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Walking meditation in the Nikāyas

Recently I was asked by one of my friends about the significance of walking meditation in the Nikāyas (Pāli Canon). Thus I would like to share my answer with you.

Having a look at the Satipaṭṭhāna and Mahasatipaṭṭhāna Sutta – instances of the Pāli Canon that are regarded as key regarding meditation and that consequently played a very important role in the history of Buddhist thought – we can find the activity of walking as one opportunity to practice mindfulness.

„Furthermore, when walking, the monk discerns, 'I am walking.' When standing, he discerns, 'I am standing.' When sitting, he discerns, 'I am sitting.' When lying down, he discerns, 'I am lying down.' Or however his body is disposed, that is how he discerns it. "In this way he remains focused internally on the body in & of itself, or focused externally... unsustained by anything in the world. This is how a monk remains focused on the body in & of itself.” Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta (MN 10)

“'Again, a monk, when walking, knows that he is walking, when standing, knows that he is standing, when sitting, knows that he is sitting, when lylng down, knows that he is lying down. In whatever way his body is disposed, he knows that that is how it is. (…) Again, a monk, when going forward or back, is clearly aware of what he is in looking forward or back he is clearly aware of what he is doing, in bending and stretching he is clearly aware of what he is doing, in canying his inner and outer robe and his bowl he is clearly aware of what he is doing, in eating, drinking, chewing and savouring he is clearly aware of what he is doing, in passing excrement or urine he is clearly aware of what he is doing, in walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep and waking up, in speaking or in staying silent, he is clearly aware of what he is doing.” Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta (DN 22)

Furthermore we can find a vast array of Suttas where walking is mentioned as one way to practice mindfulness. Here some examples:

“And how, Sire, is a monk accomplished in mindfulness and clear awareness? Here a monk acts with clear awareness in going forth and back, in looking ahead or behind him, in bending and stretching, in wearing his outer and inner robe and carrying his bowl, in eating, drinking, chewing and swallowing, in evacuating and urinating, in walking, standing, sitting, lying down, in waking, in speaking and in keeping silent he acts with clear awareness.” Sāmaññaphala Sutta (DN 2)

“And how is a monk clearly aware? Here, a monk, when going forward or backward, is aware of what he is doing; in looking forward or back he is aware of what he is doing; in bending and stretching he is aware of what he is doing; in carrying his inner and outer robe and bowl he is aware of what he is doing; in eating, drinking, chewing and savouring he is aware of what he is doing; in passing excrement or urine he is aware of what he is doing; in walking, standing, sitting or lying down, in keeping awake, in speaking or in staying silent, he is aware of what he is doing.” Mahāparinibbāna Sutta (DN 16)

"He becomes one who acts in full awareness when going forward and returning; who acts in full awareness when looking ahead and looking away; who acts in full awareness when flexing and extending his limbs; who acts in full awareness when wearing his robes and carrying his outer robe and bowl; who acts in full awareness when eating, drinking, consuming food, and tasting; who acts in full awareness when defecating and urinating; who acts in full awareness when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, and keeping silent.” Cūḷahatthipadopama Sutta (MN 27)

Furthermore we can find a number of Suttas where it is implicitly (often as “walking up and down”) or explicitly mentioned that the Buddha and his disciples practiced walking (meditation).

Implicitly:

“Nigrodha replied: 'Lord, we saw the Blessed Lord walking up and down at the Peacocks' Feeding Ground by the Sumagadha Tank, and we thought (...)” Udumbarika-Sῑhanāda Sutta (DN 25)

“And in the evening, the Lord rose from his secluded meditation and came out of the mansion, and started walking up and down in its shade.” Aggañña Sutta (DN 27)

“Now on that occasion the venerable Maha Moggallana was walking up and down in the open.” Māratajjanīya Sutta (MN 50)

“Now on that occasion a number of bhikkhus were walking up and down in the open. Then King Pasenadi went to them and asked: "Venerable sirs, where is he living now, the Blessed One, accomplished and fully enlightened? We want to see the Blessed One, accomplished and fully enlightened." Dhammacetiya Sutta (MN 89)

Explicitly:

“Now on that occasion a large number of monks were doing walking meditation in the open air. So Saccaka the Nigaṇṭha-son went up to the monks and said, "Where, masters, is Master Gotama now? We want to see Master Gotama.” Cūḷasaccaka Sutta (MN 35)

“Now at that time a certain monk by the name of Elder was one who lived alone and extolled the virtues of living alone. Alone he entered the village for alms, alone he returned, alone he sat withdrawn [in meditation], alone he did walking meditation. (…) "Lord, alone I enter the village for alms, alone I return, alone I sit withdrawn [in meditation], alone I do walking meditation. That is how I live alone and extol the virtues of living alone.” Theranama Sutta (SN 21.10)

“Then, as Ven. Sona was meditating in seclusion [after doing walking meditation until the skin of his soles was split & bleeding], this train of thought arose in his awareness: "Of the Blessed One's disciples who have aroused their persistence, I am one, but my mind is not released from the fermentations through lack of clinging/sustenance.” Sona Sutta (AN 6.55)

“Then Bāhiya, deeply chastened by the devatā, left Suppāraka right then and, in the space of one night, went all the way to where the Blessed One was staying near Sāvatthī at Jeta's Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika's monastery. Now on that occasion, a large number of monks were doing walking meditation in the open air.” Bāhiya Sutta (Ud 1.10)

Then we find the activity of walking back and forth and sitting (most probably referring to walking and sitting meditation) as practice to purify the mind from obstructive states:

“During the day, while walking back and forth and sitting, we will purify our minds of obstructive states.” Mahā-Assapura Sutta (MN 39)

"And how is a noble disciple devoted to wakefulness? Here, during the day, while walking back and forth and sitting, a noble disciple purifies his mind of obstructive states.” Sekha Sutta (MN 53)

"When a bhikkhu abides thus, if his mind inclines to walking, he walks, thinking: 'While I am walking thus, no evil unwholesome states of covetousness and grief will beset me.' In this way he has full awareness of that.” Mahāsuññata Sutta (MN 122)

“During the day, while walking back and forth and sitting, purify your mind of obstructive states.” Dantabhūmi Sutta (MN 125)

Finally five advantages of walking meditation are mentioned at one instance:

“He can endure traveling by foot; he can endure exertion; he becomes free from disease; whatever he has eaten & drunk, chewed & savored, becomes well-digested; the concentration he wins while doing walking meditation lasts for a long time.” Cankama Sutta (AN 5.29)

As a contrast to walking as meditation, we find furthermore a number of instances, where walking is mentioned as a physical practice (“while walking as exercise”).

Conclusion: Although there are not many instances where walking meditation is mentioned as an explicit term, it apparently played a significant role in the early phase of Buddhism. This can be inferred from the fact (1) that it is mentioned in the most important meditation texts as one way to practice mindfulness and (2) that we can find many narratives where it is mentioned that the Buddha and his disciples were practicing walking meditation as a mean to purify the mind.