Christian and Buddhist monasticism

I have a question, so if anyone versed in the history of Christian and/or Buddhist monasticism can answer, I would be appreciative.

As far as I know, monasticism was not part of Jewish practice, is that correct? But Christian monasteries were formed within the first few centuries of the Christian Era. I don’t know which was the earliest, or how the practice was introduced into Christianity.

What I do know is that Buddhists had been practicing it from the beginning of their faith, which was 500 years before Christ. There were Hindu monastics for centuries prior to that, but the Buddha gave His monastic order, the Sangha, a special character and a special place in the religion.

The question arises, did Christians borrow any aspects of their monastic practice from Buddhists? If not, how do we explain the similarities in daily routine, celebacy, the balance between contemplative life and reaching out to the broader world, etc.?

Thanks!

I’m no authority on these matters but if I may…

While it is possible that some of the early Christian monastics knew something of eastern traditions (the areas were crossroads of many trade routes) I think that the similarities largely arise due to the fact that the intent - the desired result are similar.

Both desire to draw nearer to something higher by rejecting the trappings of the world by being alone and entering into deep prayer - or meditation - or whatever…
The commonality stems from the need to remove all distraction from that which one is trying to achieve.

Peace
James

Budhist monasticism doesn’t seem to be devoted to the worship of God but rather (if I am not mistaken) is concerned with the escaping of suffering which was the primary thing the Budha (if I am not mistaken) taught, unlike Christian monasticism. Christian monastacism is about denying oneself before the world and rendering one’s mind and body to God be it through continous prayer (this is more dominant in Eastern orthodox Monastacism), obediance to a spiritual father, work, reading of the bible and the fathers and other things. Some classic examples of Christian monastacism and its practice can be found in the life of Saint Anthony by Saint Athanasius, the Philokalia (currently four volumes are translated into english) and the sayings of the desert fathers. Each monastary has its own rules and practices, some more strict and others less strict but all intended with the same goal of binding one’s will utterly to God to the denial of oneself.

It is possible. Buddhist and Hindu artefacts have been found in Alexandria, and Buddhism is a missionary religion. There were certainly Buddhist influences of the Bactrian Greeks, the easternmost part of Alexander’s old Empire. Both the Greeks and Romans had some trade with India.

If not, how do we explain the similarities in daily routine, celebacy, the balance between contemplative life and reaching out to the broader world, etc.?

A lot of the similarities are in the externals: chastity, poverty, tonsure, special robes, the use of beads for counting prayers (mala). There are also differences: Christian monasticism seems to have involved a lot more solitary hermits, at least at the beginning.

There may also be some Jewish input from such as the Therapeutae.

It is probably not possible to separate specifically Buddhist influence from general Hindu influence. The Buddhist style is just one of many different styles of monasticism/asceticism found in Hinduism.

rossum

Quite correct, the substance of their worship is different in many respects, but I am just wondering if historically early christians learned about Buddhist monastic practice, decided that many aspects where good and emulated them.

Different subject, but related to the communication between India and the Middle East, I learned just a few months ago about the existence of St. Thomas Christians in southern India. The apostle Thomas when to India to spread the teachings of Christ, and founded a church that has maintained a continuous and unbroken tradition up until the present time.

Possible…but speculative at the end of the day.

I’m actually inclined to think (although I cannot offer proof), that JRKH is correct.

If a person thinks that the external world is ultimately a distraction from “The Goal” (however so this goal is construed), well there are only so many ways that one can cut oneself off from that world.

If I understand the history of this correctly, it looks like your Desert Fathers (first monastics right?) were attempting to emulate the experience of Jewish prophets in that liminal space beyond the pale of civilization.

Different subject, but related to the communication between India and the Middle East, I learned just a few months ago about the existence of St. Thomas Christians in southern India. The apostle Thomas when to India to spread the teachings of Christ, and founded a church that has maintained a continuous and unbroken tradition up until the present time.

Sadly, this has become a kind of issue between the folks in Kerala (where the Thomas Christians are) and the folks who like to heckle the Thomas Christians (for a variety of…inane reasons).

There’s no concrete evidence of your Apostle actually being in the subcontinent. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be an impossible trip to make…especially if he took a boat. There was already a high degree of trade between the Roman Empire and India - Greeks, Jews, Syrians, Phonecians, etc. could be found their trading even in Alexander’s time.

I doubt that myself. Monasticism for Christianity as traditionally accepted and believed sprang out of a desire for matyrdom in an empire which no longer persecuted Christians, so those really dedicated took to life in the desert in solitary or a community that insisted on obediance, abstinance, fasting and constant prayer and reading of scripture.

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