Taken from the Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions
Here is a dose of daily religion from A to Z.
Today’s religious topic is as follows:
“Asceticism”, the practice of the dental of physical or psychological desires in order to attain a spiritual ideal or goal.
Originally a concept referring to physical proficiency, Greek askess (literally, “exercise,” “training,” from the verb askeo, “I prepare, fashion, practise, exercise”) and its derivatives came to be applied to mental, moral, and spiritual abilities. Among the Greeks the notion of intellectual training was applied to the realm of ethics in the ideal of the sage who is able to act freely to choose or refuse a desired object or an act of physical pleasure. This kind of askesis, involving training the will against a life of sensual pleasure, was exemplified by the Stoics (ancient Greek philosophers who advocated the control of the emotions by reason). The view that one ought to deny one’s lower desires—understood to be the sensuous, or bodily desires—in contrast with one’s spiritual desires that were considered to be virtuous aspirations, became a central principle in ethical thought, particularly evident in the work of Plato and the Neoplatonic philosophers.
The value of asceticism in strengthening an individual’s mental and physical discipline has been a part of many religions and philosophies throughout history. Many factors were operative in the rise and cultivation of religious asceticism: the fear of hostile influences from DEMONS; the view that one must be in a state of ritual purity in order to enter into communion with the divine; the desire to invite the attention of sacred beings to the self-denial being practiced by their suppliants; the idea of earning pity, compassion, and salvation by merit using self-inflicted acts of ascetical practices; the sense of guilt and SIN that prompts the need for ATONEMENT the view that asceticism is a means to gain access to supernatural powers; and the power dualistic concepts that have been at the source of efforts to free the spiritual part of humanity from the defilement of the body. Among HINDUISM, BUDDHISM, and CHRISTIANITY, there is a further conceptualization of earthly life as transitory, which prompts a desire to anchor one’s hope in liberation from the suffering of such life.
Abstinence and fasting are by far the most common of all ascetic practices, though CELIBACY has been regarded as the first commandment in all strictly ascetic movements. Other common practices include abdication of worldly goods, neglect of personal hygiene, the reduction of movement, and the deliberate inducement of pain. Pain Producing asceticism has appeared in many forms, including exhausting or painful exercises, self-laceration, particularly castration, and FLAGELLATION, which developed into a mass movement in Italy and Germany during the Middle Ages and is still practiced by some local Christian and Islamic sects.
Asceticism in the form of seclusion, physical discipline, and the quality and quantity of food prescribed has played an important role in connection with the puberty rites and rituals of admission to the tribal community. Isolation was and is practiced by the young men about to achieve the status of manhood in the Blackfoot and other Native American tribes of the north-western United States. On important occasions, such as funerals and war, TABOOS involving abstinence from certain food and cohabitation were imposed. For the priests and chiefs these taboos were much stricter.
In India, in the late Vedic period (c. 1500 BCE-c. 200 BCE), the ascetic use of TAPAS (“heat,” or austerity) became associated with meditation and YOGA, inspired by the idea that tapas brings enlightenment. This view of tapas gained in importance among the Yogas and the Jainas. According to JAINISM, liberation becomes possible only when all passions have been exterminated. In Jainism and Buddhism a monastic system evolved, with monks and nuns devoted to rigorous asceticism in the quest of perfection and in the pursuit of chastity and truthfulness. Complete detachment from all possession and connections in Jainism made paramount the MENDICANT life of mediation and spiritual exercises dependent upon the fulfillment of vows of poverty.
In Christianity all of the types of asceticism have found realization. Abstinence, fasts, and vigils were common in the lives of the early Christians, but some ramifications of developing Christianity became radically ascetic. During the first centuries ascetics stayed in their communities, assumed their role in the life of the church, and centered their asceticism on martyrdom and celibacy. Though asceticism was rejected by the leaders of the Protestant REFORMATION, certain forms of asceticism and emerge in CALVINISM, PURITANISM, PIETISM, early METHODISM, and the OXFORD MOVEMENT. Related to asceticism is the Protestant work ethic, which consists of a radical requirement of accomplishment symbolized in achievement in one’s profession and, at the same time, demanding strict renunciation of the enjoyment of material gains acquired legitimately.
The adherents of early ISLAM knew only fasting, which was obligatory in the month of RAMADAN. MONASTICISM is rejected in the QUR’AN. Nonetheless, ascetic forces among Christians in Syria and Mesopotamia were assimilated by Islam in the ascetic movement known as ZUHD (self-denial) and later in that of SUFISM, which incorporated ascetic ideals and methods.
(Comeback on 1/29/15 and continue to learn about religion. Tomorrow you’ll read and learn more about “Asclepius”.
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