June 13, 2009

Running (and starving) Your Way to Enlightenment

Here's an enjoyable article from 2001 about the famed "Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei" by the London Observer's James Davis. It was posted on Facebook by July Oconer, one of the Finishers and Sponsors of the 1st Bataan Death March 102K Ultramarathon Race, then picked up by 57-year-old marathon runner Jovenal “Jovie” Narcise, aka the indefatigable Bald Runner. These toughest of spiritual athletes are members of Buddhism's Tendai sect. Davis writes:

The ultimate achievement is the completion of the 1,000-day challenge, which must surely be the most demanding physical and mental challenge in the world. Forget ultra-marathons and so-called iron-man events, this endurance challenge surpasses all others.

Only 46 men have completed the 1,000-day challenge since 1885. It takes seven years to complete, as the monks must undergo other Buddhist training in meditation and calligraphy, and perform general duties within the temple.

At some time during the 1,000-day, 7-year challenge, participating monks fast for 7 days. This period is called a dori, a ritual designed to bring the monk face-to-face with death:

[T]he monk faces seven days without food, water or sleep or rest. During this time the monk will spend his entire day reciting Buddhist chants and mantras—perhaps up to 100,000 each day. The only time the monk will leave the temple is at 2am to walk the 200m to a well and return with water to make an offering. He is not allowed to drink any himself and the 200m walk can take up to two hours in the final days of the fast. During his time spent meditating there are two monks who are in constant attention to ensure that he does not fall asleep.

And you thought our 90-day meditation challenge was tough!

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James Shaheen's picture

Don't be afraid, take a look:

The ultramarathon race has the following objectives: (1) to commemorate the Bataan Death March and honor the dead and living survivors of the the said infamous event in the history of warfare and mankind; (2) to raise funds for the needs and support for the Filipino living survivors of the Bataan Death March; (3) to promote 100-Km ultramarathon race in the country and place the country in the worldwide map of ultramarathon running; (4) to develop our athletes in the sports of ultra running as anticipation for the plan to make 100-km run as a “demonstration” sports in the 2012 London Olympic Games; and (5) to promote running and active healthy lifestyle to the populace.

Here, for more.

Ed's picture

This makes even the fabled Badwater 135 ultra marathon in Death Valley (http://www.badwater.com/, where I will be crewing someone next month) seem like a warm up. I've heard of these monks before, but it's great to have a link to an actual story about them, so thanks.

The Bataan Death March Memorial Ultramarathon is indeed run to honor those who died during that infamous WW II POW march.

BlindRob's picture

I guess it's an accepted thing to name a marathon or whatever after a major warcrime atrocity if it's done thoughtfully and respectfully. I have to confess that I'm afraid to look at the "Bataan" site and make sure though.