by Sayadaw U. Pandita
a retreat it is usual to alternate periods of sitting meditation with periods of
formal walking meditation of about the same duration, one after another
throughout the day. One hour is a standard period, but forty-five minutes can
also be used. For formal walking, retreatants choose a lane of about twenty
steps in length and walk slowly back and forth along it.
In daily life, walking meditation can also be very helpful. A short period --
say ten minutes -- of formal walking meditation before sitting serves to focus
the mind. Beyond this advantage, the awareness developed in walking meditation
is useful to all of us as we move our bodies from place to place in the course
of a normal day.
Walking meditation develops balance and accuracy of awareness as well as
durability of concentration. One can observe very profound aspects of the Dhamma
while walking, and even get enlightened! In fact, a yogi who does not do walking
meditation before sitting is like a car with a rundown battery. He or she will
have a difficult time starting the engine of mindfulness when sitting.
Walking meditation consists of paying attention to the walking process. If
you are moving fairly rapidly, make a mental note of the movement of the legs,
"Left, right, left, right" and use your awareness to follow the actual
sensations throughout the leg area. If you are moving more slowly, note the
lifting, moving, and placing of each foot. In each case you must try to keep
your mind on just the sensations of walking. Notice what processes occur when
you stop at the end of the lane, when you stand still, when you turn and begin
Do not watch your feet unless this becomes necessary due to some obstacle on
the ground; it is unhelpful to hold the image of a foot in your mind while you
are trying to be aware of sensations. You want to focus on the sensations
themselves, and these are not visual. For many people it is a fascinating
discovery when they are able to have a pure, bare perception of physical objects
such as lightness, tingling, cold, and warmth.
Usually we divide walking into three distinct movements: lifting, moving, and
placing the foot. To support a precise awareness, we separate the movements
clearly, making a soft mental label at the beginning of each movement, and
making sure that our awareness follows it clearly and powerfully until it ends.
One minor but important point is to begin noting the placing movement at the
instant that the foot begins to move downward.
A New World in Sensations
Let us consider lifting. We know its conventional name, but in meditation it
is important to penetrate behind that conventional concept and to understand the
true nature of the whole process of lifting, beginning with the intention to
lift and continuing through the actual process, which involves many sensations.
Our effort to be aware of lifting the foot must neither overshoot the
sensation nor weakly fall short of this target. Precise and accurate mental aim
helps balance our effort. When our effort is balanced and our aim is precise,
mindfulness will firmly establish itself on the object of awareness. It is only
in the presence of these three factors -- effort, accuracy, and mindfulness --
that concentration develops. Concentration, of course, is collectedness of mind,
one-pointedness. Its characteristic is to keep consciousness from becoming
diffuse or dispersed.
As we get closer and closer to this lifting process, we will see that it is
like a line of ants crawling across the road. From afar the line may appear to
be static, but from closer up it begins to shimmer and vibrate. And from even
closer the line breaks up into individual ants, and we see that our notion of a
line was just an illusion. We now accurately perceive the line of ants as one
ant after another ant, after another ant. Exactly like this, when we look
accurately at the lifting process from beginning to end, the mental factor or
quality of consciousness called "insight" comes nearer to the object
of observation. The nearer insight comes, the clearer the true nature of the
lifting process can be seen. It is an amazing fact about the human mind that
when insight arises and deepens through vipassana (or insight) meditation
practice, particular aspects of the truth about existence tend to be revealed in
a definite order. This order is known as the progress of insight.
The first insight that meditators commonly experience is to begin to
comprehend -- not intellectually or by reasoning, but quite intuitively -- that
the lifting process is composed of distinct mental and material phenomena
occurring together, as a pair. The physical sensations, which are material, are
linked with, but different from, the awareness, which is mental. We begin to see
a whole succession of mental events and physical sensations, and to appreciate
the conditionality that relates mind and matter. We see with the greatest
freshness and immediacy that mind causes matter -- as when our intention to lift
the foot initiates the physical sensations of movement, and we see that matter
causes mind -- as when a physical sensation of strong heat generates a wish to
move our walking meditation into a shady spot. The insight into cause and effect
can take a great variety of forms; but when it arises, our life seems far more
simple to us than ever before. Our life is no more than a chain of mental and
physical causes and effects. This is the second insight in the classical
progress of insight.
As we develop concentration we see even more deeply that these phenomena of
the lifting process are impermanent, impersonal, appearing, and disappearing one
by one at fantastic speed. This is the next level of insight, the next aspect of
existence that concentrated awareness becomes capable of seeing directly.
There is no one behind what is happening; the phenomena arise and pass away
as an empty process, according to the law of cause and effect. This illusion of
movement and solidity is like a movie. To ordinary perception it seems full of
characters and objects, all the semblances of a world. But if we slow the movie
down we will see that it is actually composed of separate, static frames of
Discovering the Path by Walking
When one is very mindful during a single lifting process -- that is to say,
when the mind is with the movement, penetrating with mindfulness into the true
nature of what is happening -- at that moment, the path to liberation taught by
the Buddha opens up. The Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path, often known as the
Middle Way or Middle Path, consists of the eight factors of right view or
understanding, right thought or aim, right speech, right action, right
livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. During any
moment of strong mindfulness, five of the eight path factors come alive in
consciousness. There is right effort; there is mindfulness; there is one-pointedness
or concentration; there is right aim; and as we begin to have insight into the
true nature of the phenomena, right view also arises. And during a moment when
these five factors of the Eightfold Path are present, consciousness is
completely free from any sort of defilement.
As we make use of that purified consciousness to penetrate into the true
nature of what is happening, we become free of the delusion or illusion of self,
we see only bare phenomena coming and going. When insight gives us intuitive
comprehension of the mechanism of cause and effect, how mind and matter are
related to one another, we free ourselves of misconceptions about the nature of
phenomena. Seeing that each object lasts only for a moment, we free ourselves of
the illusion of permanence, the illusion of continuity. As we understand
impermanence and its underlying unsatisfactoriness, we are freed from the
illusion that our mind and body are not suffering.
This direct seeing of impersonality brings freedom from pride and conceit, as
well as freedom from the wrong view that we have an abiding self. When we
carefully observe the lifting process, we see mind and body as unsatisfactory
and so are freed from craving. These three states of mind -- conceit, wrong
view, and craving -- are called "the perpetuating dhammas." They help
to perpetuate existence in samsdra, the cycle of craving and suffering that is
caused by ignorance of ultimate truth. Careful attention in walking meditation
shatters the perpetuating dhammas, bringing us closer to freedom.
You can see that noting the lifting of one's foot has incredible
possibilities! These are no less present in moving the foot forward and in
placing it on the ground. Naturally, the depth and detail of awareness described
in these walking instructions should also be applied to noting the abdominal
movement in sitting, and all other physical movements.
Five Benefits of Walking Meditation
The Buddha described five additional, specific benefits of walking
meditation. The first is that one who does walking meditation will have the
stamina to go on long journeys. This was important in the Buddha's time, when
bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, monks and nuns, had no form of transportation other
than their feet and legs. You who are meditating today can consider yourselves
to be bhikkhus, and can think of this benefit simply as physical strengthening.
The second benefit is that walking meditation brings stamina for the practice
of meditation itself. During walking meditation a double effort is needed. In
addition to the ordinary, mechanical effort needed to lift the foot, there is
also the mental effort to be aware of the movement -- and this is the factor of
right effort from the Noble Eightfold Path. If this double effort continues
through the movements of lifting, pushing and placing, it strengthens the
capacity for that strong, consistent mental effort all yogis know is crucial to
Thirdly, according to the Buddha, a balance between sitting and walking
contributes to good health, which in turn speeds progress in practice. Obviously
it is difficult to meditate when we are sick. Too much sitting can cause many
physical ailments. But the shift of posture and the movements of walking revive
the muscles and stimulate circulation, helping prevent illness.
The fourth benefit is that walking meditation assists digestion. Improper
digestion produces a lot of discomfort and is thus a hindrance to practice.
Walking keeps the bowels clear, minimizing sloth and torpor. After a meal, and
before sitting, one should do a good walking meditation to forestall drowsiness.
Walking as soon as one gets up in the morning is also a good way to establish
mindfulness and to avoid a nodding head in the first sitting of the day.
Last, but not least, of the benefits of walking is that it builds durable
concentration. As the mind works to focus on each section of the movement during
a walking session, concentration becomes continuous. Every step builds the
foundation for the sitting that follows, helping the mind stay with the object
from moment to moment -- eventually to reveal the true nature of reality at the
deepest level. This is why I use the simile of a car battery. If a car is never
driven, its battery runs down. A yogi who never does walking meditation will
have a difficult time getting anywhere when he or she sits down on the cushion.
But one who is diligent in walking will automatically carry strong mindfulness
and firm concentration into sitting meditation.
I hope that all of you will be successful in completely carrying out this
practice. May you be pure in your precepts, cultivating them in speech and
action, thus creating the conditions for developing samadhi and wisdom.
May you follow these meditation instructions carefully, noting each moment's
experience with deep, accurate and precise mindfulness, so that you will
penetrate into the true nature of reality. May you see how mind and matter
constitute all experiences, how these two are interrelated by cause and effect,
how all experiences are characterized by impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and
absence of self so that you may eventually realize nibbana -- the unconditioned
state that uproots mental defilements -- here and now.
article is excerpted from In This Very Life, ©1991, by Saddhamma
Foundation. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Wisdom Publications. www.wisdompubs.org
About the Author
U Pandita is the abbot of Panditarama Monastery and Meditation Center in
Rangoon, Burma. One of the renowned teachers in the tradition of Mahasi Sayadaw,
he teaches from his own profound meditation experience, his 62 years of monastic
training, and his extensive studies of the Pali texts. He has taught meditation
worldwide since 1951.
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