This first fruit of Zen is about con-centration…coming together toward the center of one’s being or centering…
The Zen experience of kensho, or “seeing one’s true nature,” is a pivotal point in a practitioner’s spiritual path. While for some it can be a spectacular event that takes one entirely by surprise, accompanied by spontaneous outbursts of laughter and tears, or both, for others it can be simply an unobtrusive, yet nonetheless momentous and life-changing, quiet, internal event. In any case, a genuine awakening experience marks a significant shift in a person’s view of oneself, of the world, of reality.
This awakening experience, crucial and pivotal as it is, however, tends to be romanticized, idealized, and over-emphasized in some popularized accounts of Zen. It can be depicted in ways that give a rather misleading impression of what Zen is all about.
The awakening experience is set in better perspective as we look at it within the context of the “three fruits” of Zen practice and the Zen way of life. These are, first, deepening of one’s “power of single-minded concentration (joriki),” second, “seeing one’s true nature (kensho),” and third, “the embodiment of the peerless way (mujodo no taigen).”
This first fruit of Zen is about “con-centration.” Here I use the word deliberately with a hyphen, to differentiate it from the usual meanings of the word “concentration.” The part after the hyphen, which has to do with “coming together toward the center of one’s being,” or “centering,” is emphasized here.
In other words, as one continues and deepens in Zen practice, the disparate pieces of one’s life begin to come together, and one is able to move in the direction of a greater integration of the various facets of one’s life and one’s being. From a condition of being dispersed and rootless, one learns how to be centered and grounded, in all that one is and does. More or less, that is, for one always can run into snags, backslide a little, or fall into lapses along the way.
Yet even with all these twists and turns, or ups and downs, one nevertheless begins to have a deeper appreciation what it is “just to be,” and not feel always measured by how one performs in others’ eyes or by the results of what one does. One tends to be less concerned by thoughts of meeting up to certain ideals of oneself, or by pressures of conforming to the expectations of others, and so on. Rather, one is enabled to go about one’s tasks with a greater sense of inner freedom, able to be more truly oneself, “just as one is.”
The first fruit can begin to take effect in a practitioner’s life within a short time after one engages in seated meditation practice on a regular basis. One finds a sense of greater focus in the various things one normally does in daily life. One learns more and more how to live “mindfully,” and develops a capacity to “be in the moment,” able to simply relish each sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and thought that comes up, just as it is.
Ruben Habito is a Sanbo Zen teacher at the Maria Kannon Zen Center in Dallas. This article was taken from the MKZC website and is titled, Foreword to Flowing Bridge: The Miscellaneous Koans. It was originally published as the Foreword, in Flowing Bridge, by Zen Master Sr. Elaine MacInnes.