Zen master Ruben Habito of the Sanbo Kyodan lineage describes the three fruits of Zen practice.
What is Zen?
Zen is about paying attention, and in doing so, awakening to the dynamic reality of each present moment. This is a way of life whereby we are able to give ourselves time on a daily basis to just be still. And in that stillness, listen.
If someone is able to do this is a sustained way, there are three fruits that come to bear in such a person’s life. This is what we call, “The Three Fruits of Zen Practice.”
The first fruit involves a way of life that comes from the center of one’s whole being. It is a way whereby one is able to live fully in the here and now. The word we use here is, “concentration.” But I like to put a hyphen between “con” and “centration,” to emphasize the centering aspect of this. Namely, we come back to the center of our being, namely the here and now, where our life is actually happening.
It is a way whereby we are no longer hankering after a past that we long for, nor being driven towards a future that is not yet. But is able to simply return to our home in the here and now.
So that is the first fruit: living life, in the here and now. In our daily life, when we are taking a meal, we are taking that meal and enjoying it in all its aspects. When we are talking with somebody, we are fully there, listening, sharing, and giving our part in the conversation. When we’re washing dishes, we’re simply washing dishes. When we’re sweeping the floor, we’re sweeping the floor. In other words, we are attentive to what is happening and are able to respond with alertness and spontaneity.
2. Realization of Non-Separateness
As one deepens this sense of attentiveness to the here and now, the second fruit of zen is more easily opened up. This is what we can describe as a glimpse of what one truly is. A glimpse of one’s true nature. And what is this true nature? A very helpful way of putting this in words is that it is a realization of our non-separateness, a realization of our relatedness with each and everyone, and with each and every element in this whole universe.
Let me give an example that strikes me at this point as an experience of this realization of interrelatedness and of non-separateness. Thomas Merton talks about an experince of his when he was visiting the city of Lousville, Kentucky, standing on a busy street corner called “Fourth and Walnut.” There, just watching all the people pass by, all of a sudden, he writes in his journal, he came to realization that the he loved all these people, and that they also were bound to him in that unconditional love that also enveloped his whole being and everyone else.
That experience was a turning point in Merton’s own life. Those who know the trajectory of Merton’s lfe see that that glimpse of non-separateness enabled to really engage himself in the world, outpouring with love for the world in a way that sought to transform the world towards its betterment.
Another example that comes to me is that of my own teacher, Yamada Koun-Roshi, who writes in his journal that he was on a train from Tokyo to his home in Kamakura, that’s about an hour away. And, around the middle of the train ride, he is reading a book by Zen master Dogen of the 13th century Japan, and his eyes fall upon a passage that said, “Mind is no other than mountains and rivers, the great wide earth, the sun,the moon, the stars.” And as his mind really saw through that passage, and as he realized what it was pointing to, he suddenly burst into laughter. And since it was a public place, there was his wife beside him, sitting on the train, and there were other people, he tried to muffle that laughter, and kept it to himself for a while.
And that night, as he lay in bed, awake, all of a sudden it came to him again, in a loud burst of laughter, realizing that mind is no other than mountains and rivers! The great wide earth! The sun! The moon! the stars! In other words, realizing that the mountains, the trees, the heavens, everyone on earth, is no other than me! That’s me! And they are I and I am them! In that realization, he saw through that separateness, and realized precisely that we are one.
That realization can come to us in other ways .It can come from just hearing a sound. Hearing the bark of a dog. Or looking at a flower. Or, hearing a story of a friend who is in a state of struggle. And somehow in those moments it can come to us, that sense that we are not separate. So this is an experience that can come to one who is accustomed to paying attention on a daily basis.
Once one has glimpsed this world of non-separateness, this world where we are interrelated with everyone, we are then able to turn our lives around and no longer feel anxious or insecure or feeling the need to have more or to grab more. But now, we are able to experience that unconditional love from the whole universe. And experiencing that unconditional love we are now in a place of peace, and that also empowers us to give back that love to each and everyone in the way that we can relate to them in the most concrete ways from day to day.
3. Experience of Unlimited Love
And this is the third fruit.
Then, in that context, we can really see how Zen is an experience of unlimited love, is something that can be activated on a day to day basis. It is not something abstract, but is an invitation to really experience that love with a capital “L” in every breath, in every step, in every encounter, in every tree, every rock, every pebble, everything we see around us. And see ourselves embraced in that love and the only thing we can do is to embrace back.
So it leads us to a life of compassion, whereby our life is no longer something that is centered on seeking what I can get out of this or that, but simply, living in quiet joy and quiet peace and enabling myself to give all that I can and all that I have so that others may find their well-being and that I may be able to contribute to the well-being of the entire world.
Zen, is an experience of unlimited love. Taste it and see. Give yourself those moments of stillness., and it may just open up to you.
Ruben Habito was born in the Philippines and is a former Jesuit priest turned master practicing in the Sanbo Kyodan lineage of Zen. In his early youth he was sent to Japan on missionary work where he began Zen practice under Yamada Koun-roshi, a Zen master who taught many Christians students, which was unusual for the time. In 1988, Ruben received Dharma transmission from Yamada Koun. Ruben left the Jesuit order in 1989, and in 1991 founded the lay organization Maria Kannon Zen Center in Dallas, Texas. He has taught at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University since 1989 where he continues to be a faculty member. He is married and has two sons.
Video c/o ZenNDCity