Ching…ching. The bell sounds through the zendo to sound the ending of the period of zazen. The sangha rises, each practitioner in his or her own time.
Following periods of zazen, we engage in the practice of kinhin, or walking meditation. During kinhin, practitioners hold their hands in shashu—the left hand making a loose fist and the right hand gently covering it, held roughly at the waist—which is used to bring awareness to our practice of walking.
We begin walking slowly, a half step for every cycle of the breath, as we come out of the seated posture, and then walk at a more normal pace for about ten minutes, letting all of our awareness rest on the simple act of walking. The instruction is to let go of counting our breath and focus all our attention on just walking.
But why practice walking meditation when the Buddha came to awakening on his seat?
Body and mind are one. When we sit down and take the posture of zazen, we are letting our bodies be still so that our minds may also be still. But we can’t sit cross-legged for all of our lives. The Buddha, in communicating the Middle Way of practice, spoke of many different postures of meditation:
…one who, whether walking,
standing, sitting, or lying down,
has calmed his thoughts
and delights in the stilling of thought:
A bhikkhu such as this can reach
the highest enlightenment.
In fact, it is said that one of the reasons the Buddha selected the place in which he was to attain enlightenment was because it had a nice spot along the river where he could practice kinhin, whose literal meaning is “stitched together” or “to walk as if thread through a loom.”
The Buddha asked his disciples to make their monastic robes by cutting old or discarded fabric into strips that they could then mend back together. The purpose of this was to render the fabric useless and therefore less desirable to thieves, as well as to allow the monks to live in accord with their vow of simplicity by not wearing expensive cloth. Yet, the robe of the Buddha—this tapestry of discarded fragments—passed down generation after generation, is the most venerated symbol of Buddhism.
So what is it that we are weaving together when we practice kinhin?
As practitioners we encounter things we see as practice and things that we see as outside of practice. We draw lines between what is sacred or deserves care, and what is mundane and is therefore “unimportant.” We take the time to sit zazen, study, do liturgy, etc., but what about all the intervening moments, all of the instants that make up a life? Are these moments worthless pieces of cloth, or are they part of a sacred tapestry?
Kinhin is the simplest way to begin to engage our minds while our bodies are in motion. We learn to “relax the mind and refresh [ourselves]” between periods of zazen, as Yasutani Roshi encouraged his students, and to investigate the weaving together of this endless tapestry—the robe of the Buddha—that appears to be separated in our minds.
1. The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Anguttara Nikaya by Bikkhu Bodhi
2. The Art of Just Sitting. Ed. John Daido Loori. Shikantaza, Hakuun Yasutani