Walking: Meditation on the Move

13 Masters on Mindful Walking

Take a stroll through 13 pages of walking meditation with Buddhist masters.


Hakuun Yasutani Roshi
A Japanese Zen master on kinhin, the formal walking meditation practiced in Zen monasteries:

In terminating a period of sitting do not rise abruptly, but begin by rocking from side to side, first in small swings, then in large ones, for about half a dozen times. You will observe that your movements in this exercise are the reverse of those you engage in when you begin zazen. Rise slowly and quietly walk around with the others in what is called kinhin, a walking form of zazen.

Kinhin is performed by placing the right fist, with thumb inside, on the chest and covering it with the left palm while holding both palms at right angles. Keep the arms in a straight line and the body erect, with the eyes resting on a point about two yards in front of the feet. At the same time continue to count inhalations and exhalations as you walk slowly around the room. Begin walking with the left foot and walk in such a way that the foot sinks into the floor, first the heel and then the toes. Walk calmly and steadily, with poise and dignity. The walking must not be done absent-mindedly, and the mind must be taut as you concentrate on the counting. It is advisable to practice walking this way for at least five minutes after each sitting period of twenty to thirty minutes.

You are to think of this walking as zazen in motion. Rinzai and Soto [the two main schools of Japanese Zen] differ considerably in their way of doing kinhin. In the Rinzai method the walking is brisk and energetic, while in the traditional Soto it is slow and leisurely; in fact, upon each breath you step forward only six inches or so. My own teacher, Harada-roshi, advocated a gait somewhere between these two and that is the method we have been practicing here. Further, the Rinzai sect cups the left hand on top of the right, whereas in the orthodox Soto the right hand is placed on top. Harada-roshi felt that the Rinzai method of putting the left hand uppermost was more desirable and so he adopted it into his own teaching. Now, even though this walking relieves the stiffness in your legs, such exercise is to be regarded as a mere by-product and not the main object of kinhin. Hence those of you who are counting your breaths should continue during kinhin, and those of you who are working on a koan should carry on with it.

Excerpted from Three Pillars of Zen, edited by Philip Kapleau, reprinted with permission from Weatherhill, Inc. Image: A Line in the Himalayas, Nepal, 1975. Photograph by Richard Long

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