A study of Tibetan monks points to the benefits of celibacy

(ORDO NEWS) — By sending one of their sons to a monastery, parents reduce competition for resources within the family and as a result have more grandchildren.

Celibacy – lifelong celibacy and the rejection of sexual relations – is accepted in many religions and traditional societies of the world.

It would seem that this practice is contrary to basic instincts and guarantees a loss in the evolutionary competition, because such people do not leave offspring at all. However, total sexual abstinence is quite common, which may indicate some benefits.

The team of Professor Ruth Mace investigated the societies of Buddhist monks living in the Tibetan region of Amdo , present-day Gansu province in western China, – by a curious coincidence, it was there that traces of the Denisovan man were recently found.

Modern residents of Gansu are engaged in traditional cattle breeding and processing of small and not very fertile plots of land. Younger sons are often sent to a monastery, where they take appropriate vows. In this case, parents refer to religious norms or generally accepted custom.

To find out the deeper reasons, scientists conducted a detailed survey of representatives of 530 families from 21 villages. The researchers compiled a genealogy for each family, including identifying all the men sent to the monastery.

It turned out that this measure provides the remaining brothers with an advantage in the distribution of parental inheritance. Competition is reduced, everyone gets more wealth and a larger herd, becomes a more attractive groom – and leaves more children.

Thus, people who sent one of their sons to the monastery have more grandchildren than those who did not. It turns out that the celibacy of one of the sons can be evolutionarily beneficial for the parents. This means that such a practice could appear and gain a foothold in the process of “natural selection”.

To show this, Ruth Mays and her colleagues created a mathematical model that reflects the impact of celibacy on the evolutionary success of the individual and the whole family.

Scientists considered two options: with the decision to “leave for the monastery” by the person himself or his parents. In the first case, celibacy remained uncommon and was not fixed in the model “community”. However, in the second, with the help of the rest of the brothers, celibacy became a common practice.

According to the authors of the work, similar patterns may underlie some other traditions, including even infanticide – the deliberate deprivation of the life of some children, which was not uncommon in many ancient cultures.

They also explain the rarity of female monasticism, not only in Tibet, but also in other strictly patriarchal communities. By sending their daughter to a monastery, parents only reduce the possible number of offspring, not receiving benefits from the distribution of benefits, since girls do not participate in it.

But in societies where women had great rights – in particular, in some regions of Western Europe – female monasticism and celibacy were (and are) quite common.


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