Why History is Awesome Reason #1: People did Really Weird Things Back Then

August 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Sometimes when you’re just going through life, or in this case playing Shogun 2: Total War, you stumble upon little gems of wonder. For me, they’re (unsurprisingly) historical in nature most of the time, but nonetheless cool.  For me, some of the coolest things about history are some of the things that people did which to us are absolutely crazy and insane, but to someone born before us, make sense. For a lot of things, particularly religious activities, people nowadays can’t understand some of the simple things. Say, fasting. Being hungry really sucks, so why would you do it for the great bearded man in the sky? L.P. Hartley said it best: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”, but it’s fun to be reminded why.

Of course, when you mix the past with an actual foreign country, you get some awesome things. How awesome? How about running until you reach enlightenment? Running until you literally transcend the world…how awesome is that? I can imagine how that was decided: “Hey, how do you think we get to heaven?” “Why don’t we run there?” “…Brilliant!”

Take the Kaihōgyō. It’s a physical training regimen that covers 38,400 km in seven years, which, coincidentally, is three times the diameter of the Earth. It’s performed by the Tendai Buddhist monks at the Mt. Hiei temple, who believe that through self-denial, enlightenment can be achieved in this life.

Why is this awesome? Because unlike those wimpy flagellants who tried to whip themselves into heaven, the Mt. Hiei monks said “Fuck you, material World, and fuck your “rules”. I’m going to run till I reach Enlightenment, then we’ll see about your stupid rules like “you need to eat” or “people die when they try to run the diameter of the Earth three times over in 7 years.” 

Did I mention that that’s not even the hardest part? No, but I hear you asking: what the hell could be harder than running 30km a day for years at a time? How about going 9 days without food, water, or sleep, which is also punctuated by 400m runs at 2am? For a final “What the hell, Buddhism”, a monk was not allowed to stop after the first hundred days.

If you couldn’t finish the Kaihōgyō, the only option was to die. You had 1 chance at doing this friggin’ herculean task, and Buddha’s infinite compassion on you if you couldn’t.

See, at first this sounded like trying to beat Mario Bros. without losing a life. Needlessly hard to the point that it seems like it was built just to aggravate. Let’s be honest here. That’s running a marathon a day for years at a time. The human body ain’t exactly cut out for stuff like that. Hell, when would you eat? Or drink? Or I don’t know, sleep? Oh yes, I forgot. These monks apparently kicked that shit to the curb. Eating is for losers. Sleeping is for the dead.

Would you like to know the scariest part? It’s not that likely hundreds of people have died over the centuries, trying to do this stupidly ridiculous task. Oh no.

It’s that 46 people finished it. 

So either there are 46 supermen (literally) running around Enlightened, or at the very least there are 46 supermen throughout history who have literally said “Up yours” to the physical limits of the body and survived. I don’t honestly know if that’s amazing or terrifying.

But I do know is that that’s not enough for me to start running. Geez, I have standards, people. My knees are bad or something. I don’t know. I have Shogun 2 to play.

Disgruntled Monk knows you lack discipline

Oh yes, and the picture is from here. He’s awesome, by the way.


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