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 & bhikkhunis, monks and nuns, had no form of transportation other than their feet & 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 & placing, it strengthens the capacity for that strong, consistent mental effort all yogis know is crucial to vipassana practice.
Thirdly, according to the Buddha, a balance between sitting & 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 & the movements of walking revive the muscles & stimulate circulation, helping prevent illness.
The fourth benefit is that walking meditation assists digestion. Improper digestion produces a lot of discomfort & is thus a hindrance to practice. Walking keeps the bowels clear, minimizing sloth & torpor. After a meal & 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 & 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 any where when he or she sits down on the cushion. But one who is diligent in walking will automatically carry strong mindfulness & 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 & action thus creating the conditions for developing samadhi & wisdom.
May you follow these meditation instructions carefully, noting each moment’s experience with deep, accurate & precise mindfulness, so that you will penetrate into the true nature of reality. May you see how mind & matter constitute all experiences, how these two are interrelated by cause & effect, how all experiences are characterized by impermanence, unsatisfactoriness & absence of self so that you may eventually realize nibbana – the unconditioned state that uproots mental defilements – here & now.
Excerpted from the book In This Very Life: Liberation Teachings of the Buddha
by Sayadaw U Pandita
The Venerable Sayadaw U Pandita died on April 16, 2016. One of the foremost masters of Vipassana, he trained in the Theravada Buddhist tradition of Myanmar & was successor to the late Mahasi Sayadaw. This eminent Dharma master was a key influence on many of the Insight Meditation Society’s teachers & played an important role in IMS’s history.