Ground, Path and Fruition

To help introduce the notion of Ground, Path and Fruition as I use it in The Circulation Project, here’s a short excerpt from my book chapter ‘Cast: Embodying ground, path and fruition in early embryology’ from Harrison Blum’s Dancing with the Dharma: Essays on Movement and Dance in Western Buddhism (McFarland, 2016). 


…Tibetan Buddhist master Chogyam Trungpa…[explained]…this “threefold logic” as the dynamics of “the background of manifestation, the potential of manifestation, and finally manifestation altogether.”[i] These three aspects of ground, path, and fruition are, of course, inseparable; the “manifestation” of form is none other than the “background” of emptiness, the immeasurable and undifferentiated potential out of which and as which all form arises. However, despite being ultimately inseparable, the distinct articulation of these three aspects highlights the process dynamics of appearances, which is very useful when investigating embryology and art-making – two disciplines concerned with how things come to presence. The threefold perspective helps us to remember, when we view something like a work of art or a human body, that that we are viewing a process of appearance (of presencing) rather than a independent, fixed form.

Within the Shambhala dharma art teachings, Trungpa Rinpoche described this threefold logic as “a way of presenting a complete world”[ii] – an arts practice that is responsive to the ground of making as much as to the thing being made. Dharma art practices, like somatic approaches to dance and movement, attune the senses, beginning with a basic sense of existence, of ground, then developing “slowly through the threefold process of perception: the sense of being, the sense of doing, and the sense of linking together.”[iii]

Many artists would recognize the experience of being with the pure potential of the unknown (ground), noticing a flash of insight or moment of perception (path), and the manifestation of this into form (fruition). Some have expressed this directly, such as the poet Allen Ginsberg, who organized his Mind Writing Slogans into the three categories of: 1) Background as “Situation, or Primary Perception”, 2) Path as “Method, or Recognition,” and 3) Fruition as “Result, or Appreciation.”[iv] The painter Agnes Martin suggested a similar threefold dynamic in the work of self-expression, dependent on a developing awareness: “Behind and before self-expression is a developing awareness in the mind that expresses the work. This developing awareness I will also call ‘the work’. It is a most important part of the work. There is the work in our minds, the work in our hands, and the work as a result.”[v]

The groundbreaking experimental composer John Cage, deeply influenced by his studies of Zen Buddhism, used the characteristically playful terms of nothing, making, and something, encouraging artists “…not to make a thing but rather to make nothing…. by making something which then goes in and reminds us of nothing.”[vi] Cage, like Ginsberg, understood the artist’s path of action to be one of beneficial activity, through which the fruition (the something) aims to lead the perceiver back to the ground (the nothing). From a Buddhist perspective, one function of arts practice and production is to foster awareness of the emptiness and interdependence of all things. As Ginsberg claimed, “the only thing that can save the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world. That’s what poetry does.”[vii]


[i] Chogyam Trungpa, True Perception: The Path of Dharma Art (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2008), 128.

[ii] Trungpa, True Perception, 127.

[iii] Trungpa, True Perception, 76.

[iv] Allen Ginsberg, “Mind Writing Slogans.” In What Book: Buddha Poems From Beat to Hiphop, edited by Gary Gach (Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1998), 197-201.

[v] Agnes Martin, Writings, Edited by Dieter Schwarz (Hatje Cantz, 2005), 67.

[vi] John Cage, Silence: Lectures and Writings (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1961), 129.

[vii] Allen Ginsberg in Mark Olmsted, “Genius All the Time: The Beats, Spontaneous Presence, and the Primordial Ground.” In The Philosophy of the Beats, edited by Sharin Elkholy (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2012), 191.