. There is no way to convince a lay person. Either they get it or they don't. As for the sincere monastics around the world, they draw on a long legacy of spiritual practice dating back thousands of years. Eventually every sincere monastic will learn Self-denial that eventually contributes to moderating the ego, clearing out the mental distortions that plague the human mind, removing the source of addictions to food, drink and substance that among monastics is proven to distort the seekers reality" atmasol
Purification[edit | edit source]
"In God awakening everything we do is purification. Can a man see the bottom of a sandy-clouded river mired by debris, grit and dust, and can he still describe what he sees clearly?
Purification is akin to the man taking the time to clean the river of its cloudiness, so that he may see clearly with untainted eyes the nature and source of that river within him. In monastic societies from the West to the East, one of the first steps toward purification is temperance (the avoidance of alcohol) including other abstinences. As many sincere monastics who are devoted to their vows can share, alcohol has a subtle clouding effect on the human mind which soils the purification process. This is one example of some of the material things we so love that hinder our progress to purification.
The heart and core of Spiritual Disciplines falls under this overarching theme of purification (or in other words clarity), to see clearly, to perceive the insoluble, the undifferentiated, that what the monastics of the world call "The Real", what westerners call "God".
Purification practices are one of the most vital signs that a monastery has a true spiritual leader.
As a question, would you trust a guru who drank alcohol in his own temple? But his followers were not allowed to do so?
Self Mastery - aka Know Thyself[edit | edit source]
"This is a double edged sword. At the beginning of a monastics journey, when they hear this dictum, they may think of the self as something resembling their personality or higher self. The mind is filled with theories, ideas and speculations about what the inner self truly is, but as time progresses, this changes in two ways. First the old self surfaces its head, and as the monastic begins his daily practice, the current of the river within him refuses to budge, and so all the mind-stuff he has been suppressing rears it ugly head to confront the practitioner. In the years that follow, he will grow in two ways. The first is in seeing his own defilement, addiction and error, the people he has hurt, how he was hurt, his erroneous ideas he may not yet recognize. The edge of that sword is the gradual confrontation, acceptance and surrendering to the reality of what his egoic personality has become and how disturbing it is in its lack of true peace. The second is that while this develops, there is a slow but gradual reattuning of the being, as he catches glimpses of his true self that exists beyond his mental framework.
Try as he might to grasp with mind what is not mind, he sabotages himself, over-concluding, relying on words, ideas and thoughts to describe what is beyond thought, beyond the apparent reality he sees around him. Even this journey can be mired when an aspirant clutches to his ideas and cannot let go of his pre-conceived ideas. He tries to approach God realization with mind, until one day he must confront his inner reality that whatever he creates in his mind, is not the reality he seeks. His mind, like a restless painter, craving to decorate his inner world with his strokes, but as long as mind interferes, God realization is far away.
The saying "The further you go, the less you know" applies here. If you can think it, well, that's not it.
Self mastery makes use of a lot of techniques to make the mind pliable, receptive, open. There is not one sole technique. Even conclusions are ripped up and discarded and the monastic is able to admit when an erroneous conclusion has been made, being able to self-correct to avoid wasted time and energy on his journey to Ultimate Reality within.
In buddhism, the adage, "If you meet the buddha along the road, kill him" simply means that if you "think" you got, you are furthest away from it. Why? Because you're using your mind to try experience the absolute. Absolute reality and mind are in a soft sense incompatible with one another. Get this wrong, the door to revelation, enlightenment, rhema shuts as the aspirant is bound by his mental-conclusions, slowing down the arduous progress of purification.
No-one said monasticism was easy, it takes courage to face you own guff for ten or twenty years. In true monastic spirit, self mastery means that a monastic never tries to rule others, he strives for one sole outcome, to rule himself.
That stubborn river within him that refused to flow in the direction he wanted when he started his practice, now ten or twenty years later he sees that his internal river has indeed been redirected. This is when true hope awakens within, for his persistence has been rewarded with behavioral reformation. He is beginning to heal." atmasol
Vows (Precepts/Commandments)[edit | edit source]
"This is a deal breaker. No vows, no rudder.
We live in a very shifty world of ever changing fads and trends, and the merchant mind is constantly trying to find the best position in that ever shifting world to make a profit. The problem with this is that those fads and trends pull the populace one way, then the next. For example, one day eggs are bad, then they're good then they're bad again. Merchants train themselves to adapt to the market to promote their wares, yet the resistance of rival merchants may use their wealth to soil the reputation of a competitor while trying to predict what the fickle consumer wants from day to day. Day in day out, this jostling merchant mind drifts and shifts from one idea to the next, trying to predict where the best profits are.
The monastic without vows is rudderless. With vows she/he has a reference point that he can use to reform her/his behaviour.
In the earliest monastic traditions from Indo-China, monastics would take on five precepts or vows to bring direction to their life, instead of being pulled by the ever shifting minds of the mercantile world.
A common thread exists in the major religions of the world where an aspirants vows are a reflection of her/his commitment to the path of God realisation. Below is listed a simplified list of well known vows that a monastic may follow.
1) I shall refrain from killing - in other words - I shall preserve all life.
2) I shall refrain from lying - to others and to myself
3) I shall refrain from stealing - I shall be content with what I have
4) I shall refrain from intoxication - I commit to soberness and temperance
5) I shall refrain from fornication and sexual indulgences - I choose to exercise sexual moderation and purity
When one looks at the major religions from Daoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, one observes a curious pattern emerge among these vows. They are all very similar in theme, except for vow 4 and 5 in Christianity and Judaism that tolerates alcohol. As an ascetic, my vows have only strengthened in the last 12 years, but I admit this. It is not about the vows, it is about the state of man before we fell, when we didn't need to know what vows were, our purity was natural to us. As we fell into delusion, we forgot the way back to absolute. What I am saying is this. When your vows become second nature, you won't need to obsess over them any more. When your vows are integrated in your life, you won't need to recite them every day. As an example I sometimes forget my vows, because 12 years on, some of those old habits I no longer do." atmasol
Rules of Life[edit | edit source]
A Rule of Life is an interesting concept. It is not a mission statement. And, despite the word "Rule" in its name, it is not a legalistic or pharisaical document. It is more like a written version of wedding vows than these other concepts. Yet, there is an element of a mission statement or a legal code bound inside the idea of the Rule of Life that various monastic communities have adopted.
Components[edit | edit source]
Principles Commitments Consequence Reward
Making Your Own[edit | edit source]
What is important to consider? How much money it is to start and if you are allowed. I am assuming for a Buddhist monastery, perhaps you could get funding through other monasteries that have already been established. As for a Catholic or Orthodox monastery. Anyone, religious or lay, can start a religious community, but for it to be recognized canonically by the Catholic church and to be able to call themselves a Catholic organization they need to go through their local bishop and a set of parameters.
One need not be a priest. For example, St. Francis of Assissi was a layperson when he began and was never ordained a priest.
Keeping Your Own[edit | edit source]
How is it done?
Putting It All Together[edit | edit source]
Trying to be "Good" alone[edit | edit source]
Trying to be "Good" in community[edit | edit source]
The Role of the Teacher[edit | edit source]
The Role of the Student[edit | edit source]
===Spiritual Friendship=== In the older monastic traditions as described in the Rules of St. Benedict and St. Basil, the anthology of Patristic writings known as the Philokalia and the Capitularia or ‘Chapters’ of the pre-Reformation orders, close friendships were normally discouraged on the grounds that such friendships may a) lead to unchastity or b) become a ‘germ’ for the formation of cliques or ‘in-groups’ which in time may become causes for scandal and seriously jeopardise the life and peace of the monastery (or convent). In order to clarify and defend the nature of true friendship, St. Aelred of Rievaulx (c. 1110 - 1167), Abbot of Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire, wrote two treatises concerning brotherly friendship: 1) ‘De Sprituali Amicitia’ (‘On Siritual Friendship’, 1167) and as a general foundation, ‘Speculum Caritatis, (‘The Mirror of Charity’, 1147). The treatise on spiritual friendship stresses that the primary feature of any bilateral friendship between two individuals should not be physical attraction, but rather a mutual love of and devotion to, God.