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The "Marathon Monks" and myth building.

CinorjerCinorjer Veteran
edited September 2016 in Buddhism Today

So today I'm cruising Facebook and an interesting article pops up about the Marathon Monks of Kyoto, Japan. Since I'd heard of them and their Kaihogyo tradition, I checked it out. This little localized tradition is something a few of the the Tendai monks do. Fascinating. It's a daily practice of rising early for walking meditation around the local mountain while stopping to pay respects to various shrines. Then the monk has to squeeze his regular chores into the remaining half day and get in 4 hours of sleep. Up to a 1000 days without a break. It's an exercise in discipline and patience.

But the real test is the 6 day fasting prayer session at the end with no sleep allowed, other monks taking shifts to help you stay awake. It ends in a vision quest type experience for the monks who have done this.

But, imagine my surprise to find out this article from Lifestyle claims the monks run, not walk this marathon. And according to the article, the monks must carry a knife around and kill themselves if they don't complete it! So if they break an ankle while running one day and can't complete it, they stab themselves to death?? And the mountain is supposed to be littered with unmarked graves of the monks who have failed. You'd think the temple could at least pop for a proper cremation and burial of the poor guy. Apparently the "reporter" who wrote this watched a few old Japanese Samurai movies too many.

Alas, this is how myths get made.

https://www.getold.com/if-you-commit-to-nothing-youll-be-distracted-by-everything/?cid=GEN_090216_fb1&linkId=28333395

Comments

  • personperson Where is my mind? 'Merica! Veteran

    Maybe my understanding of historical Japanese culture comes from too many movies too. But wasn't ritual suicide kind of a thing back in the day? So could it have been the kind of thing that used to be done but now isn't?

  • @person said:
    Maybe my understanding of historical Japanese culture comes from too many movies too. But wasn't ritual suicide kind of a thing back in the day? So could it have been the kind of thing that used to be done but now isn't?

    The only historical suicide rituals I know of for Buddhist monks is the self-mummification practice of a small sect in Japan some centuries ago, perhaps brought over from Tibet where it also seems to have been practiced. But that is a very long, drawn out system of starving to death supposed to have been done for the benefit of everyone and included being buried alive in the final stage. The final death during meditation is supposed to be extra special. And we have the suicide by immolation in protest that occasionally crops up but that is highly controversial. However, the least you can say is that this suicide is also done for the benefit of others. A suicide due to personal failure or shame goes against Buddhist tradition of all sorts. I'm not a scholar, though. Just fascinated by history.

  • I love these guys. I first came across them in a large coffee table book at Amravati Monastery library. Great pics, crazy, intense practice.

    Cinorjer
  • I've heard of those fellas. Shows how even a good thing can be carried a bit over the top.
    It was said that Devadata tried to make himself appear more Buddhist than Buddha by going extreme in the practice much like this group in Japan. However, I doubt sepuku is a valid option, even for them. It is rather that the practice is so extreme that one could die in the effort.

    Back to the hot cocoa.

  • KeromeKerome Did I fall in the forest? Europe Veteran

    Several long documentaries about them on YouTube, so if you want to know more it's easy enough. The material I've seen says that the committing sepuku if you fail to complete the run is a real thing, despite the precept on not killing.

  • CinorjerCinorjer Veteran
    edited September 2016

    OK, going to need to do more research. I did a quick google, and found several articles including one on USA Today that was pretty much a word for word crib of the one guy that claims these monks run their marathon and "the mountain is littered with unmarked graves".

    But I did find one article written by a guy who visited, confirming this is walking meditation, and all images show the monk walking. It does also say of the hundred or so monks that attempted it since the 14th century, only half have made it all 7 years and some were "buried where they fell" and gives one sentence to the "traditional" suicide claim. Interestingly, this author tries to say someone else does the killing for them, choice of strangling or stabbing. Nonsense. Who is going to kill a monk that has made himself even more sacred to the people by doing this?

    I still doubt the suicide bit. I don't doubt many monks have died due to the demand on their body attempting it. I don't even doubt a few in the past committed suicide after being too sick or crippled to continue. The attitude seems "I will do this or die trying". But I will now continue to get to the bottom of this. I might have to write someone.

  • gracklegrackle Veteran
    edited September 2016

    Devadatta wished to be proclaimed as Shakyamunis dharma error. His desire was thwarted. Thereupon he schemed to kill the Blessed One. Sorrowful Devadatta so close to the tree so far from the truth.

    Cinorjer
  • Mea culpa. An error indeed on my part. I meant to say dharma heir. Well back to the corner with my dunce cap.

  • personperson Where is my mind? 'Merica! Veteran

    @grackle said:
    Mea culpa. An error indeed on my part. I meant to say dharma heir. Well back to the corner with my dunce cap.

    Devadatta wanted to be Shakyamuni's heir but he only ended up being his Dharma error. B)

    Cinorjer
  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran

    The Dairy Lama has talked about "Death by ice-cream", though I wonder if that is the name of a super-size sundae. :p

    lobster
  • In my youthful days I enjoyed a chain of ice cream parlors called Farrells. They offered a huge portion of the good and the gooey. Free if you could eat it all. Indeed when it arrived at your table sirens would go off. Folks would cheer you on. Though I failed to make the cut it was worth every penny.

  • KeromeKerome Did I fall in the forest? Europe Veteran

    @grackle said:
    In my youthful days I enjoyed a chain of ice cream parlors called Farrells. They offered a huge portion of the good and the gooey. Free if you could eat it all. Indeed when it arrived at your table sirens would go off. Folks would cheer you on. Though I failed to make the cut it was worth every penny.

    They don't do that kind of thing in Europe, it's considered unhealthy. Although for ice cream I might make an exception :)

  • @Kerome. Yes when I have visitors from Europe they are amazed about the portions served in restaurants. Indeed there is a steakhouse in Amarillo,Tx that offers a 72 oz portion of prime bovine gratis if you can eat it all.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Moderator

    If you count the UK as being in Europe (just!) the they most certainly do...

    lobster
  • ... meanwhile ... Here some modern walker is off on a holiday of a thousand days. Oh yeah!
    https://amodernmonk.org/about/

    Greetings and welcome to my blog! My name is Paco Tozan Vérin and I am a modern monk. Professionally, I am a horticulturist, I like jam bands, cooking, laughing with friends, and lots of other regular stuff. I also have been a lay Buddhist in the American Zen order, Hollow Bones, since May 2002, ordained as a priest in 2011. In June 2016 the opportunity to do a classic 1000-day monastic training arose, and I accepted. It starts September 14 at Dai Bosatsu Zendo, pictured above, where the founder of Hollow Bones, Junpo Denis Kelly, trained.

    The purpose of this blog is to give you a window in to the monastic life as I live and discover it, and give a taste of the contemplative and transformational path of Zen Buddhism. I do not seek to proselytize or convert, yet I do hope, given how intense political, economic and ecological issues are getting, that, if you do not already, you would explore a sincere commitment to meditation. A clear and consistent meditation practice can transform your experience of life.

    Thanks for visiting, and have a fabulous day!

    Stroll on ...

  • @lobster said:
    ... meanwhile ... Here some modern walker is off on a holiday of a thousand days. Oh yeah!
    https://amodernmonk.org/about/

    Greetings and welcome to my blog! My name is Paco Tozan Vérin and I am a modern monk. Professionally, I am a horticulturist, I like jam bands, cooking, laughing with friends, and lots of other regular stuff. I also have been a lay Buddhist in the American Zen order, Hollow Bones, since May 2002, ordained as a priest in 2011. In June 2016 the opportunity to do a classic 1000-day monastic training arose, and I accepted. It starts September 14 at Dai Bosatsu Zendo, pictured above, where the founder of Hollow Bones, Junpo Denis Kelly, trained.

    The purpose of this blog is to give you a window in to the monastic life as I live and discover it, and give a taste of the contemplative and transformational path of Zen Buddhism. I do not seek to proselytize or convert, yet I do hope, given how intense political, economic and ecological issues are getting, that, if you do not already, you would explore a sincere commitment to meditation. A clear and consistent meditation practice can transform your experience of life.

    Thanks for visiting, and have a fabulous day!

    Stroll on ...

    That was interesting. I see the first and only blog post was Aug 15, about a month ago. I wonder how he's doing? Probably too busy to continue the blog.

  • ^^ . The journey begins 14 Sept.

    Probably tying his sandals ...

  • CinorjerCinorjer Veteran
    edited September 2016

    OK, I did a bit of online research and watched a couple of fascinating youtube videos about the Marathon Monks, and had a wonderful time.

    First, someone not familiar with Tendai Buddhism would find it strange that the monks have families and tend to live in small family temples rather than the huge dormitory type we imagine. Tendai monks can marry, and have done so since the 1800s when actually forced to start by the Emperor. When Japan invaded Korea, they forced the monks there to get married and once they were gone, it started a civil war between Buddhist monks because going back to the old chastity rule meant the monk had to leave his home or divorce his wife and children and send them away.

    In the youtube it showed the current monk in his small temple with the woman that takes care of him, a couple of teenagers still going to school, and a couple of men sent up from the city to do the heavy labor. The monk did have a busy schedule of ceremonies and such after his daily walk, due to the many pilgrims wanting to take part.

    And these monks are celebrities. There are numerous small donations and references to rich sponsors that get special visits from the monk. The monk supports himself and his family and also the Tendai organization probably depends on this income.

    Now, I'm not criticizing. If a monk wanted to earn a living, there are a thousand easier ways to do it than walking yourself to death around a mountain. This is a personal spiritual journey, not a con. I've kicked around enough to know that no amount of money is sufficient to get you out of bed that 324th morning before dawn to speed walk around that damned mountain. That requires the crazy, obsessed mind driven by one goal in life.

    But I digress. One video showed the 5 living Marathon Monks alongside the one about ready to finish, so at any one time there must be a monk doing this. Now, as to the "finish it or commit suicide" belief. Since not once in the videos or articles is there a single example talked about of a monk doing this, only the general "that's the tradition" statement, I'm still going for it's something that hasn't happened but it sounds good.

    Anyway, fascinating to delve into.

  • @lobster said:
    ^^ . The journey begins 14 Sept.

    Probably tying his sandals ...

    Where the heck did I get Aug 15 from? Oh well, gotta bookmark this one to see how he does.

  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    edited September 2016

    You might also be interested in this illegal Shingon practice. Ay caramba, the things people do ...

    In August, 1998, I had the unusual pleasure of meeting a dead Buddhist priest face-to-face.

    http://sonic.net/~anomaly/japan/dbuddha.htm

    excerpt from above link ...
    ... one classic tale told and retold in Japan is the story of how Gautama [the founder of Buddhism in India, and the guy Americans usually think of when they say "Buddha"] chose to be reborn as a rabbit so that he could throw his body on a fire to feed a devotee that was starving.

    Hope modern Buddhas do fish too ... :3

    Cinorjer
  • ... meanwhile just caught the tail end of a 24 hour race at Tooting Bec Race track. They also do a 3100 mile 'spiritual transcendence' race over 52 days [lobster faints]

    http://3100.srichinmoyraces.org

    Cinorjer
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