Walking as a Buddhist

by Jerry Bolick

Jerry Bolick works at the Buddhist Bookstore and is a member of the Buddhist Church of San Francisco. He became a lay Minister’s Assistant last year and looks forward to ordination as a minister this year. He’s been active more than the last 20 years as a speaker/teacher/writer.

I live in Brisbane, a small valley town at the base of San Bruno Mountain, just off Highway 101, to the West, across from the old Candlestick Park. Most people just zip by without much notice, the town barely visible behind surrounding hills, the mountain, barren brown in summer, green in winter.Not much going on, that is unless you make an effort to get close in.

Several times a week I walk one of the mountain’s fire roads for exercise, but often take extended time along its many trails. These latter times hold for me what might be called a transitional experience, one that seems inevitable now, but somehow remains a surprise, always a delight.

Whether negotiating a deep canyon, or traversing open ridges, there is always a point where the quality of experience changes. I may stop and turn, or perhaps look up, as responding to a feint calling, only to find myself not just on, but in the mountain, in its deep, abiding silence. The gap that exists when I walk on the mountain closes and becomes walking the mountain; to be sure, it is me and the mountain, but there is no doubt that I have been taken into something larger, more expansive.

A few weeks ago, I walked with a small group, mostly strangers, from the Palace of Legion of Honor in San Francisco, to San Quentin, a distance of 25 miles. It was a walking vigil in support of the clemency petition for Stanley “Tookie” Williams. About half way, we heard clemency had been denied. We stopped, many of us cried, comforted one another, and then we continued, eventually joining many others at the gates of the prison for the final hours of Mr. Williams’ life.

Several days later, I came to understand why the news of the denial came as a physical jolt for me. Somewhere during the long hours of that day, I had stopped walking for and began walking with Mr. Williams. At some point, the gap closed, in a shift from abstract relationship to one that was tangible. And with that, the compelling social, political and moral issues silently and inevitably collapsed into the larger and more expansive reality, that we share the same life and, yes, the same death.

I see now that as a Buddhist that is why I walk. Given the tumultuous times we live in, we often find ourselves confused—which way to turn? But I believe the Buddha’s teaching is very clear: we turn and we walk, as best we can, in whatever circumstance, in the direction that gives witness to a reverence for life. All life.