In this chapter, the benefits of Walking meditation (cankama) together with the method for its practice will be explained so that meditators may learn about its secret benefits, discovered by the Buddha who also used it regularly all his life. If one uses walking meditation to complement sitting meditation, then more benefits will be gained in the mental practice.
To obtain quicker and better results for the mental practice, one must have mindfulness (Sati) and clear comprehension (Sampajanna) in all activities and movements of the body. These activities include, for example, standing, walking, sitting, lying down, working, speaking, taking a shower, eating, drinking, looking back, bending the arms, stretching the arms, purging, urinating, and even breathing in and out. If one succeeds in doing this, then one is sure to increase one’s mindfulness and clear comprehension which will then increase the strength of mindfulness, resulting in deep concentration or Samadhi which can be used to accomplish both worldly and spiritual affairs more effectively. If one practices only in the sitting posture and leaves the mind to its liking all the rest of the time, then one will make very slow progress because the mind is not under control most of the time.
Mindfulness of breathing (Anapanasati) can be practiced in four postures, i.e. sitting, standing, walking, and lying down. For those who are interested in the meditation practice, brief explanations for each posture together with a picture for easier understanding follow:
1. Sitting meditation. Sit like the Buddha in Samadhi posture, i.e. sit cross-legged, right foot over the left, right hand over the left (palms up) with both hands placed comfortably on the lap. It is important to keep the body erect but not tensed up or strained. Establish mindfulness firmly, control the mind not letting it have a chance to escape anywhere. Then observe each in-breath and out-breath while breathing naturally. Keep saying mentally to oneself ‘Bud’ when breathing in and ‘Dho’ when breathing out.
While inhaling and exhaling, feel the air touching three certain points, i.e. the nostril (or the upper lip), the middle of the chest, and the abdomen. Beginners must first feel the air at all three points, but when well-acquainted with the process, they can choose to watch only one of the three fixed points depending on which one is the easiest and most appropriate for them. Generally, most people find the nostril to be the most appropriate point to feel the air.
Having sat for the predetermined period or having felt that it is too long already, one can then change one’s physical posture.
2. Standing meditation. Calmly stand with the eyes fixed on the floor; stand comfortably but not stiffly. Place the left hand on the abdomen with the right hand covering and lightly holding the left. Observe the breathing while saying to oneself ‘Bud’ during inhalation and ‘Dho’ during exhalation. Repeat ‘Bud’-‘Dho’, ‘Bud’-‘Dho’ until one changes one’s meditation posture.
Standing meditation can be practiced alone or alternated with Walking meditation. When one has reached the end of the Walking meditation path, one can practice Standing meditation for a while before turning around and continuing the Walking meditation.
3. Walking meditation (cankama). Start with the standing meditation i.e., stand calmly, right hand placed over the left on the abdomen, and facing downwards with the eyes fixed on the floor several feet in front. Walk with moderate steps that are neither too fast nor too slow. Begin walking by raising, moving, and placing the right foot while also saying to oneself ‘Bud’ and then saying ‘Dho’ for raising, moving, and placing the left foot. Be mindful on every step when the foot touches the floor and repeat ‘Bud’-‘Dho’, ‘Bud’-‘Dho’ continuously while walking.
The distance for Walking meditation should not be less than 25 paces and not longer than 50 paces. If there is no space available, then less than 25 paces can be used. Upon reaching the end of the walking path, do not abruptly and immediately turn around but stand still first before turning to the right. While standing, know that you are standing; you may also change your concentration to focus on your breathing while standing. While making a turn, know that you are turning. When you lift and turn the right foot, mentally utter the word ‘Bud’ and when you lift and turn the left foot, utter the word ‘Dho’. Before starting to walk ahead, you can stand and concentrate on your breathing for a while, repeating the words ‘Bud’-‘Dho’, ‘Bud’-‘Dho’, ‘Bud’-‘Dho’ or the words of your choice. The period of walking can be 15 minutes, 30 mintues, or even one hour (up to one’s desire) or until one changes to another posture.
4. Lying meditation. This posture is good for both general practitioners and those who are old, ill, or very fat. Instead of just going to sleep naturally each day, it is better for one to focus on one’s breath in the lying position until one falls asleep so that one will have the special advantage of mindfulness of breathing.
The lying posture: Lie calmly in Siha posture (lying like a lion) on the right-hand side of the body, with the right hand placed under the right cheek and the left hand and arm placed along the left side of the body. The left leg is placed comfortably over the right leg without bending or stretching too much. Feel the air touching at the nostril while saying to yourself ‘Bud’ and ‘Dho’ on inhaling and exhaling respectively, until you think it is enough. Then you can go to sleep. When you wake up, you can continue to concentrate on your breathing again until you get up from the lying posture.
The Benefits of Walking Meditation
Walking meditation (cankama) has been one of the popular methods for mind development in Buddhism, ever since the Buddha’s time up until the present time, because of its advantages for both physical and mental health. Cankama literally means ‘steady walking’, that is to say, walking along with mindfulness (sati). Because of the many benefits of Walking meditation, the Buddha and his disciples used it regularly. The Buddha, even though already freed from defilements, still used Walking meditation for his physical exercise as evident in many written documents on Buddhism.
Take for example the biography of Yasa, describing the man who tired of being a householder and walked away from his home in Banares. While heading to Deer Park at Isipatana he was saying,
“Here is very disturbing, here is very objectionable.”
At that time, the Buddha was walking back and forth very early in the morning, doing Walking meditation in the open air. Seeing Yasa at a distance, he sidestepped from the walking path and sat waiting on a cushion. He then said to Yasa,
“Here is not disturbing, here is not objectionable. Come on Yasa, sit
down. I will teach you Dhamma doctrine.”
Eventually, Yasa became enlightened by his teaching.
Another example is the Buddha’s Walk (Path) in Jeta’s Grove in Savatthi (Sanskrit : Sravasti), which at present is in the northeast of India. This Walk is still apparent as one walks near the Buddha’s residence (Gandha-Kuti). Anatha pindhika, a millionaire who was the Buddha’s Noble Disciple, had this Walk made especially for the Buddha at the time he built the temple. The Walk was made of bricks and was about 2 meters wide, 75 centimeters above the ground, and approximately 25 paces long. The temple was deserted for hundreds of years and the Walk stayed buried underground until 150 years ago when the British Government, which ruled India at that time, ordered the ancient remains at Jeta’s Grove to be restored. Hence, many of the ancient remains have been well-preserved until now. The author has visited this Walk four times while paying homage to the Buddhist sacred places in India.
Another example is the underground Walk in the temple in Deer Park at Isipatana in Banares. This Walk is very long and if one does not notice or is not told, then one may think that it is an underground tunnel. This Walk might have been built after or during the reign of King Asoka the Great, of India. It was solidly built especially for meditation practice and at the present time it is still in perfect condition.
All of the most famous meditation teachers in Thailand like to practice Walking meditation. Therefore in all meditation centers in Thailand, especially those in the forests, a Walk is built for each residence (monk’s hut) and it is to be used for Walking meditation by those who are undertaking meditation practice.
With all of the evidence mentioned above, the importance of Walking meditation to mind development in Buddhism becomes apparent. In the Numerical (Anguttara) Collection, Book of Five, the Buddha said that Walking meditation has five benefits as follows:
1. One is able to bear long journeys (on foot).
2. One can endure making an effort.
3. One will be more resistant to illness or disease (having good health).
4. Food can be easily digested.
5. The concentration developed while walking lasts a long time.
1. One is able to bear long journeys (on foot). This means that one can endure walking a long distance, even when taking quick steps, because of the physical fitness that results from the regular practice of Walking meditation. We find that most of the meditation monks are able to walk for long distances because of their steady practice of Walking meditation. They are also bound to have long lifetimes because of their excellent physical health. Some people do not like to move their bodies and taking long walking journeys on foot, or even just a short walk, can make them feel tired. Therefore, those who are often tired and not healthy should try to practice Walking meditation and they will experience its good result of increased mental and physical health in a relatively short time.
2. One can endure making an effort. Walking meditation enables a person to make an effort. In this case, making an effort refers to the effort of developing the mind. Those who develop the mind by using only the sitting posture while meditating, without exercising, will become physically tense in a short time and they will be unable to endure for very long. However, those who develop the mind using both the sitting and walking postures alternatively, will then be able to endure practicing meditation for a long time. Using these two methods, one after the other, allows meditators to continuously practice for hours or even days and they quickly obtain good results in practicing mind development.
It is useless to practice meditation just once in a while, stopping for many days between meditations. The meditator must be diligent and must practice very often, like the saying in Pali, “Ghatento Vayamanto—keep persisting, keep trying” which means that meditation has to be done often, continuously, regularly, at least half an hour to one hour a day so that the mind will become easily calm. Sitting meditation alternated with Walking meditation will enable one to make effort for a long time.
3. One will be more resistant to illness or disease. Whosoever practices regular Walking meditation is sure to be physically healthy. Modern doctors advise people to take morning walks in order to get physical exercise and to breathe unpolluted air. Walking can cure disease like diabetes and can also reduce many kilograms from the weight of someone who is fleshy. Walking actually makes a person have fewer diseases and this is the benefit that the Buddha found by himself more than 2500 years before the modern doctors. He not only used walking for mere physical pleasure like people do nowadays, but he also used it for the purpose of mental development. Walking meditation is good for both physical health and spiritual health.
4. Food can be easily digested. If one sleeps or sits after eating a meal, then the food that has been eaten is not easily digested because, without moving or exercise, one uses up only a small amount of energy, which is not enough to help in digestion. One will then experience dyspepsia, flatulence, and stomach pains. Walking meditation makes a person move a lot and as a result, the gastric juices are secreted and thoroughly digest the food, which promotes in the person both good health and fewer diseases.
5. The concentration developed while walking lasts a long time. This is the direct benefit of Walking meditation and those who practice it can confirm this result. The person who sits in meditation after walking first will attain the state of Samadhi quicker than those who sit before walking. This may be either because the blood circulation is better or because the mind is already under control of mindfulness before sitting. Someone who attains the state of Samadhi while walking will then stand with the quiet mind. If Samadhi occurs while walking and one begins to feel sleepy, it is suggested that one should change to sitting meditation so that a sudden peace of mind will arise. Some kinds of rapture may occur during Walking meditation such as the flowing of tears or the feeling of lightness in the body, etc.
Samadhi obtained in the sitting, standing, and lying down postures lasts only while one stays in the same posture and deteriorates easily when the body posture changes. Whereas Samadhi resulting from Walking meditation lasts a long time, even after one changes to other postures as the Buddha said:
“Samadhi resulted from Walking meditation lasts a long time.”
Since Walking meditation has both physical and spiritual benefits as already mentioned, Buddhism regards it as one of the effective methods for mind development which enables practitioners to have first hand experiences of its good result. Those who fail to obtain Samadhi through other methods should try to practice Walking meditation by which, if rightly and properly practiced, they are sure to get the good result exactly.
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