Walking Meditation
Sarah E. Marks

In our meditation retreats Yogis practice mindfulness in four different postures. They practice mindfulness when walking, when standing, when sitting and when lying down. They must keep mindfulness at all times in whatever position they are in. The primary posture for meditation is sitting with legs crossed. The human body cannot tolerate being in this position for many hours without changing. Therefore we have periods of walking meditation that alternate with sitting meditation to exercise the body.

Perhaps some feel that since this is an exercise period, the meditative effort may be reduced. Sayadaw has cautioned us against this attitude. “The practice of mindfulness meditation can be compared to boiling water. If one wants to boil water, one puts water in a kettle, puts the kettle on the stove and then turns on the
heat. If the heat is turned off even for an instant the process of boiling the water cannot proceed, even though the heat is turned on again later. If one continues to turn the heat on and off, the water will never boil. In the same way if there are gaps between the moments of mindfulness, one cannot gain momentum in the practice — one cannot gain concentration.

That is why Yogis are instructed to practice mindfulness all the time when they are awake - from the time they wake up in the morning until sleep comes to them at night. Consequently walking meditation is an important part of the process of the uninterrupted accumulation of mindfulness.”

Unfortunately some people criticize walking meditation claiming they cannot gain any benefit or good results from it. It was Buddha himself who first taught walking meditation. In the Great Discourse on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness Buddha taught walking meditation. In the section on postures it is stated: “ A Bhikkhu
knows, ‘ I am going ‘, when he is going ; he knows, ‘ I am standing ’, when he is standing ; he knows, ‘ I am sitting ’, when he is sitting ; he knows, ‘ I am lying down ’, when he is lying down or just as his body is disposed, so he knows it.”

In another section called clear comprehension Buddha said, “ A monk applies clear comprehension in going forward and in going back. ” Clear comprehension means a clear understanding of what a Yogi observes. In order to get correct understanding of what is observed a Yogi must get concentration. And in order to get concentration a Yogi must apply mindfulness. Therefore when the Buddha said “Monks, apply clear comprehension ”, it must be understood that not only clear comprehension must be applied but also mindfulness and concentration. Thus the Buddha was instructing mediators to apply mindfulness, concentration and clear comprehension to all of the postures, including walking.

It is also evident from the stories of the monks and nuns living at the time of the Buddha that walking meditation was part of their practice. Venerable Ananda was practicing walking meditation, when he decided to take rest and just as he was inclining the body to lie down, he gained enlightenment. The nun Bahuputtika was practicing walking meditation late at night guiding her steps by the trees and pillars in the monastery when realization was gained. The monk Cakkhupala was still practicing walking meditation even after he had become an Arahant.

How are we to practice walking meditation? Ideally we should select a quiet place with a fairly long stretch of ground either outside or inside. We should walk back and forth in this area. It is important to be aware of every moment in each step from beginning to end when one is walking. When walking quickly one may just note left, right or lifting and putting of each step. When one walks more slowly, one should note three parts in each step. When one raises the foot from the ground, one is to note ‘ lifting ’. When one moves the foot forward through the air, one is to note ‘moving’. When the foot is dropping to the earth, one is to note ‘putting’. Then one is to note the body as it shifts weight. All this noting is done mentally. The eyes should stay focused on the ground about three feet ahead. Eyes are kept focused on the ground to avoid the distractions of people and scenery.

When one approaches the end of the walkway the intention to stand or turn arises and is noted. Then the standing or turning occurs. Then the intention to walk again arises and walking resumes as before. Sometimes teachers may ask their students to see six parts in their walking. Also teachers may ask students to walk more slowly or quickly, or for longer or shorter periods of time depending on the needs of their practice.

As progress in the meditation continues the concepts of “ I am walking ” or “ the foot is moving ” begin to be replaced by an awareness of the ultimate realities (Paramattha ). The noting mind begins to dissociate itself from the shape and form of the foot (Pannatti). The sense of motion (Vayo), a Paramattha or ultimate reality, becomes clear. Mindfulness, concentration and clear comprehension increasingly stick to the motion.

One sees the material realities of lightness, heaviness, hardness and softness, heat and cold and motion in each step. Similarly the mental qualities such as Sati, Samadhi, Vitakka, Vicara and so on that focus on the walking meditation are observed. With the development of seeing walking in this way the concept of “ I ” or a being is lost. One has a deep awareness of the constant arising and disappearing of mind and matter. And that constant change is seen as Dukkha.

So it is clear that the fundamental principles of the Buddha’s teachings, Anicca , Dukkha and Anatta, may be realized in our walking meditation. May we all strive to have mindfulness whether we are walking, standing, sitting or lying down.

• Fundamentals of Vipassana Meditation, Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw (edited by Ven. U Silananda )
• Walking Meditation, Ven. U Silananda.
• The Four Foundations of Mindfulness, Ven. U Silananda.
• Vipassana Bhavana, Ven. U Kundala.
• The Heart of Buddhist Meditation by Nyanaponika Thera.
• Buddhist Legends ( Dhammapada Commentary ), Eugene Burlingame