Zen quotes inspire me deeply. The wisdom is so profound and abstract that it leads to different interpretations. The best part is there is no one right answer but the process of contemplation is by itself calming. Even the meaning may vary depending on a persons state of mind at that moment. This is best explained in a Chuang Tzu quote ~ “If one asks about the Tao and another answers him neither of them knows it”!

So I happened to view a beautiful Zen quote at a blogger friend’s site at http://erranttranscendentalist.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/442/ and was virtually enthralled by its simplicity as well as its spiritual dimension!

“Before Enlightenment chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment chop wood, carry water” ~ Zen wisdom

In the picture above you can see a monk carrying water with a smile and captioned as~

Before Enlightenment chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment chop wood, carry water”.

What does it mean? Please feel free to share.

Thank you & cheers 🙂




About dilipnaidu

An open mind! Love to share my thoughts and a keenness to learn. An engineer and a MBA I had a wonderful innings in the Army and later moved to consultancy and teaching. My current interests are music and growing culinary herbs. Love to play golf and do yoga regularly. I am serious on "Living life less seriously". A warm welcome to you be well and be cheerful always.

27 responses »

  1. Asifa Zunaidha says:

    Enjoyed reading the interpretations in the comments… Mindfulness or self-actualisation, it needs a lot of self-discipline to practise in reality !!!


  2. Carrie says:

    Very nice quote! Thanks for sharing 🙂 To me this statement means no matter what our current state of mind is, we still do things we need to do and not to be bothered by the surroundings~ I guess the most important thing is to be mindful about our mind, to accept whatever occurs, from within then we find the way to become detached from the secular world…


    • dilipnaidu says:

      Welcome! I am so happy to read your interpretation of this quote. We in India believe this state to be “Karma Yoga” – doing whatever work that comes your way mindfully and without expectations. And that is one of the paths to enlightenment.

      Thank you for participating! Regards.


  3. In Blue says:

    I need a plaque of this quote! Wonderful inspiration….thanks…


  4. ajay says:

    Hi dilip, what a simple and wonderful ways of Zen masters of living in the moment. We get involved in the small things of the world. power, prestige, respectability- and we forget to give some time to ourself. Meditation is a twentyfour hour thing. It is not that you do it once a day and you are finished with it. It has to become a flavouir, It has to become our climate. It should surround us wherever we are , whatsoever we are doing. .Life is very simple but we tend to make it complicated. let us live life playfully and enjoy the party. with warm regards.ajay.


  5. girish says:

    Thank you sir for a wonderful words of Zen Masters which in my opinion enlightenment is same for everyone rich or poor because our basic job from morning to evening before and after enlightenment is same form freshening up till sleep, while the process may be different for everyone.
    It also teaches us to be same and serene in every life conditions.

    Yours faithfully,

    Girish kohli


  6. Dear Sir,

    Wow!! what a discussion you have opened up!! It’s an absolute delight to read the inputs from you, Sriram Sir, Margie, Geetha and Mahlaqa. Especially the Way Sriram Sir explains has been a favorite for me since the first day I sat in his class (Unfortunately didn’t attend much of his classes), and he did it with this topic too. Yes, I do agree with the philosophy of living in the present. though I don’t possess the ability of analyzing this quote as deeply as you people have, for me the the interpretation of this zen quote would be : Living in the present without getting depressed about what happened in the past, as well as not worrying about what will happen in the future. It’s all about giving your 100% now.

    there was a Saint in Bengal in the 19th century, by the name of Sri ramaKrishna ( Swami Vivekananda was his disciple). One of his famous quotes is,” you don’t need to go to a forest to meditate and concentrate to wake your spirit. My wife does it while she washes clothes. the point is, try to be like oil in water; retain your concentration even when you are in a different state.”

    Good morning and have a great weekend!!




    • dilipnaidu says:

      Hey Dheeman,

      Sri Ramakrishna & Swami Vivekanand’s teachings and quotes have inspired me from years ago. I am delighted you have inscribed one of His gems here “you don’t need to go to a forest to meditate and concentrate to wake your spirit. My wife does it while she washes clothes”. Yes this wisdom fits perfectly well here.

      Thanks and you too have a super weekend. 🙂


  7. Geetha says:

    Dilip Sir, Thank you for this classic quote on the importance of equanimity, equipoise….

    IMHO, this is of relevance here also: (sharing this once again with this enlightened forum)


    Yes, life is indeed ephemeral. And whenever I hear M S Subbulakshmi’s divine rendition of Adi Shankaracharya’s ‘Bhaja Govindam’, I feel that this particular stanza has a wealth of meaning to it:

    “mA kuru dhana jana youvana garvam
    harati nimeShAt kala: sarvam
    mAyAmayam idam akhilam hitvA
    brahma padam tvam pravisha vidhitvA”

    This translates roughly as:

    Do not boast of wealth, friends, and youth. Each one of these are destroyed within a minute. Free yourself from the illusion of the world of Maya and attain the timeless Truth.

    Thanks and regards,



    • dilipnaidu says:

      Glad you liked the quote Geetha. And your interpretation again enriches it further with the wisdom of Adi Shankaracharya. The translated meaning of the stanza is beautiful. Thank you and with regards.


  8. Margie says:

    Great post Dilip! Love the Tzu quote so maybe I shouldn’t answer, LOL! Seems to me it may mean, stay in the zone.


  9. mahlaqa says:

    hey Dilip
    never knew u could be having zen quotes here too. 🙂 for me the quote is simple n meaningful. u r one mundane individual with spiritual gifts to realize urself. once u realize urself u understand that to be mundane is to be humble enough towards all creation, hence enlightenment must not change our status in our own eyes else we are not truly enlightened.


    • dilipnaidu says:

      Hi Mahlaqa,

      Its not only Zen but anything inspirational charges me up – at times I may not even understand its full meaning 🙂

      Your explanation here is just perfect and I vibe with it. Your words ‘humble enough towards all creation’ are indeed so true.

      Many thanks for sharing your thoughts, Kind regards.



  10. sriram says:

    Dear Sir,

    The classic verse is Chapter 4 Verse 18 explains this concept perfectly –

    karmany akarma yah pasyed
    akarmani ca karma yah
    sa buddhiman manusyesu
    sa yuktah krtsna-karma-krt

    “One who realises the renunciation of action in activities and action in the renunciation of activities, he is spiritually intelligent among mankind, transcendentally situated a perfect performer of action”

    When one gives up this illusion of control over ‘actions’ and realises that one is not the ‘doer’ but a mere instrument, then His actions are actually devoid of any ‘intent’ or profit or gain. (hence even his action is INACTION). However, he continues to act when necessary and will never ‘shirk’ action. (so he is active in inaction). Normal humans do the reverse. They act only when it is ‘conducive’ and ‘shirk’ action when it is not conducive….and hence we are never in the present and never are ‘perfect’ in any action.

    The essence of this quote is that there is no manifestation of difference between the actions of a person who is ‘normal’ and the person who is ‘enlightened’.

    Hence the action is actually in the ‘inside’. What changes – is the intent behind the action; the attitude with which the action is carried out; the attention paid to the action is enhanced; and there is pure bliss in ‘acting’….

    The Indian Version of the above Zen quote is, once you are a realised being, you eat when you eat; you sleep when you sleep & you KNOW you are Human, and behave like one!

    The Human Resource equivalent of being a realised human being is an ‘engaged’ employee. Engagement drives employees to put in discretionary effort, which is that x factor that causes superlative performance. Engagement is a function of ‘attention’ and ‘effort’. Realised Masters are able to pay utmost attention to the present & hence the effort that they put in is actually ‘effortless’.

    So this Zen Quote is a valuable lesson in getting to the point where we perform actions for the only thing the action was required to be performed – the joy of the action itself. When we indulge in activities in this manner, the action has our entire attention & effort and hence the performance is perfect….

    This is what is called acting in ‘flow’ ‘discovered’ by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – the following are his ‘definitions’ –

    “the holistic experience that people feel when they act with total involvement”

    “… flow – the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

    Sounds Familiar?? isnt it this Zen Quote put ‘differently’??

    and the chap didn’t even have the decency to quote the original references!!

    so even as we read this, are we just ‘reading’ or we also ‘reading’?? This starts the inquiry into getting ‘there’….



    • dilipnaidu says:

      My dear friend Sriram as always an awesome and lucid explanation of an eternal truth. When I first read this quote with the monk’s picture it got transfixed in my mind. I felt how simple and how wonderful if I could continue to go about my life in this mindful way yet these become fleetinh thoughts. Yes it our ego takes charge mperceptibly.

      I liked your HR interpretation of an engaged employee – it is perfect but again difficult to achieve in practice isn’t it? So we resort to simpler options. Wonder what have you to say of a person who lives in a ‘self actualized’ state of being.

      I feel the answer lies in practicing to ‘let go’ and live in the present moment!

      Thanks aplenty my friend . And cheers to you.


      • sriram says:

        Dear Sir,

        Employee Engagement is the buzzword of the Corporate World. Very few have been able to “crack the code” as it were – however behavioral economists, neuro surgeons, neuro economists & organizational psychologists have been able to arrive at 2 factors that signify an ‘engaged employee’ – the ability to pay ‘attention’ and the willingness to put in ‘effort’….

        So science is atlast following spirituality ….




      • dilipnaidu says:

        Good one Sri,

        Its great to hear that behavioral economists, neuro surgeons & organizational psychologists have revealed defined the behavior of an engaged employee. So I’d like to know what must an organization do to get their employees engaged?


  11. Thank you for sharing this simple, beautiful quote and image originally published by the eloquent and wise author of “Zen Revolution” (http://zenrevolution.wordpress.com/2012/04/28/chop-wood-carry-water/). I, too, found it really inspiring.

    I really appreciate that you are using this quote and image to open up such a delightfully meaningful conversation. What this quote means to me, personally, is that the Bliss of Enlightenment is simple and attainable to all in every moment; it is a matter of really inhabiting the present moment through Mindfulness. When one is chopping wood, enlightenment is possible by enjoying everything about it as one rests one’s full awareness in the allowance of the moment to unfold. When one is fully in the present, so many illusions dissolve, including the misconception that one is separate from all other things and that all things are separate from each other. This is the heart of Zen as I understand it.


    • dilipnaidu says:

      Reading this Zen wisdom on your blog was a wonderful experience. Your explanation too is beautiful and true – yes ‘mindfullness’ is the essence of spirituality. The enlightened Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh also proclaims this simple truth “There is no enlightenment outside of daily life”. Living in the moment is what we need to practice as it is the only moment that matters.

      Once again I thank you and wish you well.


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