May 14, 2023

Chop Wood, Carry Water: This is our Path to True Happiness.

true happiness

We all want riches in our lives, and often, without realizing it, we sacrifice a lot in the name of happiness—or the illusion of it.

And yet, we must learn to lose one thing to gain another.

Many of us have come across the following Zen quote but do you know where it comes from?

“Chop wood, carry water.”

Here’s the story:

“A young boy became a monk. He dreamed of enlightenment and of learning great things. When he got to the monastery, he was told that each morning he had to chop wood for the monks fires and then carry water up to the monastery for ablutions and the kitchen. He attended prayers and meditation, but the teaching he was given was rather sparse.

One day he was told to take some tea to the Abbot in his chambers. He did so and the Abbot saw he looked sad and asked him why.

He replied: ‘Every day all I do is chop wood and carry water. I want to learn. I want to understand things. I want to be great one day, like you.’

The Abbot gestured to the scrolls on shelves lining the walls. He said, ‘When I started, I was like you. Every day I would chop wood and carry water. Like you, I understood that someone had to do these things, but like you I wanted to move forward. Eventually I did. I read all of the scrolls, I met with Kings and gave council. I became the Abbot. Now, I understand that the key to everything is chopping wood and carrying water, and that if one does everything mindfully then it is all the same.'”

We all have our internal struggles, yet we rarely realise that others fight their demons daily too. We see others being more successful, having the lives we desire, but at what cost?

Here’s what I think:

One part of society appears to cope with daily life: the stress, long hours of work, and barely having time for their families or themselves. They are removed from their emotions and natural instincts because this is the only way they know how to survive—through suppressing and disowning themselves.

They find themselves in a rat race to earn more, to have more things, yet all they work for yields the opposite of what they desire. They don’t realise that when we base our happiness on the outside world, we will always be unhappy.

The others…well, they can’t cope with the expectations of society. They crumble under stress and often struggle to look after themselves because they are so busy looking after others. They often wear labels like bipolar, OCD, or ADHD, but they are not their labels.

They are happy to live life with only the essentials. They know themselves, what they want, and are grateful and always appreciative for the small gestures. They are the Earth Angels of this world.

Lately, I see so many of us asking this question: “Why does it appear that society is becoming more disconnected from itself?”

The answer is that we either cope and lose ourselves living in a pretend world of happiness or we suffer greatly with the daily struggle to fit in.

So, I say to you: “Chop wood. Carry water.”

Before we develop the true nature of wisdom, we chop wood and carry water. But we may find our minds not being fully present, just heavily polluted with worldly thoughts and mental obstructions.

But when we find the essence of true wisdom, we chop wood and carry water as a way to experience enlightenment and true happiness.


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