All over the news this week in Japan has been this story about a monk:

A Buddhist monk on Wednesday finished a grueling nine-day ritual of not eating, drinking, or sleeping as he chanted sutras 100,000 times. [...] He was the 13th monk to complete the test since the end of WWII.

When a similar question was posted, a link to three to five days without water being the limit was posted, and given that he was chanting the whole time, I would presume he would have lost quite a lot of fluid through the chanting.

Note that he actually is allowed water, but only once halfway through just to wet his lips, and he must return the cup without any noticeable decrease in the amount. Although he is the 13th person to complete since 1945, no mention was made on any of the news about anyone dying during the ritual.

So, could this be done by a dedicated monk?


Yes, it could be done by the Buddhist monks following the Vinaya rules [1].

Perhaps one of the best-known training rules of the bhikkhu concerns his not eating between midday and dawn [...]

Fasting in Buddhism is not what most people think, that is, literally surviving without any food, water and sleep for many consecutive days. So the headline must have confused many clueless readers.

Buddhism in Japan

The Japan Times noted that the Buddhist monk, Kogen Kamahori, made an appearance at Enryakuji Temple. The temple belongs to the Tendai school of Buddhism and is also the home of "marathon monks" (a term coined by John Stevens) [2].

To become a monk there, the candidate (known as gyoja) should successfully complete a 100-day term before trying the 1,000-day term. In the latter, one is required to fast for nine days [3].

After completing the 700th day, the gyoja faces their most difficult feat. They must survive nine days without food, water, sleep, or rest. This period of time is called the doiri.

In Japan, while some schools of Buddhism follow a particular set of rules in Vinaya, the Tendai priests generally marry and raise families, which is said to be a violation of the rules [1a][3]. As such, this may lead us to question whether the Japanese monks follow traditional Buddhism or not.

Buddhism and fasting

Fasting in Buddhism has some variations [4], as quoted below.

[...] In some cases food is only consumed in the morning, before noon, and fasting is practiced from noon until the following morning. In other communities and retreat centers fasting may be practiced for different lengths of time. Often these are water fasts that can last numerous days or even many weeks. [...]

Buddhism is known to practice moderation, which translates to taking less things, including food [5].

[...] Further, they respect the Buddha's practice of moderation and eat less on those days. The fasting observance is related to several liturgical practices observed on the six fasting days: they recite their precept codes, recite scriptures and increase their hours of meditation on those days.


[1] The Buddhist Monk's Discipline: Some Points Explained for Laypeople on Accesstoinsight.org, found via [a] this part of article on Wikipedia.

[2] Kaihōgyō on Wikipedia.

[3] The Spiritual Athlete's Path to Enlightenment by Holly Schmid.

[4] Notes on Buddhism and Fasting on howtofast.net.

[5] A Buddhist Perspective on Fasting on UrbanDharma.org.

  • 1
    Not eating between midday and dawn? I'm a monk and I didn't know that! ~ On a more serious note, good answer. – T. Sar Oct 30 '15 at 9:59
  • 2
    So, in other words, when the article said he didn't eat or drink for the whole time, it was just flat-out wrong? – Bobson Oct 30 '15 at 9:59
  • 1
    The news headline may say so, but the first paragraph of news article had explained in less ambiguous words: "...finished a grueling nine-day ritual of not eating, drinking, or sleeping as he chanted sutras...". I'd understand as: "a nine-day fasting was done while he was meditating". Other news articles quoted exactly the same, and nowhere in the news mentioned that he was doing so the whole time. It's subject to misinterpretations, nonetheless. – clearkimura Oct 30 '15 at 14:12
  • 3
    A good, well-researched and +1ed answer, but I do not believe that in this case, the monk (officially?) ate breakfast. Looking at the Japanese language sources, all mention the 9 days of no food, drink, sleep or even lying down, and further looking at forums (2ch in particular) no-one mentions This One Little Trick of reinterpreting fasting, so I cannot accept this answer. – Ken Y-N Nov 1 '15 at 23:45

The other answer addressed how the article was misleading and that the "fasting" mentioned was not actually going completely without food and water for the whole time.

I'm going to address the question as asked though: Can you live nine days without food, water, and sleep?

Short answer: Extremely unlikely

Long answer:

Let's break the three parts up.

First, and easiest, is food. It is fairly well established that people can survive much longer than nine days without food.

Second, water. 9 days is on the outer limits of survival without water. Most sources seem to agree that around one week is a maximum. However, the longest verified instance is 18 days by an teenager named Andreas Mihavecz in Austria in 1979. He was arrested and placed in a holding cell, then forgotten for 2 and a half weeks.

Third, sleep. Again, nine days is the outer limits. Record for staying awake with no stimulants is 11 days. However, he had to engage in physical activity such as playing basketball and ping-pong to stay awake.

Now, if you combine the effects of all three, it becomes plain to see that it is not possible for someone to go 9 days without food, water or sleep. At a minimum, the low blood pressure from dehydration combined with the lack of nutrients from food and the extreme drowsiness from lack of sleep would cause a person to lose consciousness.

The central argument of this answer is theoretical in nature. We do not allow answers based uniquely on common sense or pure logic. Answers which are wholly based on a theoretical model are generally downvoted and may be deleted. See FAQ: What are theoretical answers?

  • 4
    Your last paragraph is not supported by evidence. You make a theoretical prediction based on the evidence you present, which in turn does not exclude nine days of survival. – Sklivvz Oct 30 '15 at 19:05
  • 13
    So how does unlikely + unlikely + unlikely = impossible? – ryanyuyu Oct 30 '15 at 20:43
  • 1
    Concur. You make a compelling case that it would be extremely unlikely for someone with no prior experience or preparation to successfully go through such an ordeal, but at the same time you acknowledge that extreme cases do occur, even in completely uncontrolled situations -- such as in a monastery, by an experienced monk who has dedicated a lengthy stretch of their life to exactly that kind of lifestyle. – Shadur Oct 27 '16 at 7:01

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .