Buddha Weekly: Buddhist Practices, Mindfulness, Meditation
Meditation is the metaphorical transport vehicle on the journey towards Enlightenment. Mediation is a key practice within the Noble Eightfold Path, specifically: Right Concentration (samma samadhi) and Right Mindfulness (samma sati). But, no one ever said the only way to meditate was in the seated posture. Walking meditation actually teaches us to be in the present moment:
“Each step brings you back to the present moment, which is the only moment in which you can be alive.” — Thich Nhat Han
Thich Nhat Hanh, the great Zen teacher, explained: “Practising walking meditation is to practice meditation while you walk. You walk, and you do it as if you are the happiest person in the world. And, if you can do that, you succeed in walking meditation. Because we don’t set ourselves a goal, or a particular destination, so we don’t have to hurry, because there’s nothing there for us to get. Therefore, walking is not a means. It’s an end, by itself.”
Walking meditation with Thich Nhat Hanh, from the documentary “Walk With Me.”
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Buddha sat under the Bodhi Tree until he was Enlightened. In Buddhism, the word “sit” is virtually synonymous with meditation. However, in our transportation metaphor, you can have many vehicles: sitting, standing, walking, prone, active visualizing, — even sleeping (as we covered in our recent feature on Sleep Yoga>>)
It surprises some Buddhists that Buddha specifically taught the benefits of Walking Meditation in the “Discourse on Walking” (AN 5.29 PTS: A iii 29):
“Monks, there are these five benefits of walking up and down. What five?
One is fit for long journeys; one is fit for striving; one has little disease; that which is eaten, drunk, chewed, tasted, goes through proper digestion; the composure attained by walking up and down is long-lasting.
These, monks, are the five benefits of walking up and down.”
Formal walking meditation on a worn path is a daily recommended practice for Buddhists. Sutra and teachers recommend alternating walking and sitting.
Seated meditation is not a type of meditation; it’s only a posture. Mindfulness is a type of meditation; but it can be performed while seated, standing, walking or lying down. Although, in Zen (specifically), Shikantaza is considered a type (it means “just sitting”), generally, most meditation types are exclusive of the posture.
Buddha mentioned walking in more than one sutra. In the Mindfulness Discourse, He famously said:
“Breathing in, I am aware of my whole body. Breathing out, I am aware of my whole body. Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I calm my body.’Moreover, when a practitioner walks, he is aware, ‘I am walking.’” — Discourse on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness
A nun performing formal walking meditation in a temple. Note the hands gently clasped in front and the eyes half-closed.
Buddha taught many types — mindfulness, calm abiding, insight, and much more (see list below) — but many Buddhists forget there are also different “postures” within these types. You can meditate on insight or mindfulness while seated in a yogic posture, seated in a chair, standing, lying down, sleeping — or walking. Some meditators, especially on long retreats, will mix up all of the poses. Others settle into just one that works for them — although on a retreat eighteen hours of sitting can be excruciating for people, especially those with arthritis or other health conditions.
“Walking meditation has many of the same benefits as sitting meditation,” explains Yuttadhammo Bhikku (video below.) “In the same way we do in sitting meditation, in walking meditation we try to keep the mind in the present moment.”
For hectic, stress-filled lives, and especially given modern sedentary lives — not enough exercise! — increasingly walking meditation is becoming the favourite “vehicle” or pose for modern meditators. Especially after forty minutes of formal “sitting”, a mindful walk can be a must. Some people, are even making walking meditation their main focus. You can still focus on breath, mindfulness of body or phenomena, calm abiding or insight while engaging in a measured, mindful walk. With a little experience, you can even take along the dog — at least for mindfulness practice.
As Buddha Taught: “One is fit for long journeys; one is fit for striving; one has little disease; that which is eaten, drunk, chewed, tasted, goes through proper digestion; the composure attained by walking up and down is long-lasting.”
Yuttadhammo Bhikku explains: “Walking meditation has several benefits that are not found in sitting meditation.” He highlighted health and concentration (a side-benefit of improved health). “The second benefit is that it teaches us patience — because it is something done very slowly, repetitiously. It tests our patience.”
Yuttadhammo Bhikku teaching Walking Meditation:
Thich Nhat Han, the Zen master, taught: “You walk, and you do it as if you are the happiest person in the world. And, if you can do that, you succeed in walking meditation. Because we don’t set ourselves a goal, or a particular destination, so we don’t have to hurry, because there’s nothing there for us to get. Therefore, walking is not a means. It’s an end, by itself.”
The simplest method is to adapt the oldest style of formal walking meditation, which has the meditator walking the same path back and forth, very slowly and deliberately. The goal is to be distraction-free and comfortable, walking slowly enough that you’re never out of breath, and on a path family enough that you’re not distracted.
Formal retreat walking meditation normally uses a straight 40-foot path that the meditator walks back and forth mindfully.
The concept is a good one. The repetitive back and forth removes the “thinking” burden of planning your path, and the “distraction” issue of scenery. This is by no means the only method. Many walking meditation advocates (myself included) prefer to alternate with formal walking on a longer natural path. After all, we’re learning to stay in the present moment. Instead of mindfulness of body, here you can focus on mindfulness of surround phenomenon (passive observation and listening.)
Thich Nhat Hanh, the great Zen Master teaches Walking Meditation:
“Each step you make must make you happy, peaceful and serene,” Thich Nhat Hanh explained. “And each step brings you back to the present moment, which is the only moment in which you can be alive.”
The concept is a good one. The repetitive back and forth removes the “thinking” burden of planning your path, and the “distraction” issue of scenery. This is by no means the only method. Many walking meditation advocates (myself included) prefer to alternate with formal walking on a longer natural path. After all, we’re learning to stay in the present moment, and this can be very powerful if practiced in an environment where the present moment is changing. Simply, being aware is the practice.
Formal walking meditation practice novices.
For those who want to practice the older “forest-style” walking meditation, the instructions are:
Ben Griggs (video below) with some useful tips on walking meditation:
Thich Nhat Hanh is famous for his formal walking meditation sessions with students. There are many videos and photos of the great Zen teacher leading dozens of students on a walking session.
“When we practice walking meditation, we arrive in each moment. Our true home is in the present moment. When we enter the present moment deeply, our regrets and sorrows disappear, and we discover life with all its wonders. Breathing in, we say to ourselves, I have arrived. Breathing out, we say, I am home. When we do this we overcome dispersion and dwell peacefully in the present moment, which is the only moment for us to be alive.” — Thich Nhat Hanh
A formal teaching on Simple Mindfulness while walking from Thich Nhat Hanh:
In walking meditation, it is generally taught to be mindful of the six part steps to walking. So, in this case, rather than being mindful of breath, thought, phenomenon, we focus on the movement of our feet. These are taught as:
The goal is to make walking very precise, almost robotic in repetitive motion, but very graceful.
Watch this video for an excellent explanation and demonstration:
 “Cankama Sutta: Walking” (AN 5.29), translated from the Pali by Aggacitta Bhikkhu & Kumara Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 2 November 2013.
Dharma | Meditation | Sutra | Teachers
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