Chop Wood - Carry WaterChop Wood - Carry WaterChop Wood – Carry Water

If you are familiar at all with Buddhism, in particular Zen Buddhism you will have heard the saying “Before enlightenment chop wood – carry water, after enlightenment chop wood carry water. (Not as I have said on occasion, “before enlightenment Chop Wood – Carry Water, after enlightenment get someone else to do it for you”!!!)

For  years I don’t think I really understood what chop wood – carry water really meant. Little did I realise, in the past, that while there was someone asking the question there could never be a real understanding of the question. I am not claiming to understand now, just offering my experience. There is another similar Buddhist saying, “It is not what you eat – it is who is doing the eating.” Again, who is asking the question is the challenge here, not the understanding of the question itself.

Through my years of teaching ‘Clearing’ and putting into practice all that I teach I hope I have come to a better understanding (? knowing) of the meaning of these two phrases.

Essentially the ‘who’ is doing is the issue, who is chopping wood, who is carrying water, who is eating? This can best be understood by reflecting upon certain tasks that you need to do either on a daily basis or even infrequently. Tasks that you do not particularly enjoy but are often necessary in your life, (cooking – washing the dishes – cleaning the car – visiting the dentist – exercising – getting out of bed on a Monday morning, etc.). As you think about having to prepare a meal, or go to work, anything in fact that you do not look forward to, you mentally create lots of excuses to put the job off. You create a huge amount of resistance, all sorts of reasons and excuses not to go ahead and complete the task.

Is this ringing any bells with you?

As you allow the excuses to build, the task seems even more unattractive and impossible, justifying your original resistance. We are, most of us, experts at justifying our resistances. It is only when we are confronted with a task that we find uncomfortable, challenging or downright distasteful that we can see that we still have resistance in the body.

Resistance is something that we may have been born with. Perhaps carried over ancestral stuff that has not been worked through, or we may have been indoctrinated into certain beliefs by our parents, relatives, peer groups, schooling simply because of when and where we were born. We will, depending upon that early conditioning, develop a ‘personality’. We tend to get lost in the personality, because it is, or so we believe, who we are. Any change, from within this perception of personality, is by its very nature, doomed to failure. For we have been taking ourselves seriously for a long time, we believe that we are our personality and it is from that place that we try to manipulate the world, and those around us to conform to our expectations.

We should be able to see now, that the ‘who’ who is chopping wood, the ‘who’ who is carrying water, the ‘who’ who is eating is personality based. The personality, that has acquired likes and dislikes, for’s and against’s, is in charge. So, when something arises along the path that the personality has resistance to, for whatever reason, we immediately go into a conditioned response that leads to excuses and judgements around doing the particular job.

All the time we remain a victim to conditioned personality, the ‘who’ will be in resistance to many tasks, feelings, emotions and situations. Resistance it is simply a product of an internal state of polarised values. We can see that alternative points of view exist, and many people hoping various beliefs different from our own cope with life quite well, yet we maintain our own point of view, only because we are habituated to do so.


Chop Wood – Carry Water

the litmus test of a liberated soul

When, through ‘clearing’ or any other process we feel comfortable with, we begin to face up to the limitations those personal points of view impose, we are more inclined to begin the process of detaching ourselves from a point of view, even if only temporarily, to observe what would happen IF.

As we train ourselves to notice points of view before they become manifest in our lives, it gets easier to observe and, for the moment, let go of that point of view (i.e. not energise by giving in to it, not allowing our thoughts to dwell upon it). We may need some ‘device’ to help us as we start this, because this process itself is not exempt from the old patterns of resistance, but given practice this does get easier.

If there is anyone at all chopping wood or carrying water the ‘who’ can be evaluated by the amount of resistance the ‘who’ has to the task. The more resistance the more uncomfortable the task. When there is no more resistance, then ‘who’ is left to chop wood – carry water?

A common misconception here is that if there is no one to judge, to protect the self from external forces, then one has weakened oneself and put oneself at the mercy of others, or the more negative experiences the personality imagines to be ‘out there’. Not true, a ‘negative’ experience is only something that we hold as a belief pattern, the stronger we hold onto such a thought, the more likely it is to show up in our lives, simply because we have the ‘buttons’ that are triggered by such an event. When we no longer have the buttons, because we have accepted those aspects of personality, then the situation is much less likely to present itself before us. Even if it does, then because we no longer have the buttons we are no longer affected by whatever it is.

So, who is there to chop wood – carry water in your life?


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One Response to Chop Wood – Carry Water

  1. VanDee Van Deusen says:

    Eric, I cannot tell you how much this newsletter has helped me. For I have been in a funk since I moved back home to Niagara Falls, making the 10th or 11th move in as many years. Unemployed for the last 4 yrs. I grew up here and the land, the falls and the river, lakes all speak to me…but I couldn’t get myself in gear, until I read “chop wood and carry water”

    WOW! I can do that – it is easy, physical, and takes no mind..So now I get to the checkbook, bills, dishes mopping floors, I think chop wood, carry water. and it gets done. I need to keep rereading it for it does not stay but I know what I need to do now. Thank You.

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The moment you become aware is the moment of choice.
— Eric Dowsett