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Hindu Monastic Life: The Monks and Monasteries of Bhubaneswar
David M. Miller and Dorothy C. Wertz.
McGill-Queen's University Press, 1976
ISBN 0773501908, 9780773501904
228 pages

2nd revised edition. 1996, 240 p., illus., $40.


Introduction/backgrounds in tradition and history:
Hindu asceticism and monasticism.
The setting: Bhubaneswar, Orissa.
A tentative history of monasticism at Bhubaneswar.

I. The ascetics:
1. Religious leaders: the ascetic as guru and preacher: The guru; the preacher; summary.
2. Common lifestyles: non-intellectual devotion and solitary withdrawal : The bhaktas, father and son; the troubadour; the solitary ascetic; summary.
3. Three atypical life histories : The fun-lover and the mendicant; the babaji ("Doctor refugee").
4. The development of the monastic career : Psycho-social factors motivating entrance, according to age; initiation; ranks of ascetics; religious experiences.
5. The laity's perception of ascetics and contemporary Hinduism : The laymen's opinions; patrons and clients; the du bois value guide.

II. The monasteries: 6. The range of religious structures : Fission and intercommunication; chosen deities; monastic orders and non-sectarianism.
7. The varieties of social structure : Financial structure; organizational structure; succession to headship.
8. The range of religious rituals : Public external festivals; internal monastic celebrations held annually; a special-purpose ritual; private internal observances; daily worship.
9. Social functions: their range and trends : Monasteries as feudal landlords; the monastery as guest-house; dispensaries; educational institutions; religious parks and roadside shrines; centres of sacredness.

From the jacket of the 2nd edition:

"Originally published in 1976, this reprint of Hindu Monastic Life is based upon the field research conducted by Professor David M. Miller in Wikipedia link Bhubaneswar, Orissa, India, in 1963-64. That field study was later revised and enlarged with the participation of Professor Dorothy C. Wertz, who brought her training in the sociology of religion to bear upon Professor Miller's field notes. The lasting value of this jointly authored work is that it is a detailed descriptive and analytical study of Hindu monastic life as it was lived, and as it is being lived, in a traditional Hindu temple-pilgrimage town.

"Part one begins with life history sketches of eight typical monastics that provides a unique insight into those who enter monastic life. This section concludes with the laity's perception of monastics, drawing upon material from the late external link Professor Cora Dubois value guide of selected representatives of lay Hindus living in Bhubaneswar.

"Part two focuses upon monasticism as a central Hindu religious institution not only throughout time, but in contemporary India today. Representative descriptions are given of the socio-religious structures and functions of the twenty-two monastic establishments in Bhubaneswar in 1963-64. The authors conclude with observations about the role that Hindu monasticism will play in contemporary India. Professors Miller and Wertz have written a work that will appeal equally to Hindu studies scholars as well as those interested in comparative studies of monastic individuals and institutions. The second edition is enhanced by an enlarged and complete bibliography of Hindu monasticism."

David M. Miller is Associate Professor in the Department of Religion, Concordia University.

My assesment:

Many in the West, in the Hippy/Alternative movement, New Age movement, the Integral Movement, the New Paradigm movement, etc, in all of which the Guru plays a large part, don't realise that the role of the Guru or Sadhu (in this book the somewhat misleading term "ascetic" is used) is very different in India, where the guru or sadhu or sannyasi is an ancient cultural institution. In Western equivalents they might translate as a combination of one or more of the following: local priest, doctor/healer, astrologer, social worker, business adviser, and/or life coach, with overtones of homeless street person and social welfare recipient. A lot obviously depends on the sadhu, soem are more succesful than others, and some, as documented in this fascinating sociological study, simply become sadhus because their business or occupation fails.

When the institute of Guru or Sadhu was transferred to the West, these various chacks and balances and social nuances were all lost. Gullible Westerners, dissillusioned with their failures of their own exoetrric religions, and not being satified with the material discoveries of science and secularism (the subtstitute religion) flocked to tehse exotic new figures, making them into perfected beings, a status they would never have back in India. Because for every Ramana or Ramsuratkumar, there are a million gurus and sadhus and sanyasis of the sort described in this book, and they tend to be the ones who, if tehy are clever or charismatic enough, build up huge followings, wealth, sex, and all the rest.

It is a shame that this book is so rare; it isn't just a sociological study, but also contains some fascinating case studies that give a human face to the gurus and sadhus in question. Read it to balance the endless hagiographies of often mediocre gurus to the West.

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text from Vedams Books from India, otehr text by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 2 December 2008