The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei
Here's another documentary that I think might be of interest, and certainly tops my previous post about the last community of Samaritans. The documentary follows a practitioner of the Tendai school of Buddhism found in Japan. Like other sects within Mahayana Buddhism the Tendai sect freely incorporates elements from other native religions (in this case Shintoism) within their Buddhist practice which has yielded something genuinely unique (and quite frankly, a little bizarre.)  Their most famous ritual involves a monk running nearly 1000 "marathons" over a 7 year period. The monk is free to withdraw from the ritual within the first 100 days, but after that failure to complete the marathon requires the monk to commit ritual suicide. As you can imagine most monks who attempt this process die by their own hand, and from what I can find only 46 men have successfully completed this ritual in the past 500 years. The breakdown is as follow:

Year one-The monk must run 30 Km a day (roughly 18 miles) for 100 days straight.

Year two-The monk must again run 30km a day for 100 days straight.

Year three-Once again the monk must run 30km a day for 100 days straight.

Year four-The 30km a day rule continues to stand, but this year the monk must do so for 200 straight days.

Year five-Like the previous year the monk must complete a 30km marathon every day for 200 straight days. However, once he completes this year's circuit he must take part in a fast where he is not allowed to drink, eat, or sleep for 9 straight days. He is flanked by two fellow monks during this whole process who hold him up and make sure he doesn't go to sleep. I can't find any clarifying info about this process, but I imagine that the few monks who make it to this stage probably die during this fast. It's one thing to go without food or water for 9 days, but to do so without any sleep while reciting complex religious prayers is asking a bit much of the human body. If the monk completes his great fast he is given three weeks to regain his strength and body weight at which point he moves on to year six.

Year six-The monk must now run 60km a day (roughly 37 miles) for 100 days straight.

Year seven-The monk must run 84km per day (about 52 miles) for 100 days straight. Upon completion of this 100 days he must again run 30km a day for his final 100 days.

There are actually several documentaries about these monks on YouTube. It's hard to make sense of it, but it certainly proves that human beings have a deep seated need for striving towards transcendental ideals that go beyond the mere material processes of the universe.

The contemplative is not one who discovers secrets no one knows, but one who is swept into ecstasy by what everyone knows.
-A Carthusian
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  • formerbuddhist
It's pretty intense and interesting.  I have been a student of Buddhism since I was 16 and I'm close to 40 now but I had never heard of this particular practice before.  Thanks for sharing.
Walk before God in simplicity, and not in subtleties of the mind. Simplicity brings faith; but subtle and intricate speculations bring conceit; and conceit brings withdrawal from God. -Saint Isaac of Syria, Directions on Spiritual Training

"It is impossible in human terms to exaggerate the importance of being in a church or chapel before the Blessed Sacrament as often and for as long as our duties and state of life allow. I very seldom repeat what I say. Let me repeat this sentence. It is impossible in human language to exaggerate the importance of being in a chapel or church before the Blessed Sacrament as often and for as long as our duties and state of life allow. That sentence is the talisman of the highest sanctity. "Father John Hardon

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