Thursday, 19 July 2012

Monks and the Monastic Ideal


I love monks and monasticism. To me they are true revolutionaries, people who reject the world in favour of a purer lifestyle. Although some may see monasticism as self-indulgent, I see it as actually being extremely revolutionary. After all, what better gesture of defiance can one show the world than refusing its ways and retreating into the desert? In monasteries we see the creation in miniature of a new world, a form of communal life where the welfare of one’s fellow monks is the top priority, an aspiration toward an ideal of ego-less living and rejection of worldly vanity.

I came across the following similar sentiments in a book by Thomas Merton:

Father Paul Evdokimov, the Orthodox theologian, writes a splendid and challenging article on The Desert Fathers and on the radical tradition of monasticism, both Eastern and Western. He frankly regards monastic chastity as a refusal to procreate and to continue the existence of a society that has reached its term (a view which in modern Catholicism would shock even the most convinced of monks). This refusal is creative, not negative: those who claim to be so positive about the values of “the world” and our society are precisely the ones who are so busy building the bombs that are capable of destroying it...

Evdokimov demands a virile ascesis, not simply gentlemanly retirement into leisure. The monk does not build his monastic city on “the margin of the world”, but instead of it....Since the world presents a lying vision, the unworldliness of the monk must be not only nonconformist, but provocatively so. The monk is in revolt against the false claims of the world...

Similarly, here is Merton on The Shakers, the Christian group who practiced celibacy:

The Shakers now face extinction, without concern, convinced that they had not been a failure [...] I find this easy to believe. The Shakers have been something of a sign, a mystery, a strange attempt at utter honesty [...] which was nevertheless pure. They were absolutely loyal to a vision that led nowhere: but which to them seemed to point to a definite eschatological goal.

According to Wikipedia, as of January 2011, there were only five Shakers left in America. I salute them!

And, of course, there is Mount Athos, the Macedonian self-governed state of monks, quite an inspirational idea (women are banned from entering the territory!). I suggest this as being the ideal sunshine getaway spot for male Antinatalists:-)

Finally, A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. is one of favourite novels; it's a post-apocalytpic sci-fi story set around a monastery. Highly recommended

37 comments:

  1. I think there's actually been a turn towards monks and monasticism for a lot of people. I've heard that a lot of programmers compare their lives and work to those of monks and are interested in monasticism, I hear more books about monasticism coming out, and I've had friends who are non-religioous express interest in the lifestyle. I also have a Buddhist friend who deeply wants to become a Bhikkhuni(that's a female Buddhist monk).

    It's a bit odd, given that traditional religion itself is on hard times, but maybe there's something about the modern world that simply fails to provide the things that monasticism offers.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Wrooines. There has actually been an increase in the amount of people on Mount Athos in recent years.

      I reckon the world is just becoming such a rat-trap in terms of economic stress and trash culture that people want to bail out. For some, monasticism is the option.

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  2. A-WE-SO-ME.

    Simply that. You are the man Karl.

    Gonna get me some reading material from Merton, right now!
    =)

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    1. Thanks as always, Shadow. The Merton book I got the quotes from is entitled 'Confessions of a Guilty Bystander'.

      Loved the Huxley post, by the way!

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  3. Another excellent post. "The world presents a lying vision!" Those monks certainly were on to something. It is certainly heartening to see the ideas that we espouse crop up here and there throughout history. It certainly gives one strength to tread the path that leads nowhere...

    I may add some books on the topic to my already too long reading list.

    In my own way, I have contemplated an ascetic life. It is so difficult though, in this day and age, to disengage from the world. I suppose that the masters of society have made it that way.

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    1. Thanks, Artashata. Yes, the world doesn't want to let anyone out of its clutches. Everyone must contribute to the insatiable sun-god 'the economy', even if no amount of human sacrifice is enough to sate its devouring tendencies.

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  4. I am so glad you have included a book recommendation. It would be a lovely thing to "retreat" from this vile world, and live a more solitary life, being disabled I'm not able to move away physically. In the spiritual/emotional sense I move further away from this world everyday and have progressed so far in that way that it is traumatic that I am still here (in this world) physically. I feel it especially when we have to take a car trip for a doctor appointment, and I am looking out the window at all these cars, all this technology and buildings and craziness and noisiness and danger, and I feel so infinity far away from "home"....wherever "home" is. Home is whatever is on the other side of death I guess. When we drive past a woods, I wish I could run off into the trees, where I feel so much more at home.

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    1. Poignant words, Anonymous. The world is a madhouse, no doubt of that fact.

      Forgot to mention that another good online resource on the topic of monks and monasticism is www.hermitary.org Well worth a look.

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  5. I've enjoyed your post too, Karl. Being self-sufficient enough to totally sever ties with the world is hard, but I've come some way in this direction in the past year or so: I hope by the end of the year to have accomplished the first experimentation with living in a van.

    I'm wondering how you guys and girls see companionship in relation to ascetism. Lone ascets do find peace of mind, but communion with like-minded friends and fellows such as in monasteries is soothing too. I personally would like to make AN friends in real life too. By the way, I'm in the UK, Karl.

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    1. Yes, knowing there are others who feel the same is vital, especially given thew official 'optimism' of cultures everywhere. I'm at w1.karl@gmail.com if you ever want to drop me a line re.meeting up.

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  6. I often get the feeling reading folks' posts that no one, or at least almost no one, among us has any AN friends in real life. That's certainly the case with me. I'm wondering if I'd be the hermit I am if I could just swing by next door and chill with an in-the-flesh AN buddy from time to time. Maybe it sounds silly, but I find that I'm pining for AN fellowship. And online is the best I can do. Meanwhile, all my IRL, standard-issue friendships are withering due to lack of attention on my part. And so the transition to complete and utter isolation continues.

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  7. Yes, Anon. I often wonder if my own life would be more bearable if I had a small circle real life AN and philisophically pessimistic friends. This also reminds of something Jim Goad wrote. In part...

    "It's of of life's cruel paradoxes that truly worthles people aren't prone to commit suicide...If there were more people like them (the suicidal), this world wouldn't be half as bad. Ironically, it's the non-suicidal who make life unbearable."

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    1. "Life-affirmers", as I call them, seem to me to usually be short-sighted and self-absorbed to differing degrees. These types of people usually lack any deep or profound wisdom. At the same time, suicidal folks aren't necessarily so great either.

      People who become suicidal because their girlfriend broke up with them or because they lost their job, but then quickly flip the script and become "life-affirmers" when they find a new girlfriend or find a new job make me roll my eyes. Obviously, these people never put any real thought into thinking about whether their lives were good or not; they just wanted a new girlfriend or a new job or new whatever. These are just examples...

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    2. Yes, I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to Despair also. I want the melancholiacs to be racked by a sense of life's futility, not just to be love-lorn fools:-)

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    1. I think the fact that the guy says "Immortality is the unique quality of the human soul, but mankind has to learn how to achieve it, how to live eternally" proves he ain't the man:-)

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    2. Yeah, and to me, everything with the word "mankind" in it, reeks of optimsm, don´t know why =)

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  9. Other Anon. I'm wasn't talking about gothy or emo types. Just people who wont or can't do the dirty deed for "reasons".

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  10. Anonymous in regards to AN in real life: I don't know anyone else personally in the area I live in that is AN, but for me the internet friendships with other AN is sufficient.

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    1. I agree. It kinda has this special feeling about my friendship in the web with AN´s. When I come here to comment and all.

      Cheers

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    2. I don't need no stinkin' friends. I need an antinatalist dating site.

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    1. I agree about the nicks.

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    2. Yes, that gives a proper and specific way for others to address the poster. Also, we can see different posts from them as coming from a single source, and appreciate the coherence.

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    3. Who asked you for your opinion?

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    5. Seize this impostor!

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  13. Hey, great post (and blog)! I'm impressed to find some antinatalists with my interests. I have always felt drawn towards Eastern Philosophy (Vedanta and Buddhism), and I loved reading Schopenhauer and Cioran because the both of them were, too. It's a shame there are so many antinatalists (I'm thinking of the hardline YouTube ones) who haven't gotten any benefits from those. There is a quite a lack of patience and curiosity there, I find... I guess depression drains your energy so much that you can lose these easily.

    Monasticism is so tempting, but at the same time feels so impossible. I mean, it's such a huge commitment. I have considered it in the past (there's a Vedanta center here in Quebec) but now I am in a relationship and I would never take a vow of celibacy, because she is too important to me and I to her. Oh, and I love cats! :)

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    1. Hey tranquil87, good to see you around the blogosphere commenting.

      People in the Youtube part of the virtual media of antinatalism are ok, but at times, a bit self-indulgent, and generally not open to conversation and/or friendly exchange of ideas.

      It seems to me there is much ego to be found there, despite all the meaningful contributions to the theme.

      I like their efforts, no doubt, but around the blogosphere, people are a tad more friendly and open (or so I believe).

      Cheers man.

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    2. To shadow- It appears that I have just discovered your own antinatalism blog, however I do not know how to leave any comments on it.

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    3. Hey Shadow, good to see you too! I think you're right. This is more suited for proper self-expression than YouTube anyway, where ego-games abound.

      Karl & Shadow, I know you guys are into great pessimistic writers like me, and I have two recommendations that you might not have heard of. Check out Ladislav Klíma and Henri Laborit.

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    4. Hey, tranquil87, thanks for the comment! Much appreciated. Anyone who likes Cioran and Schopenhauer is always welcome here.

      Thanks a lot for the recommendations. I checked out Klima, quite a character! He reminds me of one of Thomas Bernhard's crazy narrators. I wonder if he would have been a pain to be around, though:-) And these guys are always lucky enough to have friends and patrons prepared to support them financially. I'm jealous:-)

      His autobiography can be read here:

      http://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/62368130?access_key=key-qwyvmawq54z4zy82cal

      Thanks again!

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  14. Raychel,

    Well, I closed the comments there for a while, but will reopen them in time. Meanwhile you can send leave me a comment around here where, or send-me an e-mail if you particularly like something there/want to discuss about it.

    I wish you find my blog useful as this and others. I try to post there weekly.

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  15. Tranquil87,

    I can only echoe Karl on the recommendations. Greatly appreciated!

    Karl,

    this link that you post, also, fantastic. I actually was thrilled reading his first words.

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