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Peace & Joy
Peace & Joy

Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei

The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei perform extraordinary feats of human endurance. Well described well in the article The Spiritual Athlete's Path to Enlightenment by Holly A Schmid in Ultra Marathon Running, December 11, 1996. A documentary was made in 2002.

Documentary from 2002

Made by Christopher Jayden, 2002 (details).

Documentary by Channel Four TV

Featuring Daiajari Tanno Kakudo. Recorded many years ago for Channel Four TV. Year unknown.

Routine

To become a monk in Mount Hiei, it is common practice to complete a term of 100 days as a gyoja, "a spiritual athlete who practices gyo with a mind set of the Path of Buddha". As a gyoja, a monk runs 40km (25 miles) a day for 100 consecutive days. In between, there is one day with 54km (32 miles).

If the gyoja successfully completes the 100-day term, he can petition to try a 1000-day term which takes seven years to complete. The schedule below is excerpted from the article Running Buddhas: Ultra-Endurance and the Spiritual Athlete by J Storey (2007):

* 1st year: 100 consecutive days of 40km (25 mile) runs, beginning at 1:30 a.m., each day after an hour of prayer.

* 2nd year: 100 consecutive days of 40km (25 mile) runs.

* 3rd year: 100 consecutive days of 40km (25 mile) runs.

* 4th year: 100 consecutive days of 40km (25 mile) runs - performed twice

* 5th year: 100 consecutive days of 40km (25 mile) runs - performed twice

* On the 700th day, the monks undergo a 9 day fast without food, water, rest or sleep - a mind-boggling feat which would result in certain death for most human beings, before having a short rest of a few weeks and increasing their grueling schedule.

* 6th year: 100 consecutive days of 60km (37.5 mile) runs

* 7th year: 100 days of 85km (52 mile) runs and 100 days of 40km (25-mile) runs.

Throughout the night they run and pray, stopping at different stations along the way to recite prayers and perform ritual chants. Upon completion of each day's marathon, the monks perform chores such as cleaning the temple and they continue to pray throughout the day, until retiring at 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. The ritual begins again a few hours later. If at any time the monk finds himself physically or mentally unable to complete the 100-day ritual, he is duty-bound to commit suicide by hanging himself with the belt from his robe or through ritual disembowelment.

References

Videos

1) Documentary: Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei by Christopher J Hayden (57 minutes, 2002). The documentary is available as a YouTube playlist.

2) (YouTube) Marathon Monks, a documentary by ABC Australia, November 2004. Transcript of documentary.

Books

The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei by John Stevens (158 pages, 1988).

Articles

1) The Spiritual Athlete's Path to Enlightenment by Holly A Schmid in Ultra Marathon Running, December 11, 1996.

2) Running Buddhas: Ultra-Endurance and the Spiritual Athlete by J Storey (2007).

20 Jul 2012
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