A monastery is a facility that houses a religious community of monks or nuns. Generally, it is designed to be self contained, so that the religious adherents inside could potentially live out their lives entirely inside the walls. By choosing to live in seclusion, the inhabitants can explore the nature of faith either alone or together, and these facilities often become repositories of religious knowledge and contemplation.
Numerous religions have a monastic aspect, including Hinduism, Christianity, and Buddhism. The monastic tradition of these religions often includes vows of poverty and service, with monks and nuns humbling themselves to the greater service of God. In some case, monasteries have a more hermetic aspect, in which there is little to no interaction between the residents as they explore faith privately. The original Greek root of the word, which means “to live alone” reflects this aspect of monastery culture. In other instances, it reflects a more communal lifestyle, and some community-oriented monasteries also perform service in the community.
Monastery life places a heavy emphasis on self reliance. Many have large gardens, and the monks and nuns may raise animals for fiber and food. A truly self-sustaining monastery will attend to all its needs from within its own walls; more commonly, they trade services such as tutoring or goods like artisanal cheese and hand-made weavings for food. Some also rely on the generosity of members of the community who may donate services, food, and supplies to the facility as part of their religious practice.
Many monasteries are quite old, and some have been running continuously for thousands of years. Some are open to visitors, and in fact welcome guests so that they can share their rich history and traditions. Before a person visits a monastery, it is conventional to contact the abbot or head to express his or her desire to visit, and it is polite to bring a gift, such as candles for the altar. The person will also be expected to observe religious and cultural mores while there.
Some people visit monasteries for extended periods of time to work, pray, and think about religion. People who wish to join a monastery, known as postulants, must commit to the monastery and the faith through a series of vows, and they will also typically be expected to dwell as trial monks or nuns for a set period of time before they can make final vows. This trial period allows both the facility to decide whether or not the postulant is a good fit, while he or she decides whether or not the monastery life will be suitable.