Originally created 09/21/03

Worshippers greet monk after 7-year ritual run



TOKYO - A Buddhist priest dubbed the "marathon monk" has completed an ancient running ritual in the remote Japanese mountains that took seven years and covered a distance equivalent to a trip round the globe, wearing only a flowing white robe and flimsy straw sandals.

The 44-year-old monk, Genshin Fujinami, returned Thursday from his 24,800-mile spiritual journey in the Hiei mountains, a range of five peaks that rise above the ancient capital of Kyoto.

"I entrusted everything to God. I am satisfied," Mr. Fujinami was quoted as saying.

Since 1885, only 46 other so-called "marathon monks" of the Tendai sect have survived the ritual, which dates to the eighth century and is believed to be a path to enlightenment, according to temple officials. The last monk to complete it returned in 1994.

A few have done it twice; many more have not lived to finish. Traditionally, any monk, or gyoja, who can't continue to the end must take his own life, either by hanging or disembowelment.

A rigorous regimen dictates that in each of the journey's first three years, the pilgrim must rise at midnight for 100 consecutive days to pray, run along an 18-mile trail around Mount Hiei - stopping 250 times to pray along the way. He can carry only candles, a prayer book and a sack of vegetarian food.

In the next two years, he has to extend his runs to 200 days.

In the winter, the pilgrim runner takes a break and spends the days doing temple chores.

His most difficult trial, however, comes during the fifth year, when he must sit and chant mantras for nine days without food, water or sleep, in a trial called "doiri," or "entering the temple."

In the sixth year, he walks 37 1/2 miles every day for 100 days. And in the seventh, he goes 52 1/2 miles for 100 days and then 18 miles for another 100 days, before returning to the temple, located in Otsu city, about 234 miles southwest of Tokyo.