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Two examples I can think of is Christianity and Buddhism. Some Buddhist temples are built at ridiculous heights requiring very difficult climbs and Christian monasteries were often built outside the city walls and Meteora in Greece was built on six stone pillars.

Why? I get that monasteries are not churchs so they don't need to preach and reach people all the time, but being in a city gives you a lot of advantages any way. You get more people who might be interested in monk- or nunhood, you can get supplies a lot easier (I mean, think about all that water rationing you'd do rather than risk your life falling down a steep cliff) and you are easier to contact for the religion's head.

Why trade all these advantages for solitude? Why is that so important for training monks and nuns?

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closed as off-topic by Michael Kjörling Jan 12 at 9:22

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I don't think all the rationalisations offered below make much sense. It's not merely or mostly a practical way to attain a worldly goal, it's a belief system (cf. e.g. desert theology). Also, it's not true of all monasteries/religious orders, some were built in convenient places, even in cities, or sought to attract (lay)people to develop their land. – Relaxed Jan 11 at 22:46
Many if not most monasteries were build right in the countryside next to other farms. – Oldcat Jan 11 at 23:59
I think one would have to question what proportion are miles from anywhere and what proportion are in the middle of major urban areas – Separatrix Jan 12 at 8:40
I don't think people who go in for monasticism are looking for most of your 'advantages'. The idea of a monastery is to make life harder, not easier :) – jcast Jan 13 at 18:23
up vote 16 down vote accepted

Monasticism, at least within Christianity, manifests ascetical theology:

Christianity purposes to provide the means to follow Christ so we may enter eternal bliss. Christian perfection is a perfection of love. Attaining this love involves rejecting (or denying) that which is disordered within ourselves, learning to love and trust God, and growing in prayer life toward union with God. This may or may not be accompanied by mystical experiences (for example visions, rapture, or miracles). This progression and the various means by which to traverse it are described in the field of ascetical theology.

The logical extreme is the Desert Fathers who sold all they owned, gave the proceeds to the poor and went into the desert to dedicate themselves to practice prayer and mediation. This movement arose around the time that the church was becoming accepted by society at large. Since there were fewer opportunities to demonstrate dedication to the faith via martyrdom, Christians began choosing radical self-denial. This self-imposed separation from society is, in fact what the word monk means:

from Greek: μοναχός, monachos, "single, solitary" and Latin monachus

While solitude is important to ascetic practice, many religious orders focus on other vows such as obedience, poverty, silence and chastity. Keeping these vows can be difficult to impossible when in constant contact with people who do not respect them. So monastic orders often operate away from population centers.

However, many convents and monasteries are located in major cities—especially those with religious significance. Rome has so many that there is a service dedicated to helping tourists find accommodation in the facilities that offer guest rooms. Near where I live in Los Angeles, there dozens of monasteries. Presumably they don't focus on strict solitude, but on other aspects of the monastic life.

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Hooray -- an answer based on actual knowledge, not speculation! – CAgrippa Jan 12 at 1:25

The solitude is important because its part of their art =)

It's a bit tautological. You'll find the monasteries which do not depend on solitude are near the cities, for the exact reason you describe. However, the more otherwordly monistaries are always tucked away.

The general hand-waving version of what they're doing is trying to decrease the influence of the world on their life, so that they may focus on the thing they wish to focus on. The more convenient their location is for getting to civilization, the more convenient it is for civilization to get to them and disrupt their focus.

Consider the Shaolin Monks. Historically they have been revered as being quite pious. However, as of late, there are voices who suggest the Monks are falling victim to their own success, and that the Shaolin Monestary is becoming a business. Whether this is true or not may depend greatly on your own perceptions, but both sides agree that the origination of this rumor or fact is in the Shaolin teaching of Kung Fu to non-monks. As the world becomes more interconnected, that which is Shaolin must interact more and more with the outside world.

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A couple reasons,

  1. it's easier to focus on what ever your are studying without the world infringing on you.

  2. monasteries are often bastions of knowledge and or wealth (at least Christian churches collected a lot of money) and being in hard to reach places makes it much harder to loot and pillage (and less desirable.

  3. You don't have the world trying to counter your teachings to your young Padawans, before their training has taken root.

and likely in reverse importance of my listing.

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While I can't definitively state why every monastery ever made would ever choose a remote location, here are some common reasons for solitude:

  • Life and people provide too many distractions. The solitude is there to allow individuals to focus on the important things and remove distractions altogether. Such is the case with buddhist temples, but not uncommon in Christian Monasteries.
  • A religious site in the middle of nowhere brings civilization to that area. Such is the case with the Spanish Missions in the Americas. This is also true of many monasteries in the old world, especially in the Migration Period in Europe. If you are placing a monastery, you can place it in the middle of nowhere to aid travelers, assuming that is part of your mission.
  • The Monastery, or monastic style of life, may be attempting to employ a social structure that is commonly frowned upon. A large distance between those who disapprove and the monastery may just be a simple defensive measure. While we would technically call these communes, you can easily lump some of these into "monastic living."
  • Every monastery has some terms that its inhabitants must abide by. By limiting contact with the outside world, the terms may be easier to employ.
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Aside from a need to be "away from the crowd" (as explained in other answers), they also needed to be easily defensible. That was the case of the Christian monasteries in the Balkans. During the time of the Ottoman Empire, many monasteries were razed and plundered by Crusaders and the Turkish Army. Only remote monasteries, in far and inaccessible regions, managed to remain intact.

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Welcome to the site @BЈовић! I've tidied up your answer (currently awaiting a peer review) so I hope you don't mind :) Have you got any sources for this? – Miller86 Jan 12 at 11:24
@Miller86 Thanks. I tried to find sources in english, but couldn't :( – BЈовић Jan 12 at 12:25

Talking about Europe, monasteries are often old. Back when there were established, most places were remote by modern standards. The lands around a monastery would belong to it in order to support it and its people.

There are two mutually exclusive things that are likely to happen:

  • The monks value their surroundings and prevent urban growth (by not selling land to people who "develop" land).
  • A town forms around the monastery because people are attracted by the commerce.

There are certainly many real-world examples of the latter happening; the former is a guess at why a monastery may remain remote.

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Who in society is especially likely to become a monk or nun? In voluntary society, where the choice to join a monastic community is a personal one, people who are repulsed by other people or society in some way are most likely to find appeal in monastic life. "One more bad date and I'm joining a convent." "Capitalism is a drag, I'm going to go meditate and pray for seventy years."

In a society where people's life paths are dictated by social obligations and elders, monasteries almost inevitably become dumping grounds for bastard sons, undesirable daughters, and queers. In this sort of society, the appeal of isolating the monastic community is clear: people send their outcast children and wards to isolated monasteries, not the city temple.

(of course, "both kinds" of societies coexist at the same time and place from the perspective of different people, but you basically either have a scenario where most people make their own choices most of the time or one where most people go where they're sent most of the time.)

Basically, monastic communities tend to be isolated because the people choosing monastic life (either for themselves or their children/wards) tend to prefer the ones that are isolated. Isolated monasteries receive more fresh meat and persist, urban monasteries are less preferred and are at greater risk of death by attrition.

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