This week Tesshin Roshi explored “Buddhist Walking” and what it means for our practice. It is important to note that all schools of Buddhism have some type of walking practice, even if the style and technique is very different among the different traditions. Roshi also noted that walking was a large part of the practice of the historical Buddha as monks of that time spent a large amount of time collecting food donations for their sangha.
So, what is this walking practice? Commonly, new students look at walking mediation as a break between sitting periods where one can stretch the legs and work out kinks. While this is true to some degree, but there is so much more to this practice. Roshi invited us to consider the kanji character for walking. The top portion of the character represents the neck and head, and the bottom part relates to a road or a path.
The bottom part of the kanji translates as “DO” which in English is “Way”. We see this term “way” in many pursuits. For instance, we may study the way of the bow “kyuDO” or the way of flowers also known as “kaDO”. Roshi reminded us that this way or path is not simply a google map telling us how to get from point A to point B. This is because the way/path we are taking requires our consciousness. This is the other part of the kanji. We cannot fire the bow or arrange the flowers or do any of the other myriad of things without bringing our consciousness to bear. So, in walking meditation, we are not walking to reach a destination. We are also not just walking to stretch out after a long sit. We are walking to bring our consciousness to bear on the task at hand. In a very real way, we are walking to our own enlightenment.
However, Roshi did not stop here. In our conventional way of thinking, we travel a path to get from where we are to where we want to be. So, in Zen we have to always ask the question, where are we going? Is the destination better than where we are right now? Here Roshi stopped and pointed out that the answer must be NO. It is dualistic to think that over there is better than what is right here. To undertake a path to get to some “promised land” is simply a recipe for suffering. We do this all the time as it is part of our conditioning. We think that if we get promoted to the better job, we will be happy. Perhaps if we become degreed in a discipline, we will be happy. On and on we go. We are always moving towards something and when we get there, we simply end up looking for the next thing. It never ends and we are never happy.
So Roshi asked the group, “Should we not strive? Should we not take up a path?” Of course, we should! The thought we should hold, however, is that the destination is not what is important, rather it is every step along the way. Each step is perfect as it is. This is because every instant of our existence is perfect as it is. Our walking meditation is another reminder of this moment-to-moment perfection. In walking meditation there is no destination. We walk around the zendo and end up right back where we started. What we do, however, is to focus on each step as it is taken. We realize that each step is an expression of perfection in the moment. Roshi reminded us that this is the deepest meaning of walking meditation.
To many students, this feels a bit disappointing. We are hardwired to desire a goal. There has to be something to strive for. If this is the case, Roshi suggested that our goals should always be informed by the Bodhisattva vows. We should always strive to reduce suffering in ourselves and all beings with every path we embark on.