Sunday, February 1, 2009

What Is A Monastery?

The word monastery comes from the Greek μοναστήριον "monasterion", from the root "monos" = alone (originally all Christian monks were hermits), and the suffix "-terion" = place for doing something.

In England the word monastery was also applied to the habitation of a bishop and the cathedral clergy who lived apart from the lay community. Most cathedrals were not monasteries, and were served by canons secular, which were communal but not monastic. However some were run by monastic orders, such as York Minster. Westminster Abbey was for a short time a cathedral, and was a Benedictine monastery until the Reformation, and its Chapter preserves elements of the Benedictine tradition. They are also to be distinguished from collegiate churches, such as St George's Chapel, Windsor.

In some articles, the term monastery is used generically to refer to any of a number of types of religious community. In the Roman Catholic religion and to some extent in certain other branches of Christianity, there is a somewhat more specific definition of the term and many related terms.

Buddhist monasteries are generally called vihara (Pali language). Viharas may be occupied by males or females, and in keeping with common English usage, a vihara populated by females may often be called a nunnery or a convent. However, vihara can also refer to a temple. In Tibetan Buddhism, monasteries are often called gompa. In Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, a monastery is called a wat.

A monastery may be an abbey (i.e., under the rule of an abbot), or a priory (under the rule of a prior), or conceivably a hermitage (the dwelling of a hermit). It may be a community of men (monks) or of women (nuns). A charterhouse is any monastery belonging to the Carthusian order. In Eastern Christianity a very small monastic community can be called a skete, and a very large or important monastery can be given the dignity of a lavra.

The great communal life of a Christian monastery is called cenobitic, as opposed to the anchoretic (or anchoritic) life of an anchorite and the eremitic life of a hermit.

In Hinduism monasteries are called matha, mandir, koil, or most commonly an ashram.

Jains use the Buddhist term vihara.