torstai 21. joulukuuta 2017

Secrets of the Marathon Monks and Chain Gangs

Secrets of the
Marathon Monks and Chain Gangs

A long time ago, as a youngster in the peak of my vitality, I read about the Marathon Monks of Mt. Hiei (Tendai-school of Japanese Buddhism) and was very impressed. Before discussing my own views of this practice, I'd first like to introduce marathon running as a form of Tendai Buddhist-training.

For deeper understanding, find this article from Wikipedia or John Stevens' book on marathon monks.


The formal name of the practice is called kaihogyo which literally means ”to circle around a mountain”. The name comes from the fact that the monks run or walk marathons on paths around mountains. Monks who are accepted as marathon monks, go through an exceptionally demanding training which on top of the daily chores of being a temple monk, includes running or walking marathons at night.

The full training lasts for 7 years. On first, second and third years, the monks run 40 kilometers for 100 days in a row. On fourth and fifth years, they run marathons for 200 days in a row. On sixth year, they go 60 kilometers per day for 100 days in a row and finally on the seventh year they run a double marathon for 100 days in a row. The training is finished with a dry fast of 7 days and nights (used to be 10 days but the monks tended to die before finishing it) when the monk is required to sit up in meditation for 23-24 hours a day, guarded by two monitors whose job is to make sure the monk doesn't fall asleep. Yup, it's pretty extreme.

Perhaps it's good to add that most of the marathon monks are grown men, not youngsters. One of the monks, Yusai Sakai, finished his second training of 7 years when he was 60 years old.

My own experiences

I haven't done training as hard as the marathon monks but back in 2003 I did half marathons daily for 3 months in a row, just to test the technique. Being at the peak of my vitality and in a great physical shape without much social or financial responsibilities, with plenty of time to rest, it was no problem at all. Now, at 38 years old, I am well overweight, very occupied with work and family matters with very little time for rest. This doesn't of course mean that I couldn't do the same practice in less intensive form.

I have recently returned to walking practice of just few kilometers (5-10 km) a day where the same techniques and inner principles are applied. I have no intention or desire to go into extremes but rather to enjoy daily walks while applying the knowledge of physical and energetic yogas, most importantly mantras and ati yoga/dzogchen.

I'd like to go through the various aspects of this practice and give my own explanations how it can be done.

Body and Breath

The body is kept straight during walking. Chest and shoulders are relaxed, arms hang freely on the sides. Toes, knees and hips are aimed straight forward at all times. The rhythm of stepping should be kept the same despite of up or downhills. This means that the length of the step is adjusted though the rhythm stays the same. The whole body as one, is subtly extended but simultaneously relaxed.
The breath always flows through the nose, not through the mouth. Breathing moves the belly, doesn't raise the chest or shoulders.
Eyes gaze straight ahead. They don't look around, except when being attentive of the traffic.

In the West there is no culture how the body is kept upright, yet relaxed at the same time. We do not have culture for carrying the body the way it does in China or Japan. To get the alignment right, one has to know how the structure of the body, bones and joints, are built or aligned in a way that moving becomes natural, flowing and effortless. For thorough understanding of how to align the body it is beneficial to study inner martial arts such as tai chi, yi quan or chi gong.

It is very easy to conduct a simple test where one first pays no attention to the alignment of the posture or the harmony of the breath while walking or running too fast. That's how most people go. After going like that for an hour or two once can experience strain, discomfort and scattering of energy. On the other hand, if one skillfully opens the joints, carefully aligns the body, keeps breathing deep and even, and steps in rhythm one can see that it feels much more pleasant. After such walk one is filled with vitality and freshness.

Mind and Energy

In Tibet, there is a similar tradition of yogic running. The name for it is lung gom which literally means energy contemplation or energy meditation. I have not received training as a Tibetan marathon runner either but I think I know what they mean with this energy contemplation which enables them to walk or run extremely long distances with relative ease. I am sure shamanic practices and trances could be used too (I have no experience of those) but I prefer to look this as dharma practice.

When going long distances (long to oneself) one puts both one's body and mind into a pressure cooker. This has some similarities as sitting meditation but due to the physical involvement it is also very different.

At some point there will be some physical discomfort. Also the mind will be scattered and clouded with thought and emotions. In order to keep going in a harmonious, comfortable and non-destructive way, the posture needs to be repeatedly re-aligned and relaxed, breath kept deep and mind kept serene. If this is not done, one's vital energy will get scattered and continuing becomes very difficult, if not impossible.

To keep going despite of great obstacles the marathon monks keep a knife with them which they are to use to kill themselves if they give up. As a young man I used to keep a 2 euro coin, that I jokingly called ”two of death” in my pocket for a bus ticket (never used it). Well, it's again that old Japanese die hard mentality but I think it is good to have that same spirit of not giving up unless one absolutely has to.

So when pushing oneself to limits, one feels discomfort. Physical and emotional. Just like in sitting meditation, the situation requires energy skills to solve these knots of energy in order to keep going and to reap dharmic benefit from the practice.

The Genious of Work Song

We used to have a vibrant culture of work song in the West. From Finland at least, it has completely disappeared but I believe it still exists in some technically less developed countries which I think is a wonderful thing.

People used to sing together among physical work. On fields, at construction, in whatever physical work, even in war, people kept their minds and work fresh by singing songs. The most obvious beneficial aspect of work song is that it keeps the spirits high. However, there is another, a hidden aspect to it. It is bone vibration.

When one sings, the bones vibrate subtly. Through continuous chanting, this subtle vibration keeps the bones, joints and muscles in constant state of vibration which prevents knots of tension from accumulating. The body is getting subtly massaged. This has the effect that one won't get as tired and as soon as one would without chanting. This can be easily tested.

Pioneers, slaves and chain gangs had to do hard physical labour for 12 hours a day for 6 or 7 days a week, sometimes for years on end. I think this would have been impossible without work song and it's secretly envigorating benefits.


Along the 40 kilometer route, the marathon monks are required to stop at small shrines and other locations for short prayers. According to Stevens, the monks stop up to 200 times along the way. This means that they make brief stops every 200 meters. It is here, in brief breaks of tantric practice and meditation, where the secret of their demanding practice lies at.

Tendai is a tantric school of buddhism. This means that they have deity empowerments and mantra practices, together with sutras. According to a Tendai buddhist priest that I once discussed with, the marathon monks mainly chant the mantras of their chosen deity (tib. yidam), or buddha, in their practice. So they don't only get constant relief from physical and emotional stress through bone vibration caused by the use of their voice, also their minds are flushed with the utterly clarifying energy of the buddhas.

To speculate on this a bit, I'd say that while the currect World Champion of marathon running could probably endure days or perhaps even some weeks of staying up all day working and running marathons at night, it is absolutely certain that without specific yogic knowledge and application of energy work and mantras, the champion would not accomplish 100 days of marathon (not to even mention the more challening parts) in a row.

My own Experimentation

I am a tantric yogi and a practitioner of dzogchen, so I have used the mantras I have learned from my gurus during walking practice, combining it with the body and breath aspects that were outlined above.

One thing that is very important is to use audible voice because the bones need to vibrate physically. The effect is not the same with silent mantras.

I used to walk 1-2-3 kilometers in one stretch and then take a brief break of about half a minute of chanting mantras but recently I have found that stopping for mantras every few hundred meters is much better. I certainly prefer that over walking longer distances at stretch.

The brief tantric breaks have the effect of literally flushing one's bodymind with pure and fresh energy. When this is continued for 1-2 hours in a row, among walking, it has a very profound effect which, I think can be compared to several hours or even a day or two on meditation retreat. I think the profundity of this effect is because the moving physical body is also a very active ingredient of the practice.

I mostly use guru mantras when stopping. Sometimes I use the short syllables of Tibetan Heart Yoga when walking, rhythmically intoned, with the rhythm of the feet. Sometimes I chant long syllables, like Ooommmm Aaaa Huummmm, during breaks and walking because they get to the really deep tensions.

When I was young and did half marathons I did not know that the monks stop frequently or that they chant prayers and mantras. At the time I was a zen practitioner so it might have not made any difference anyway but now I greatly enjoy combining all these elements into one. I recommend you to try.

Thank you for reading.

- Kim Katami, 12/2017.

torstai 7. joulukuuta 2017

Why I Didn't Quit Guru Yoga

Why I Didn't Quit Guru Yoga

In the Winter release of 2017, the Tricycle magazine published Stephen Batchelor's article entitled ”Why I Quit Guru Yoga?”. This is my casual response to Mr. Batchelor's presentation.

I consider Batchelor a great contemporary voice of buddhist study. I think his work is a fresh breeze of reason and intelligence among the large and quite colourful field of buddhism. I have been a fan of Batchelor's work for several years. However, learning about his views of Guru Yoga lead me think that it was either presented to him in a mistaken manner or he misunderstood the instructions, or both.

Batchelor doesn't mention Guru Yoga with nonphysical masters, like Guru Rinpoche, as it's method. He only discusses his experiences with his living Tibetan lamas who he apparently was encouraged to be seen as living buddhas. Rightly, this should easily raise doubts. It is strange that he doesn't mention Guru Yoga with nonphysical gurus as their presence is widely invoked in various schools of vajrayana buddhism. I think there are big problems in the way this is practiced but that is another discussion.

I would like to expand on what is correct Guru Yoga.

Tantric Guru Yoga

Contrary to orthodox vajrayana buddhism, I do not think that a student needs to receive an empowerment or initiation in order to practice Guru Yoga with a particular nonphysical guru, such as Guru Rinpoche, Milarepa, Machig Labdron or any other. I am neither saying that an empowerment couldn't help. It's just that it isn't a requirement.

The principle is that minds vibrate. The mind, or energetic body, is a developed and complex organic machine which vibrates energetically. The difference between the mind vibrations of deluded beings and gurus is that the minds of samsaric beings are soiled with numerous habits while the minds of gurus aren't. Despite of the significant difference between these two, the point is that minds vibrate.

This is the reason why anyone at any time or place, can focus one's mind and tune in to the presence of any guru, say Guru Rinpoche. This can be done by calling the name of the guru (Guru Rinpoche... Guru Rinpoche... Guru Rinpoche), thinking his image, by combining name and image or by mere intention. What happens is that the mind of the one who invokes gets in touch with the mind of the guru's. This brings in a flood of blessings and fresh energy which greatly clarifies the mind and hence makes the dharmakaya aspect of the buddhanature, or awareness of the student pronouncedly evident and helps purifying the many defilements stored in the energy body. This principle applies to any mahasiddha guru, or an attained buddha. To do this, there is no requirement of empowerment, particular mantras or other specific practices. The principle is simple and straightforward.

When it comes to long prayers, mudras, rituals and whatnot else in Guru Yoga these are just a matter of technical and cultural elaboration based on the principle. However it should also be added that unfortunately the underlying principle of particular techniques quite often seems poorly understood.

By Great Transference we mean that the material body is
integrated with the substance of the elements and disappears
into the light. Those who have the capacity can continue to see it,
but for those who are limited to a common vision it is as if it disappears.
In short, those who manifest the Great Transference continue to live in light, give teachings and work for the benefit of all beings who have
the capacity to get in contact with them”
- Namkhai Norbu

It seems that Batchelor was not introduced to this underlying principle. If this is so in his case, it probably is so in the case of many others as well. Would be wonderful to get this clarification from Mr. Batchelor.

The Greatest of Gifts

I do not think there is a gift greater than helping a deluded being recognise his nature of mind (buddhanature). In my understanding, based on thousands of hours of tantric guru yoga, this is exactly how the nonphysical gurus want to help those still caught in the wheel of samsara. They want to help. But it needs to be asked first. Asking and receiving the charge is the practice of Guru Yoga. One outgrows Guru Yoga only when becoming a living buddha oneself.

I wanted to write this short text to clarify this point to that faulty views about Guru Yoga wouldn't spread and cause harm to beings who would benefit of correct Guru Yoga the most.

I was relieved to have recovered my own authority for living my life. I realized that I had been intimidated by a culture of fear. I no longer needed to ask my teachers’ permission for what I could and couldn’t do with my mind.” - Stephen Batchelor

This is precisely what true gurus help us to accomplish.

- Kim Katami, 7.12.2017

tiistai 5. joulukuuta 2017

Shane's Awakening

Shane's Awakening

See Shane's before and after photos below.
"Before I discovered the Two-Part Formula I hadn’t much experience in meditation, in fact, for reasons that I am not entirely sure of, I hadn’t meditated for nearly 10 years.

My brother introduced me to meditation about 12 years ago and the first method I learned was a breathing awareness meditation. This seemed to have a very positive effect on me so I made a commitment to practice everyday, even though the idea of awakening or enlightenment was completely unknown to me at this stage. Around this time I also took part in a small number of retreats that were focused mainly on the practice of pure awareness. I stuck with this meditation for a while but found it
hard to stay committed. My daily practice became less and less frequent until
eventually I stopped.

During the 10 years of not meditating I had considered returning to a daily practice but could never find the inspiration that I needed. One day my
brother mentioned to me that he had discovered a new meditation technique that was awakening nearly everybody who tried it. As you can imagine I found this quite hard to believe but simply hearing about it was enough to reignite a spark in me. I didn’t go to the 2PF straight away, there was definitely something in me that was resisting it. It took a few months before I eventually decided to give it a go.

The 2PF felt strange at first and was quite unlike any meditation technique I had tried before. I certainly wasn’t one of those individuals who awakens
after one or two days. In fact, it took several weeks to break through the illusion. The 2PF never felt like it was having a very strong effect on me. I found it difficult to trigger any strong sensations of self, but I was committed and eventually it worked.

My awakening happened early on a Saturday morning, but since the afternoon of the previous day I had felt like a shift had occurred. I went out that evening to meet friends and go to a concert and throughout this whole time I felt unusually peaceful. So content and relaxed, yet energised. Socialising was much easier than usual. I often had difficulty relaxing in large groups and would usually resort to excessive drinking as a way of dealing with the tension. While cycling home I decided to try out the affirmation. Saying the words out loud and in my head, I couldn’t help but notice how the words had lost some of the meaning that they previously had. Almost to the point where they felt like they weren’t bouncing off anything, like they weren’t triggering anything in me. I went to bed when I got home and as I lay there, already after 4 am at this point, I couldn’t stop thinking to myself that something was missing. This couldn’t be awakening. My experience lacked heart, lacked warmth and love.

While lying there I became increasingly aware of a glow between my eyes. I had felt something like this before during meditation, but it had previously felt more like tension, like a clenched fist, or a rock, or a knot in my forehead. Now it felt like it was coming to life , growing warmer, and pulsing with energy. I decided to focus my entire being on it and as I did so it started to expand. The more it expanded the warmer and freer I felt. Suddenly I realised something that I had known before, but there was a sudden shock realisation of what it truly meant. For the first time in my life I realised I can be me now, really me. I said this to myself out loud. “Oh my God, I can be me now”. Nothing to be scared of anymore, nothing to chase, no-one to be, except me.
These words had such profound meaning to me that I needed to repeat them several times, completely shocked by the realisation. Suddenly I started crying
and the warm glow that was expanding across my forehead suddenly exploded, releasing a massive wave of energy across my entire body. The feeling was so indescribably intense that I broke down in completely uncontrollable tears.

My body was shaking. It felt like a huge amount of dark energy was bursting out of my body through this point in my forehead. I’m not sure how long the tears lasted but as they calmed down they were replaced by laughter and a feeling of lightness and energy like nothing I’d felt before. Even though it was 5 am I felt like getting dressed and running down the road telling everybody I met what had happened to me and how much I loved them! Crazy! I did go for a walk but you can imagine what the few people around would be like at that time on a Saturday morning, so I kept it to myself.

My awakening was such an intense experience that it took several days to recover from. The whole experience had rattled me so much that I could do
very little for those few days. But as my life gradually returned to normality reality started to sink in. The sights, the sounds, I no longer feel separated from them as I did before. I feel so connected with everything and everyone around me. Such a strange but beautiful feeling. My self could never have experienced life in this way." 



For more info and instructions of the Two-Part Formula: