The "marathon monks" of Japan's Mount Heie bring new meaning to endurance and purpose. NPR's Anthony Kuhn just covered a radio story this morning about the Zen Monk, Endo Mitsunaga, who "became the 13th monk since World War II to complete the Sennichi Kaihogyo, 1,000 days of walking meditation and prayer over a seven-year period around Mount Hiei. He walked 26 miles a day for periods of either 100 or 200 consecutive days ~ a total distance about the same as walking around the Earth". You can listen to the story here. Just click on "Listen to the Story". These mountain marathons have been practiced for more than 1,200 years. I paid close attention to what this monk learned from what seems an almost incomprehensible journey. Here are my favorite lessons:
- The first phase (700 days) is spent "working for your own benefit, cultivating your own mental attitudes". The second phase (300 days) "you're not only working for yourself, but you're working for everyone else as well.", explains the scholar, Robert Rhodes, of this 1,000 day walking prayer.
- "Everybody thinks they're living on their own without help from others", the Zen monk Mitsunaga says. "This is not possible. I really think that others have done something for me, and I have a feeling of gratefulness to other people."
- "Walking meditation is like sitting meditation, he explains. The participant must maintain a calm mind, good posture and steady breathing."
- After praying nonstop for nine days without sleeping, eating or drinking, "Finally, his old self dies, at least figuratively, and he is reborn to help and lead all beings to enlightenment."
- Kuhn interviewed Mitsunaga who was "struggling to find the words to describe his transcendental experience [nine day fast]. Finally, he says that his fast helped him realize this: He is interconnected with everything else; independence is simply an illusion."
- "One lesson of the Kaihogyo is that in order to help others, you have to first train yourself". Rhodes says that dividing the Kaihogyo's 1.000 days into 700- and 300-day phases is a way to determine how much time to devote to cultivating yourself and how much to spend to helping others. He says the 70-30 split is based on the different stages of becoming a Buddha ~ of which there are 10."
- "The Kaihogyo . . . is really not that hard. A lot of it is just learning to manage time.", Mitsunaga says. The Kaihogyo is often described as an ascetic practice (leading a life of austere self-discipline, usually renouncing material comforts).