Chop Wood, Carry Water

Enlightenment is an INNER transformation of one’s state of consciousness or one’s human awareness. It is not change that occurs in the outer realm of human experience; nor is it change that is directed toward the outer world of illusory appearances.

That is why in mystical practice, we do not try to change the illusory appearance of things. Rather, we direct our personal efforts inwardly toward the realization of truth in consciousness.

Hence, the Zen proverb which says: Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.  After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.

Poster of Zen proverb
Zen Proverb on Enlightenment

Before we become enlightened spiritually, we engage in our normal, mundane, regular human activities — the “chopping of wood” for firewood and the “carrying of water” from the well to our home.  After we have become enlightened spiritually, we continue to engage in our same normal, mundane, regular activities in the world.  There is usually no visible change or difference in the normal life activities we engage in in the world of appearances.

For example, if we are farmers, then and after we continue to till the ground and and to plant, water and care for our crops. If we are physicians, we continue to receive and attend to patients. If we are cobblers, we continue to make and repair shoes for clients. If we are bakers, we continue to bake and sell our cakes, pies, pastries and cookies to customers. And so forth and so on.

However, perception is radically changed.  In our altered state of awareness, our perception of those same activities is altered fundamentally to the core with a lightness of spirit, a new heart, a new take on life, by a newfound awareness from the enlightenment we have experienced.

Nothing might change in the immediate setting or environment of our individual lives in the outer world, but our state of consciousness will have been altered profoundly and indelibly.  Nevertheless, change can be thoroughly far-reaching, too.  Not uncommonly, we could find ourselves actually reinventing ourselves, redirecting the purpose and course of life, rearranging our value system, altering personal lifestyles and/or even remaking or making over our very lives and relationships altogether.


Here is a book that I read many years ago, which I heartily and highly recommend to you. I know it will bless your life as it has mine.

Facsimile of book cover for "Chop Wood Carry Water"
Book Cover of “Chop Wood Carry Water




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