Spiritual Not Religious: How to Learn the Basics of Zen

Sacred Tools for Modern Times #5 — Enlightenment and the concept of “chop wood, carry water”.

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Photo by Fabrizio Chiagano on Unsplash

What is the meaning of the Zen concept of “chop wood, carry water?”

“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

This is what the great Zen masters have said. It is a reminder that there is nothing you must do in life other than what must be done. When living in this way, tasks in your life will cease to be tasks. Work is no longer a burden; it is simply what needs to be done.

What is the difference between a job and a burden? The tasks may be the same. It is really about your frame of mind. Who is chopping wood and who is carrying water? Who is joyous or sad? Who is bored?

On the Wisdom Path, there is no benefit to thinking about being disciplined just for the sake of being disciplined.

You chop wood and you carry water because that is what needs to be done, not because you convince yourself that it needs to be done or that you “should” be joyous while doing it. The best discipline is not to think about being disciplined. When you become self-aware you will become more conscious of what you do, how you act, and how you interact with other people and environments. For there to be sustainable change from a life of regret, expectation, psychological agony, and short-term gratification one must make a choice. The choice is to suffer or to choose a life where want and need merge to create an authentic sense of meaning. This is the key to knowing what needs to be done and doing it. You embrace “discipline” in the service of love. This is “Chop Wood, Carry Water.”


Author: My name is Lewis Harrison. I am a practical philosopher and independent scholar in the area of Essential Taoism, practical philosophy, Eastern thought, personal improvement, and problem-solving

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