Marathon Monks Of Mount Hiei



Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Often we moved by endurance and extreme athletes who perform outside of the open water.

Occasionally, these athletic feats take on different forms far removed from swimming brief and goggles. The marathon monks of Mount Hiei located outside Kyoto, Japan where there is a traditional 46,000-kilometer undertaking where selected monks walk, meditate and pray in the Kaihōgyō ritual for 1,000 days.

Their road to enlightenment and process of self-denial requires requires incredible stamina and mental and physical discipline over a seven-year period including a 9-day period of no food, drink or sleep.

The ritual is mind-bogglingly difficult with extraordinary expectations of unnatural endurance.

In Year 1, the marathon monks walk 30-40 km per day up and down the difficult trails in Mount Hiei above Kyoto for 100 days of the year.
In Year 2, they walk 30-40 km per day along the same course for 100 days of the year.
In Year 3, they walk 30-40 km per day along the same course for 100 days of the year.
In Year 4, they walk 30-40 km per day along the same course for 200 days of the year.
In Year 5, they walk 30-40 km per day along the same course for 200 days of the year.
In Year 6, they walk 60 km per day along the same course for 100 days of the year.
In Year 7, they walk 84 km per day for 100 days, followed by 30-40 km per day for 100 days of the year.

During the fifth year, their ritual is temporarily put on hold for them to go for 9 days (216 straight hours) without food, water or sleep of any kind. The monk sits in the temple and prays constantly with two monks on either side to ensure he does not fall asleep. At 2 am every night, the monk must get up and walk 200 meters to offer sacrificial water from a well.

According to medical theory, these men should be dead in this daring, daunting ordeal at extreme asceticism. But they face their physical limitations and desires with a serenity, courage and commitment that only 46 men have accomplished since the 16th century.

What is inspirational about this ritual is that during their nine days of non-sleep, non-eating and non-drinking, they must walk 200 meters to the well every morning. On the first night, the 200-meter walk is done in a matter of a few minutes. By the ninth day, the same 200-meter walk takes an agonizing hour due to the physical toll on the human body. And, then on the very last moment before the ritual is completed, the monk walks to his first meal and drink in 9 days…but they must first kneel in front of the food and water and pray.

The amount of self-discipline and courage to sit in front of food and water and first pray after 9 days in a principled, quiet and scripted manner is an unbelievable culmination to this ritual on year 5.

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association