Living Buddhas: The 1,000-day Journey of the Monks of the Mountains
In the arduous Buddhist pilgrimage of kaihōgyō, we’ll find one of asceticism’s most astonishing manifestations.
Kaihōgyō – a Japanese term that might be translated “to go round the mountain” – is a ritual in the Buddhist tradition. It consists in the overcoming of obstacles encountered in walking for one thousand days on routes around Mount Hiei, home base for the Tendai branch of Buddhism.
An unlikely pilgrimage, it’s believed to have been performed for the first time in the 10th-century by the monk Sōō Oshō. As an apprentice monk (a gyōja), he spent seven years making offerings and praying in the temples and sacred places of the moutain and following a careful and constant practice of calligraphy. During the trip, monks travel a distance equivalent to a walk around the Earth. In fact, since 1885 only 46 pilgrims have managed to finish the pilgrimage. By tradition, those who fail to complete it must take their own lives.
The monks of the mountains begin the pilgrimage by praying during the night. While others sleep, they pray to the buddhas, to their predecessors and for the good of the people, because the daytime is intended for work in the temple. Preparation for the ritual is important because the gyōja who will meet the challenges is expected to perform for many years. The body needs to be prepared to enter into a state of acceptance of the hours of physical effort. The pilgrimage is only the way, a method, for achieving what the monk will then do for the rest of his life: commit himself to spreading the teachings of the Buddha.
For this unique journey, gyōja need to set modest goals. Preparation is similar to that performed by an athlete. The monk, considering only these small goals then fulfills them, one by one, to reach the end and to not give up while on the journey, to not collapse. In fact, the literal meaning of the Greek word “ascetic” is “athlete.”
The process of the entire kaihōgyō moves through multiple stages. The most arduous, incredibly, comes toward the end as the 1,000th day approaches. The gyōja undergo nine days with no food, water, sleep or rest. The objective of this phase is to actually confront death. If the body can survive, it’s said, life acquires a sense that few in the world have experienced – and the last of this initiation.
Kaihōgyō is a path to light, to spiritual freedom through physical endurance, of pain, of fasts and many of the ascetic practices of other religious traditions. During the journey, the deterioration of the body strengthens the heart of the monk, who remains immutable and generous, praying at night for the good of all the people of the world and traveling the mountain during the day.
The documentary by director Ivan Olita provides a brilliant portrait of the path of the kaihōgyō:
*Image: Pixabay / Creative Commons
When ancient rituals became religion
The emergence of religions irreversibly changed the history of humanity. It’s therefore essential to ask when and how did ancient peoples’ rituals become organized systems of thought, each with their
Seven ancient maps of the Americas
A map is not the territory. —Alfred Korzybski Maps are never merely maps. They’re human projections, metaphors in which we find both the geographical and the imaginary. The cases of ghost islands
An artist crochets a perfect skeleton and internal organs
Shanell Papp is a skilled textile and crochet artist. She spent four long months crocheting a life-size skeleton in wool. She then filled it in with the organs of the human body in an act as patient
A musical tribute to maps
A sequence of sounds, rhythms, melodies and silences: music is a most primitive art, the most essential, and the most powerful of all languages. Its capacity is not limited to the (hardly trivial)
The enchantment of 17th-century optics
The sense of sight is perhaps one the imagination’s most prolific masters. That is why humankind has been fascinated and bewitched by optics and their possibilities for centuries. Like the heart, the
Would you found your own micro-nation? These eccentric examples show how easy it can be
Founding a country is, in some ways, a simple task. It is enough to manifest its existence and the motives for creating a new political entity. At least that is what has been demonstrated by the
Wondrous crossings: the galaxy caves of New Zealand
Often, the most extraordinary phenomena are “jealous of themselves” ––and they happen where the human eye cannot enjoy them. However, they can be discovered, and when we do find them we experience a
Think you have strange reading habits? Wait until you've seen how Mcluhan reads
We often forget or neglect to think about the infinite circumstances that are condensed in the acts that we consider habitual. Using a fork to eat, for example, or walking down the street and being
The sky is calling us, a love letter to the cosmos (video)
We once dreamt of open sails and Open seas We once dreamt of new frontiers and New lands Are we still a brave people? We must not forget that the very stars we see nowadays are the same stars and
The sister you always wanted (but made into a crystal chandelier)
Lucas Maassen always wanted to have a sister. And after 36 years he finally procured one, except, as strange as it may sound, in the shape of a chandelier. Maassen, a Dutch designer, asked the