Has monasticism been a significant factor in the history of Hinduism? Monasticism is a religious practice in which a person renounces worldly pursuits in order to fully devote their life to spiritual work. Many religions have monastic elements, including Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Jainism, though the expressions differ considerably. Those pursuing a monastic life are usually called monks or brethren (brothers) if male, and nuns or sisters if female. Both monks and nuns may also be called monastics.
In their quest to attain the spiritual goal of life, some Hindus choose the path of monasticism (sanyasa). Monastics commit themselves to a life of simplicity, celibacy, detachment from worldly pursuits, and contemplation of God. A Hindu monk is called a sanyasi, sadhu, or swami.A nun is called a sanyasini, sadhavi, or swamini.
Such renunciations are accorded high respect in Hindu society. Some monastics live in monasteries, while others wander from place to place, as mendicants trusting in God.
A sadhu's vow of renunciation typically forbids him from:
Owning personal property apart from a bowl, a cup, two sets of clothing, and medical aids such as eyeglasses
Having any contact with, looking at, thinking of, or even being in the presence of women
Eating for pleasure
Possessing or even touching money or valuables in any way, shape, or form
Maintaining personal relationships
Monasticism has been a part of Hindu ashramas(stages). The last stage of human life is becoming a reclusive sanyasin or sanyasa, giving up all worldly possessions, and leading the life of a hermit. The four stages of life are: Brahmacharya (student life), Grihastha (householder), Vanaprastha (forest dweller), and Sannyasa (hermit).
There are many Hindu monastic orders. Some of these orders might have been fashioned after St. Benedict of Nursia, a Catholic monk. The Rule of St. Benedict became a model for all later monastic orders of other faiths. Patient obedience to such rules and one's superiors became central aspects of monasticism. Other models include the Carmelite Rule of St. Albert; the Augustinian Rule; and The Order of Ramakrishna, founded in 1899 and modeled after Western monastic rule.