Monastic Rules for the Layman

(This article got published in the August 2012 issue of Vedanta Kesari, a monthly English journal published from Ramakrishna Math, Chennai.)

All monastic orders of all religions follow the three cardinal rules – poverty, chastity and humility. These directly correspond to the basic psychological defects in man – greed, lust and arrogance – respectively. Most monastic orders add at least two more rules – service and contemplation. There are other rules and disciplines like silence, fasting, etc which are supplementary. Thus the five rules – poverty, chastity, humility, service and contemplation – form the bedrock for almost all monastic orders.

Poverty is followed as non-possession of any material belongings. Chastity is followed as celibacy. Humility is followed as complete submission to the head of the monastery and to God. Service is followed as various kinds of work in the monastery, medical and educational service, teaching and counselling, etc. Contemplation is followed in the form of prayer, study of scriptures, meditation, etc.

The psychological defects that a monk fights, very much trouble the other human beings also. Thus these disciplines are not exclusively for the monks. They are to be followed by the laymen also. However, due to the roles and responsibilities in the society, the way they are followed by the laymen can be a bit different.

Poverty, chastity and humility can be toned down to honesty, purity and kindness. The monk also follows honesty, purity and kindness. But the monk follows them to the extreme as poverty, chastity and humility. The laymen can be a bit relaxed.

Honesty is followed by complete congruence of knowledge, intention, words and action, and also as absence of unfair possession.

Purity is followed by decent and appropriate attitude towards the other gender. The appropriate attitude towards everyone is to look upon the person as thinking and feeling human beings, and not as physical entities.

Kindness is followed by treating everyone with dignity. It is in not exploiting the weakness of anyone, but bringing out the best in everyone by highlighting and encouraging the person’s strengths.

The last two – service and contemplation – are almost the same for both monks and laymen.

Service is followed by positive contribution by doing one’s duty towards family, profession, society and environment. It is also in charity to the needy and support for noble enterprises.

Contemplation is followed by doing everything as an offering to God and accepting the results as a gift from God. In addition to this, prayer, study of the scriptures and meditation also forms a part of the layman’s life.

Every thinking human being – monk or layman – is a self-declared warrior against the animal propensities of lust, greed and arrogance. He has to be ruthlessly honest, pure and kind to fight the battle. Any further relaxation in this is to give up to the enemy in defeat. To fight is to rise as a man. To succumb is to fall as a brute.

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