Known to most of the world's major religions, the idea of monasticism is characterised by a renunciation of worldly endeavours and a complete devotion to spirituality and prayer. Derived from the Greek word monos (alone), monasticism originally appeared in Bhuddism in the 6th century BCE. Today, it survives in monasteries and retreats all over the world - from the Himalayas to the far northern reaches of Europe, from the Egyptian desert to Australia.
Different monastic creeds involve different forms of asceticism. Some Christian communities stress the need for solitude with some groups taking vows of silence. Others believe in a community of monks living and working together, often engaging in agriculture and crafts as a form of devotion. Monks and nuns in all the major religions are required to be celibate. Buddhist monasticism, particularly strong in Southeast Asia, Tibet, Japan, Korea and Mongolia is less focused on extreme asceticism. Instead, monks are encouraged to be living examples to others through their virtuous lives and enable lay followers to gain merit through gifts of food and offerings of shelter. Novices, or samanera, can join monasteries from an early age, sometimes as young as 8, but are not ordained as bhikkus (monks) and bhikkunis (nuns) until they are older.
In Christianity, monasticism dates back to the early centuries of the religion's spread across the Middle East and further afield. St Anthony the Great (ca 251 - 356 CE) is often cited as one of the first Christian saints to live an eremitic, or secluded, life when he ventured out into the Nitrian Desert in northern Egypt, soon drawing hundreds of men and women after him.
From the mid 4th century CE onwards, communities of monks and nuns began to appear, living and worshipping together, most famously the early followers of St Pakhom (292 - 348 CE) who is credited with being the founder of cenobic monasticism which stresses the importance of community life.
With St Benedict of Nursia (480 - 547 CE) came the most broadly followed monastic rule which remained in use throughout the Middle Ages and is still found today.
The mendicant orders - including the Augustinians, Franciscans and Dominicans - which appeared at the beginning of the 13th century, abjured all property and relied on charity for all worldly needs. In the Eastern, Orthodox church, monasticism has remained a single creed which is marked by four distinct stages that a person is expected to go through before reaching the level of Great Schema.
For Hindu monks, more commonly known as sanyasi, sadhus or swamis, monastic living entails a life of simplicity, celibacy, turning away from worldly pursuits and the contemplation of God. Similar to the Buddhist model, sadhus and sadhavis (nuns) received gifts of food and basic needs from lay believers for whom the act of giving is an act of devotion. Sadhus and sadhavis are meant to be indifferent to praise, blame, pleasure and pain and are expected to own nothing aside from a bowl, a cup, two sets of clothing and basic accessories like spectacles. They're also forbidden to touch money or other valuables and are not meant to maintain any personal relationships.
Fernando Moleres travelled to a range of countries including Russia, Greece, China, Syria, Spain, Italy and India to document the quiet, contemplative life of those who have devoted their lives to God.
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