An unexpected book arrived in the mail the other day. A gift from my friend’s at Wisdom Publications. Zen Master Raven: The Teachings of a Wise Old Bird. by Zen Master human form, Robert Aitken. Here the koans are told by and to animals of the forest: raven, porcupine, owl, woodpecker, badger, black bear, and […]
11 May 2010 NPR presents an intriguing story of walking Japanese Zen monks. These monks aren’t going for a stroll. One monk completes the “Sennichi Kaihogyo, 1,000 days of walking meditation and prayer over a seven-year period around Mount Hiei. He walked 26 miles a day for periods of either 100 or 200 consecutive days.” That’s the equivalent of a trip around the earth. Japanese Zen is notorious for such feats, but the Sennichi Kaihogyo is a walk in the park compared with the “test” that occurs 700 days into the process. Here, he “prays nonstop for nine days, without eating, drinking, sleeping or even lying down. It’s a near-death experience, the monk says.” Such a test burns away all traces of story and resistance and provides the practitioner with an unencumbered look at existence. This is a existential experience of purity and one must be willing to relinquish everything to have it. The article notes, “Finally, his old self dies, at least figuratively, and he is reborn to help and lead all beings to enlightenment.” These extreme experience cuts away at the illusion of separation, helping the monk to pursue his Bodhisattva path — working for the betterment of all sentient beings. Such experiences are the equivalent of Buddhist Olympics and not the sort of thing that we might contemplate or practice on a daily basis. They are certainly not necessary for us to have a taste of that interconnectedness with everything and everyone around us. Certainly, the Buddha spent a lot of time walking around northern India with his retinue of followers and walking meditation is an important practice for mindfulness. So, we can embody this spirit each time we walk in a deliberate manner. As lay practitioners we may not have the time to spend 1000 days walking the equivalent of a marathon, but as Tich Nhat Hanh reminds us, peace can be in every step.