A fresh take on the Three Fruits of Zen and Three Lessons from Death
First fruit: Soothing, calming, quieting the constant chatter of the mind that produces storms of feeling in the body, which tend to make us act out of priorities other than generosity — becoming clearer and freer of all that weather. Therefore being able to experience the immediate without so much filtering and distortion and distraction. Being present for our life, without needing to judge, assess or measure things…. Presence. Awareness. Responsiveness.
Second fruit: Awakening: a sudden glimpse of the “Buddha land,” eternal, single, infinite, with no self at all. And inseparable from our real identity. Sudden revelatory discovery of “who we really are.” This is called kensho. It allows entrance into the first koans, which are otherwise impenetrable – “dark to the mind, but radiant to the heart.” Without it, there is no authentic koan study and they are best left alone. The less we know about them in advance of this opening, in some ways the better. (Although it probably doesn’t matter too much — unless we are encouraged to engage with them speculatively and conceptually, and are likewise encouraged to believe that that is how their store of truth and reality can be accessed.) Kensho may be dramatic and emphatic, or quiet. But either way, there is a sudden shift in view – a line is crossed, a membrane is broken, a previously hidden reality is revealed. The view is indeed quite different. This is the third ox-herding picture. Everything is somehow resolved, even if only temporarily.
Third fruit: embodiment of awakening in everyday life, every moment. This seems to come only after years of practice. It is why our Zen line still exists, and it is why Zen itself still exists and is practiced. It might best be called “rebirth.” It is a much deeper change or shift than kensho. All is given up, all falls away. Nothing at all remains, not even “awakening,” nor even Zen training. As Koun Yamada Roshi said after this happened to him: “Great peace. Great peace. Great peace.” This is the fourth ox-herding picture – at last the ox is caught. Practice now continues forever. And all is well.
There is no sure-fire guarantee of any of these fruits befalling us in our practice, except perhaps the first. But the evidence of thousands of years is that if we practice as instructed, if we follow the plain guidance handed down over many generations, if we receive the benevolence of the “three treasures” of Buddha (sitting), Dharma (teaching) and Sangha (community of fellow sitters), in all likelihood they will come. If we practice with what Hakuin in the 1700s and Dahui in the eleventh century called Great Faith, Great Questioning and Great Resolve, then there is no doubt about it – they will all come.
Three Lessons from Death:
- Death is natural and nothing to be afraid of.
- We are each of us mortal and therefore should do what matters most starting now (both Buddha and Dogen emphasize this).
- What matters most is becoming happy by “living righteously and doing wholesome and meritorious deeds” (as Buddha says in the parable to King Pasenadi, of the four mountains that are rolling into his kingdom, crushing and killing everything in their path, from north, south, east and west), and doing what we can to share and spread it. Which may be inseparable from happiness itself.