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Japanese Monk Goes Nine Days Without Food, Drink and Sleep in Grueling Religious Ritual

Can you imagine going without food, drink and sleep for nine straight days and nights? It sounds impossible, but a Japanese Buddhist monk proved that it can be done, after recently completing a grueling ritual.

Last Wednesday, 41-year-old Kogen Kamahori, one of the “marathon monks” of Mount Hiei, a holy mountain that straddles Japan’s Kyoto and Shiga prefectures, became one of only 13 monks to have completed the endurance test since the end of World War 2. He emerged from a training facility, assisted by fellow monks, after spending nine days without eating, drinking, sleeping or even lying down. During this time, he was also required to chant sutras 100,000 times. Just keeping count under these conditions sounds like a superhuman task.

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The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei Put Olympic Athletes to Shame

In the foothills of Mt. Hiei, to the northeast of Kyoto City, lies a huge, 1,200-year old temple complex called Enryakuji. The Tendai-shu monks who inhabit this place are better known to the world as ‘marathon monks’ for their amazing physical feats that put Olympic athletes to shame

Not all the Enryakuji monks are Tendai-shu; only some of them get special permission to participate in the sennichi kaihogyo, or the Thousand Day Challenge – one of the most rigorous spiritual challenges in the world. The trial lasts for seven years and involves walking a distance that is equal to circling the globe once over. During this test of physical and mental endurance, the monk sets on a journey to venerate Fudo-myo-o, the central deity of the Tendai, by visiting a series of religious sites located on Mount Hiei.

The selected monks are called ‘gyoja’ and their challenge consists of seven long years of pilgrimage  to over 250 sites on Mt. Hiei, which is one of the top three sacred places in Japan. During their visits, they need to cover a total of 1,000 long marathons, a feat that seems humanly impossible to accomplish.

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