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Garden Kinhin Mandala

December 14, 2013

by Stephen Damon

In Zen practice, after a period of sitting meditation we do “walking meditation,” or kinhin. In Soto Zen, we walk in half steps, following our breathing.  The foot goes up on an in-breath and goes down on an out-breath.  The word kinhin means sutra walk in Japanese. Usually this is done by walking in a circle around the Zendo.  This most likely comes from the traditional Buddhist practice of circumambulating a holy site as a way of taking in and generating blessings, often by reciting mantras or sutras.   A sutra is a record of a talk or discourse by the Buddha and it often connotes a presentation of Awakened Mind.  In this latter sense it is a continuation of our sitting practice after we leave our seats and move back into the “world.” As Anzan Hoshin roshi said: “Taking a step in mindfulness is itself a presentation of the wisdom of the Buddha.

Sometimes, especially in nice weather, the leader of a retreat will offer people the opportunity of doing kinhin outside in the gardens. When doing kinhin outside one is able to get deeper impressions not only of nature, but also of oneself.  Often, the grounds outside a Zendo are filled with small altars of stone or wood which offer the opportunity of experiencing one’s life in the context of something “greater” and “older” than one’s ordinary sense of “life.” While you walk through space you are entering the “three worlds of time.”


Garden Kinhin Mandala


A sleepy-eyed sparrow

Standing on a Buddha

Watches me carefully


As I step onto a path

A long winding path

Of cool gray gravel


Through a garden, alive

In colors and sounds

Of an early spring


The crunching sounds

Of my shoes on the gravel

Conjure up memories


Of driveways, alleyways

And the other ways

I walked before.


I hear the soft steps

Of those who walk with me

And those who walked before.


Nestled under a tree

Stands a gray wooden Jizo

With a long red robe.


He comforts and guides

The spirits of dead children

And others who wander


Between this world

And the next.

He shows me how


To follow my breath

That guides my feet

One step at a time


A kinhin mandala

Of cool gray gravel

Red robes in the breeze.



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