Monasticism, particularly for the Hindu and Buddhist religions, has been the mainstay of church existence and expansion. In this respect monasticism breeds intolerance and religious rivalry. Monks or nuns may be involved in education or health and make use of the opportunity to spread indoctrination. Other holy orders were concerned with war. Because of the need to beg from the community, and because of their spiritual power over the community, monasteries have in some cases amassed substantial wealth. Monasticism encourages anticlericalism and religious, political and ideological repression. Monasticism is sometimes equated with mysticism.
Communities of segregated monks or nuns retire from worldly life to devote themselves to the contemplation of truth and the striving for purity of heart. Most monks or nuns take vows of chastity, poverty and obedience to God. Monasticism is sometimes equated with mysticism. The predecessors of monasticism were hermits who existed in ancient Indian civilization from before 1500 BC. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls brought to light a Jewish monastic community dating from the 1st century AD. Christian monasticism developed after the 2nd century AD. Muslim monasticism did not exist until the rise of sufism. In oriental religion, Jainism was the first to adopt full monasticism. Buddhist monasticism developed directly from the teachings of the Buddha. Zen Buddhist monasticism developed from the 8th century AD in China. Hindu monasticism dates from the 4th century AD.
Monasticism is particularly strong in the Buddhist and Hindu religions. It is slightly less strong in Christianity, exists in Islam, and did exist, to a very limited extent, in Judaism. It is currently in worldwide decline. Mexico, Russia and China have confiscated much or all monastic property and have secularized their inmates.