Friday, May 7, 2010

People More Badass Than You

You've trained, you've sweat, you've sacrificed, but you finally did it. You've completed that marathon.


You've trained more, you've sweat more, you've sacrificed more, but you finally did it. You've completed that Ironman triathlon.


Try the Tendai marathon on for size.

Tendai Buddhist monks, based at Mount Hiei near Kyoto, Japan, are intimately familiar with the Tendai marathon; to them it is a path to spiritual enlightenment. For not only do they have to do the running, along the way they must meditate as well. This would normally be fine. Hey, great, a chance to stop and catch their breath.

Except there are about 255 of these stops.

And they have another marathon the next day. And the next. And the next. And the next. And the next. With peers completely unconcerned as to whether you live or die.

Welcome to the 1,000-day challenge. Just to qualify to run the 1,000 day challenge, one must first complete a 100-day kaihogyo, in which one must run 40 km (24.8 miles) per day, with all the meditation stops, every day for 100 consecutive days. There is a prescribed route, but it's unmarked, much of it along uneven back roads as well as the streets of Kyoto, and you aren't given a map. If you go off-course, too bad; you simply have to find your way back to the route. Your diet is to be vegetables, tofu and miso soup. You're running in a straw hat, sandals, and are dressed in all-white. Your day begins at 1:30 AM. With all the stops, a single 40-km marathon can easily last seven and a half hours.

You are only permitted to sit down once.

And all that time, you carry with you a dagger and a rope cord. That is the consequence for failure, and all along the route, you will see grave markers of countless 19th-century monks who chose that option. For you, it's pretty much symbolic, and nowadays you can simply try again next year, but face death on the mountain and your fellow monks won't be quick about treating you.

As if that weren't enough, one of the 100 days must be a kirimawari- a 33.6 mile (54 km) run. Runners will tend to lose an entire day of sleep completing the kirimawari, but they just have to push on through.

This is just the qualifier.

Should you complete the 100-day kaihogyo, you then have the option of undertaking the 1,000-day challenge. Should you say yes, you then embark on a seven-year oddysey.

And those 100 days you just did don't count.

In years 1-3, you'll be doing one 100-day kaihogyo per year just like the one you ran in the qualifier, except there's no kirimawari. Amidst it all, Tendai monks are required to partake in other training and duties in the Mount Hiei temple. 300 days down. (In the middle of each 100-day term, there's a four-day retreat during which you don't have to run, and which still count towards the 100 days. However, modern monks tack an extra four days onto the end of the run of their own free will.)

These first three years are referred to as "basic training".

In years 4-5, you're still doing a 40-km run, with the meditation stops as always, but now it's for 200 consecutive days. (You might be wondering at this point about what happens in winter. Yeah. Good luck with that, Mr. Monk.) 700 days down, 300 to go.

In year 6, you're back to a 100-day year. But you're not getting off that easy. Oh, no. Remember that 40 kilometers? It's now 60 (37.3 miles). Per day. For 100 days.

In year 7, the final year, you only have two kaihogyos to go. This is when they stop toying with you. Remember that 60 kilometers? It's now 84 (52.2 miles). Per day. For 100 consecutive days. With meditation stops. On back mountain roads and the streets of Kyoto. That dagger's probably looking mighty tempting right about now, though by this point there are plenty of people along the course rooting you on, as word gets around fast that someone's getting close to the end.

Oh yes. You are required to bless them.

The final 100 days send you back to the 40-km kaihogyo, which to anyone that's made it past the 84-kilometer hell seems almost like a victory lap.

A single Year 7 day can hit the 20-hour mark, meaning you aren't worrying too much anymore about performing the other duties and training in the temple, which is small comfort when you've only got four hours a day when you aren't running. As for the lack of sleep, the Tendais aren't too worried about you. They have a saying, "Ten minutes' sleep for a marathon monk is worth five hours of ordinary rest." In addition, by this point you should be trying to rest individual parts of your body during the run.

But wait, there's more.

During Year 5, you will face the seven-day doiri. Mercifully, you will not be running. You'll only be walking 200 meters a day, to retrieve water from a nearby well as an offering for the emperor.

Unmercifully, the walk takes place at 2 AM. And you will not be drinking any of this water. Or any other water. Or food. You won't be sleeping either. Of course there was a catch, silly. This is the Tendai marathon.

All day long, you'll be praying and chanting, performing 100,000 prayers, with two monks by your side simply to make sure you don't break any rules. Prior to the doiri, you'll be reducing your food intake in order to prepare your body. As the London Observer puts it:
The first day is no problem, but there is some nausea on the second and third days. By the fourth and fifth days the hunger pangs have disappeared, but the monk has become so dehydrated that there is no saliva in his mouth and he will begin to taste blood.

Day 5 seems like a slap in the face: your mouth is dehydrated and you're allowed to rinse it out, but you better spit out every last drop of water that you've got in there.

On the occasions you go outside, however, you are allowed to keep all the rain that you can absorb through your skin.

By the end of the doiri, that 200 meter walk can take hours. You will be pale at the end of it There is, of course, a spiritual purpose: to bring you face-to-face with death. Doiri participants report a kind of mental clarity beyond the concepts of good and bad.

Unsurprisingly, they can also smell food being prepared miles away.

The doiri used to last ten days. They shortened it after they found that almost everybody died by the end of Day 10. The idea is to get you CLOSE to death, not to kill you.

Anyone who manages to survive the 1,000-day challenge is declared a Daigyoman Ajari- Saintly Master of the Highest Practice, and only has a 100,000-prayer fasting ceremony to go, 2-3 years after the running is over.

However, since 1585, only 46 men have attained that rank (though some places report 49). Even taking the higher number of 49, that's an average of one completion every 8.7 years. The better part of nine years and of all the people who set out on the challenge, one guy makes it. The most recent completion was by one Genshin Fujinami in 2003.

Do you still feel like an ironman?

(For more information, oh dear Lord will you be shelling out money for a used copy of this book.)

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