A Little Sunday Zen

Cover of "Chop Wood, Carry Water"

Cover of Chop Wood, Carry Water

There is a famous story in the Zen world that Dinty W. Moore (every time I write his name I think of baked beans), author of the “Mindful Writer” includes in his book. On page 118 to be exact. It goes as follows:

The student, newly arrived at the monastery, asks the master, “What work will I do as I seek enlightenment?”

The master replies. “Chop wood, carry water.”

“And what work will I do once I achieve enlightenment?”

“Chop wood, carry water,” replies the master.

A simple bit of Zenism, and as with all in the Zen world, it needs an explanation in order to understand it. According to Moore, “writers write”. They may do a myriad of other things: walk their dog, go to work, take meetings, care for their family—but in the end he says, “…any writer, even a writer who has published….and won two dozen awards, gets up in the morning knowing what must be done. The words must be chopped and the sentences carried.”


Woods (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

I think the famous story in the Zen world has a larger meaning. It can apply to all things we do in life—we must “chop wood, carry water”—we must continue what we are doing; we must not be satisfied; we must carry on. Our job is really never done, and when we think it is, we have in essence, stopped living.

It is a story of purpose, and without purpose there is no need to “chop wood, carry water.”

My bliss today is to keep chopping wood and carrying water. What about you?

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45 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Today is Mothers’ Day in the UK so I’ve been luxuriating in the calls and cards and presents my four have made. Now I’m enjoying reading blogs and writing my blog while listening to the play on Radio 4. Bliss!

    All the best to you 🙂

    • Happy Mother’s Day — may it be blissful and you be spoiled rotten- LouAnn

      • Thank you! I have been! 🙂

  2. Actually, I have some wood to chop and water to carry. The gardening keeps me busy as they say. And I do like it.

  3. It’s only in the last couple of years have I realised how important such ‘mundane’ tasks are to my life as a whole. They do provide purpose to the grand scheme of things and writing is certainly one of those things for me now.
    Great post!
    Cat x

    • thank you – right now I am getting ready for a little birthday dinner for my son, and I keep trying to enjoy the process of cleaning the house and getting the meal ready–but for some reason I am hitting my head on cupboards, cutting myself, and just generally not having a very good time — I have to sit for a minute, breathe, and then attack what I have to do with love instead of urgency and trying to just get it done

  4. wax on – wax off…oh what a grasshopper I am.

    • exactly — perfect —

      • btw LouAnn – my husband picked up a new ice cream yesterday. (he’s a professional ice cream hunter) the name of it is Lemon Bliss. and yes, it is yummy.

      • Lemon Bliss- sounds wonderful

  5. I always thought that Zen saying meant that one needs to do things with “no mind”, however, the body keeps on doing as it did before enlightenment, but then, I wouldn’t know because I am not enlightened, if there is such an ultimate state of being, anyway. I think there are degrees of it but total enlightenment, not so sure – Only God is that great.

    • if we had total enlightenment where would the journey be–it would have ended

  6. I used to have this very same book! Enjoying the chopping wood and carrying water of Life. Enjoying writing about it. Enjoying reading about it. Enjoying what you shared. Bliss…for now anyway…

  7. I carried water and chopped wood – I wish that meant that I could write. 🙂

  8. I need to chop some wood. I could use a drink of water 😉

  9. I love this sentiment of never really being ‘done’ or ‘complete.’ Purpose is a big thing for me and although sometimes I lose sight of it, I know that just means I need to go a different way in rediscovering what that is.

    • I find I need a purpose in most of what I do and I consider making my bed purposeless as I crawl back into it at night — there are many things that I consider like this — most domestic chores in fact

  10. I have laundry and such chores today, but to your point dirty clothes became that way from having had a full life to make them dirty. Thanks for this today, puts my mind right as I head into the work week!

    • a lovely attitude–I will have to think of that when I am doing chores I do not care for

  11. What a wonderful way to think about things. It’s good to be reminded that even the most mundane tasks can be purposeful.

  12. LouAnn, great minds think alike! plus synchronicity! My blog today is called ‘Zen and the art of house maintenance’…about doing housework mindfully!!!

    • I am going to have to check it out–I need a primer in doing housework mindfully

  13. I like this quote..I have it on my quotations page on my blog. I think of it as the more things change, the more they remain the same. Kind of like my age old question to myself, why do so many household chores have to be done over and over and over? The only thing I can come up with is that we (humans) need ritual, even if it is the ritual of the mundane. Ritual grounds us. Routine settles us. And habits create structure for each life. Am I taking this too far? Glad you found your bliss in chopping wood, carrying water! ~ Sheila

    • I love your perspective – routines and rituals do ground us and many times we come to depend on them when the rest of life goes a little crazy

  14. I used to be a very keen gardener. My then partner bought some extra land off a farmer so she could extend the garden. It was an area 20m wide by 30m deep. The idea was to make it into a lwan, since all the original garden was given over to vegetables and fruit trees and flowers.
    But the new area had been farmland, and was, as happens in Essex, liberally scattered wioth flints and pebbles. So I got out some string, marked a 1m wide swathe widthways, and used canes to sdivide it into 1m quadrants. Got down on my hands and knees, cleared a qudarant, moved on to the next, cleared that…. Reach the end of the marked area, move a string to give a new 1m wide sstrip, karked out quadrants…..
    Took me weeks, but while I was oding it, often for 8 or 9 hours a day, I entered a very Zen like state.
    So chop wood, carry water, pick up pebbles.

    • I bet you were a little sad when you were finished–love this story!

      • I was mnore sad when she slung me out shortly after i completed building a utility room from scratch in her garage….

      • hmmm….sorry 😦

      • Hey, we live and learn. She’s married a millionaire now, and doesn’t even live in the house any more. Ho hum….

      • her loss………..

      • Maybe. Maybe not. I guess a couple of mill in the bank mya soften the blow a bit

  15. Just keep on keeping on, LouAnn. That’s all we can do. 🙂

  16. What you’re saying is there’s no magic potion I can take? I have to work.

  17. I don’t know about that. How heavy is that pail of water? And – how about the wood. I could break my back carrying all of that.
    Can I just hire a handsome lumberjack? 😉

  18. That’s a nice little story with a very simple yet profound message. 🙂 I also like it for other reasons, of course. 😉

    • of course –you can have it as it fits in so perfectly with your blog–not that it is mine to give

  19. […] A Little Sunday Zen (onthehomefrontandbeyond.wordpress.com) […]

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