Three Fruits of Zen


Traditionally there are said to be three fruits of zazen. The first is “concentration”—meaning in part simply the ability to hold our mind steady on a given task or object, but also more than that: a con-centering, a gathering together of our multiplicitous and wandering selves, a lessening of our readiness to be distracted from this very moment, right here and now; a growing capacity to be present to our lives, and open-hearted in our encounters with our friends, family, colleagues and strangers, and ultimately with all beings. Even the floor can be cherished by the soles of the feet as we walk, and a view of a distant tree-clad mountain can be received as a truly intimate gift.

The second fruit is “seeing reality” or “seeing true nature.” This is a moment of sudden revelation, when we are dropped into an experience of our intrinsic participation in a vast and single fact that unites all creation. Infinite, empty, one, “vast and clear,” boundless and boundary-less, with no inside or outside, no self and no other, no life and no death, no separation of any kind anywhere, this experience is often regarded as a turning point on the path of authentic Zen practice. And yet, there is no requirement that all students seek it, hope for it, or undergo it. Zen practice is entirely valid and complete without it, and everyone is fully free to enjoy whatever benefits they may be hoping for and indeed finding as a result of their regular meditation, regardless of whether such a realization befalls them.

The third fruit is the embodying or integrating of such an experience in everyday life. This is a long process, sometimes also called the “perfection of character,” since if we really lived out the reality glimpsed in a moment of realization, and in every instant of our lives were free of all last shreds of clinging or grasping, with no blocks or hindrances left, then we might indeed be something like “perfect.” But they say even Shakyamuni Buddha is still only half-way there.