Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Monasticism 101

By KATHY MATHESON, Associated Press

 Looking for a wild-and-crazy time at college? Don't sign up for Justin McDaniel's religious studies class.
The associate professor's course on monastic life and asceticism gives students at the University of Pennsylvania a firsthand experience of what it's like to be a monk.
At various periods during the semester, students must forego technology, coffee, physical human contact and certain foods. They'll also have to wake up at 5 a.m. — without an alarm clock.
That's just a sample of the restrictions McDaniel imposes in an effort to help students become more observant, aware and disciplined. Each constraint represents an actual taboo observed by a monastic religious order.
The course, which focuses primarily on Catholic and Buddhist monastic traditions, stems in part from McDaniel's own history. An expert on Asian religions, he spent a portion of his post-undergraduate life nearly 20 years ago as a Buddhist monk in Thailand and Laos and says he's both a practicing Buddhist and a practicing Catholic.

McDaniel stresses he's not advocating for a total lifestyle change. He uses technology as much as the next person and is now married with children.
But if someone is forced to just listen for a month, he is more aware of how he speaks, McDaniel said. If someone can't talk while she's eating and has to count each chew, she'll think more about her food, he said.
"It's not about individual restrictions," said McDaniel. "It's about building hyperawareness of yourself and others."

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