Is Monasticism selfish?

iBrian

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Something that I see as common to both Christianity and Buddhism is the need to help others through compassionate action.

This is why it puzzles me that both have traditions of monastic orders, where the self may retire from the world and seek self-improvement...

...yet doesn't that come at the cost of helping others?

Perhaps I've misconstrued the situation entirely, but if the presumption in the first sentence is valid, then would that not mean that monasticism itself is an act of selfishness?

Or is giving yourself fully to a cause, without actually helping people directly, actually selfless?
 
I said:
Something that I see as common to both Christianity and Buddhism is the need to help others through compassionate action.

This is why it puzzles me that both have traditions of monastic orders, where the self may retire from the world and seek self-improvement...

...yet doesn't that come at the cost of helping others?

Perhaps I've misconstrued the situation entirely, but if the presumption in the first sentence is valid, then would that not mean that monasticism itself is an act of selfishness?

Or is giving yourself fully to a cause, without actually helping people directly, actually selfless?

Hi Brian,

One understanding of it is that those in monastic orders are not doing nothing to help others, but helping others in a different way. The belief is that the prayers and contemplations of the monks and nuns actually have a real impact on the world, effecting the reconciliation of the world. Much the same as Mass, or traditional catholic worship, is viewed. The worship done in church with the liturgy, prayers of the people and the Eucharist is ultimately the work of Christ directed into physically taken out into the world. 'course, one must accept a certain worldview to see it this way.

2 c,
lunamoth
 
To add my 2p (sorry Lunamoth, not sure of the exchange rate), there is the argument that some who voice a similar sentiment as a criticism of monasticism (which you do not, Brian) are looking for a material value, if not a benefit - where the is none sought, and none offered.

Bishop Kallistos told a story of an Orthodox saint of antiquity who wrote that the prayers of three men was all that kept the world from dissolution - he (the saint) named one, and another was assuredly himself, but the third was unamed and will forever remain anonymous. One could argue that this was something of an exageration, but the point he (Kallistos) was making is that it is not possible to quantify the effect of prayer, but that does not mean that prayer is ineffective.

My aunt, who is a nun, has retired now - she was in an active convent - and spends her time praying the rosary "for those who haven't the time".

Thomas
 
I would also add that many monasteries do charitable works in the community and are not completely isolated.

I personally believe that the prayer, meditation, and study of people in monastic orders is valuable and makes a difference in the world. But that requires a worldview that perceives thought as related to action, and thus sees prayer and meditation as action, as having positive results manifested from the spiritual to the physical realm.
 
Well, monastic orders have made a few notable contributions to wine making, beer brewing , baking, beekeeping...among other things. If there was a monastic order for golf I'd be real tempted.

Chris
 
China Cat Sunflower said:
Well, monastic orders have made a few notable contributions to wine making, beer brewing , baking, beekeeping...among other things. If there was a monastic order for golf I'd be real tempted.

Chris

:lol:

Chris, you're a gem!

And speaking of monastic orders and their contributions - GREAT jams and jellies, too!
 
LOL, Chris-

There was a great bread baking show on PBS for a while every morning in which a Catholic monk gave out a bread recipe. The monastery ground their own flour too. Their breads were delicious and the show was delightful. :)
 
path_of_one said:
LOL, Chris-

There was a great bread baking show on PBS for a while every morning in which a Catholic monk gave out a bread recipe. The monastery ground their own flour too. Their breads were delicious and the show was delightful. :)

I liked that show a lot as well.

I don't see "selfishness" as a particularly bad thing. By that I mean that you've got to take care of yourself first or you have nothing to offer. I've known a number of people who, on the surface at least, seemed very selfless, but underneath were a sucking black hole of need. Their selflessness was just a technique for draining the energy out of people. There's nothing wrong with retiring to a life of contemplation and seclusion. Those who find in that life something worth sharing usually come back down the mountain at some point.

Chris
 
Care to see spiritual materialism at its finest? Just visit http://www.monasteryicons.com/ :p Actually, their incense is wonderful, and I have burned it for years - sometimes creating an apt. so think with smoke that I could barely see. :p Their icons, though obviously lacking a "personal touch," are still very beautiful, and I have bought several, for friends.

Another great example of Monastic contribution: http://www.auromere.com/

andrew ... the "fish guy"
 
I said:
Something that I see as common to both Christianity and Buddhism is the need to help others through compassionate action.

This is why it puzzles me that both have traditions of monastic orders, where the self may retire from the world and seek self-improvement...

...yet doesn't that come at the cost of helping others?

Perhaps I've misconstrued the situation entirely, but if the presumption in the first sentence is valid, then would that not mean that monasticism itself is an act of selfishness?

Or is giving yourself fully to a cause, without actually helping people directly, actually selfless?
Brian, your question resonates with some of mine, but I think I want to recast it. Many people of many different faiths have proposed that the principal purpose of this life is to prepare for the next, or alternatively that this life of flesh is essentially sinful, and the best we can do is to reject it and prove ourselves ready for the next. Monasticism is only one of many tactics to implement this belief.

So I would recast the question as follows: Are those who focus primarily on their own personal salvation rather than the salvation of all being selfish?

The reason I put it this way is from the perspective of modern systems theory. As much as our individual existential perspectives might tell us otherwise, we are not monads on a singular path to God, but co-creators of a common future. Successful co-creation requires cooperation, and those that opt out of process of negotiating win-win solutions tend to make success more difficult for everyone.

I don't know what lies after death, if anything, but I do believe that what we do here counts. Love, as manifested in cooperation, is essential to avoiding hell on earth. To the extent that monasticism, or any other form of self-salvation, interferes with that cooperation, it conflicts with the principle of love.

May the universe cooperate with you and yours,
Jim
 
As others have pointed out here in different ways, I believe it depends upon what the individual's path is. What is the goal? But more importantly, if monasticism is selfish, is the act of being selfish always or ever a "bad" thing? While not a student or follower, I'm reminded of Ayn Rand and Objectivism.
 
Namaste all,

within the context of Buddha Dharma, there are two main areas of focus: compassion and wisdom.

for most beings, compassion is a much easier quality to understand and to operate with, whereas wisdom is much more elusive.

as such, with the monastic structure of Buddhism, the general idea is that a being starts with the Paramitas, the "perfections of character" which allow one to develop a truely open and unattached sort of compassion for the suffering of other beings. as they progress through their path, they move from the external to the internal, borrowing the artificial to cultivate the real.

how to help said beings relieve their suffering is the function of wisdom and, as such, requires a certain level of dedicated practice and study.

of course, one cannot overlook the cultural aspect of the monastic system, especially in S.E. Asia, where, for many beings, it was either joining a monestary or joining the military.

all in all, i think that the entire system of monasticism is one of varied nuance from beings like Thomas Merton to the Dalai Lama and everyone inbetween. as such, if one has a strong feeling about the correctness of monastic life, they would be well served to investigate this for themselves, in my view.

metta,

~v
 
Thomas said:
To add my 2p (sorry Lunamoth, not sure of the exchange rate), there is the argument that some who voice a similar sentiment as a criticism of monasticism (which you do not, Brian) are looking for a material value, if not a benefit - where the is none sought, and none offered.

Bishop Kallistos told a story of an Orthodox saint of antiquity who wrote that the prayers of three men was all that kept the world from dissolution - he (the saint) named one, and another was assuredly himself, but the third was unamed and will forever remain anonymous. One could argue that this was something of an exageration, but the point he (Kallistos) was making is that it is not possible to quantify the effect of prayer, but that does not mean that prayer is ineffective.

My aunt, who is a nun, has retired now - she was in an active convent - and spends her time praying the rosary "for those who haven't the time".

Thomas

Similarly, there is an informal Jewish belief that it only the presence, at any one time, of thirty-six just people that keeps the world going.
 
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