A Walk Around the World

(Originally printed in PULP)

One of my biggest issues with Western religious groups is how we tend to treat the human body. Aside from too often condemning our bodies as inherently dirty or sinful, we also tend to over-indulge them when it comes to food, to say the least. We too rarely speak of the spiritual importance of other self-care practices such as exercise.

Ideally, we wouldn’t have to preach about it, but rather would live as examples to our communities. But more often than not, it seems like the religious leaders who are set apart are some of the worst offenders when it comes to self-care, or lack of it.

This isn’t the case in all religious circles, however. For example, Yoga is a spiritual practice that emphasizes physical and spiritual wellness, and celebrates balance, both figuratively and literally. When I was not active in organized religion through much of my twenties, I found both the sense of community and discipline I longed for in martial arts. I was particularly drawn to Shaolin boxing, which was touted as the most ancient martial art, crafted by monks both as a spiritual practice and a method of defense.

So, although there are exceptions, it seems that religions originating from Asian cultures generally tend to get the importance of physical discipline and self-care, better than we westerners do. So, it was no great surprise when my latest spiritual inspiration was a Buddhist monk.

Endo Mitsunaga, a Japanese Zen Buddhist, is only the 13th monk since World War II to earn the honor of daiajari for completing an arduous pilgrimage. A resident monk of the Enryaku-ji temple on Mt. Hiei, near Kyoto, Mitsunaga completed a 26-mile trek in a single day through the mountains, marking the journey with 260 prayers along the way.

To complete such a task in itself is impressive, walking the equivalent of a marathon on the side of a mountain, but the 34-year-old monk has done the same walk a thousand times in the past seven years. He does the circuit, which brings him back to the monastery at its end, in strings of 100 or 200 days in a row, while wearing sandals hand-woven from grass.

By completing this pilgrimage, he has walked the equivalent of the distance around the planet Earth.

For most of us, this regimen would be all-consuming in itself, but he does this in his “free time,” since he’s also charged with taking care of the other monks in the monastery seven days a week. His daily tasks take up about 80-plus hours a week, so he wakes up at 12:30 in the morning to begin his walk, finishing by 8 a.m. so he can work until after prayers at 8 p.m., sleep for four hours and get up to do it all over again.

Some might see the monastic life as selfish, not really offering anything to the world by walking in circles day after day around a mountain. But to me, such commitment, focus and self-discipline reveal how much we’re truly capable of as human beings. We tend to fall back on the “my life is already too crazy” argument for not praying, serving others or even caring for ourselves, but clearly, it’s more a matter of priorities than a matter of ability.

It’s unfortunate that we have so few examples of sacrificial discipline in Western culture to help illuminate a path by which we might better ourselves. But at least, from somewhere on a mountaintop halfway around the globe, a monk’s quiet footsteps are heard half a world away.

I’m not likely to join a monastery or walk around 26,000 miles in sandals any time soon, but Endo Mitsunaga serves as a heartening and challenging example that, given the will to do so, I can always do at least a little bit more.

About Christian Piatt

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

  • http://N/A Mark O’Neal

    Having recently had a quadruple coronary artery bypass surgery, these words resonated with me.

    It got me to thinking about how important it is to be “balanced”. Too much of anything is NOT good. The trick of course, is to identify and define your life priorities and make an intensely deep personal commitment in support of them.

    By way of example, if you would have asked me a couple of months ago, I would have told you that my numero uno priority would have been work.

    As it stands today, work is a very distant 6th place and I think I like it right about there. A necessary task that must be attended, but is it more important to me than God, My Wife, My Children, My Family, or My Friends. I think not.

    In fact, I have toyed with the notion of promoting complete strangers above Work, but I could not bring myself to place all of humanity above a basic need; money. Besides, Jesus has that whole of humanity thing covered, I just have a cameo every now and then.

    You might be wondering how does any of this rambling relate to your post…

    Well, in order to sustain my life priorities, they all require me. So if I am to be around, taking care of the mind, body, and soul is just an everyday task. I never used to make time for “me”, now I do, every single day.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X