Let Us Now Praise Crazy Mofos

Jogging for 27,705 Miles

Jun 1, 2004
Outside Magazine

Genshin Fujinami Ajari: Jogging for Buddha
"THE ONLY ADVICE I GOT before setting out was to keep my feet warm," says Genshin Fujinami Ajari, a 46-year-old Buddhist monk in Japan. "Of course, the day before I started, it snowed. I thought to myself, Oh, this is going to be tough."

Well, nobody ever said enlightenment was easy. Last September, Fujinami, a member of Japan's devout Tendai sect, finished the ultimate ceremonial slog: a seven-year, 27,705-mile series of laps around the five peaks northeast of Kyoto. He's only the 49th monk since 1585 to complete the Hieizan Sennichi Kaihogyo, or "Mount Hiei Thousand-Day Circumambulation Practice"—and when you break down what he did, it's easy to see why so few have triumphed.

For 100 consecutive days in each of his first three years as a pilgrim, Fujinami rose at midnight, prayed, ran and walked 18 miles (stopping 250 times to pray), did chores back at the monastery, ate, and hit the sack. In years four and five, he upped his total to 200 consecutive days. Year six saw him complete a 37-mile course every day for 100 consecutive days, then endure the doiri—seven days without food, water, or sleep while sitting upright and chanting 100,000 mantras. In year seven, he trekked 52 miles a day for 100 straight days, usually from 1 a.m. to 5 p.m., then 18 miles a day for 100 consecutive days.

Fujinami looped Mount Hiei through sweltering humidity, typhoons, and snowstorms, wearing only white cotton layers, straw sandals, and (when needed) a straw raincoat. He also carried a rope and a knife—so he could hang or stab himself if he failed on his quest. (Records don't indicate whether a Tendai runner has ever killed himself, but you're required to be ready to take this step.)

"The fourth, fifth, and seventh years were the toughest times," says Fujinami, who hasn't visited his family since 1996 and won't for another five years. "No. The sixth year was the toughest, actually, because of the doiri. But also the seventh year: The distance was extended, so that was the hardest part, also." Pause. "Actually, there was no year that was easy."

"But," chirps the saintly master of the severe practice, "I'm thinking of going back to walking the 100 days this year. Why? Because it's so beneficial to my appreciation."

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