Saturday, March 10, 2007


"Before enlightenment

Fetching water
Chopping wood
After enlightenment
Fetching water
Chopping wood"

- Zen proverb

When I first began my journey into Eastern philosophy, this is one of the zen sayings I came across. Unlike many of the other pearls of wisdom I savoured, I found this one pretty dull and uninspiring.

But lately I've been seeing that this is one of the most brilliant proverbs I've ever heard. It relates to what I said a couple posts back about Buddhism being a "how" rather than a "why". Because ultimately (even though they're not meant to have goals) most Buddhists put 1000s of hours into sitting cross legged, in the remote chance that they may become "enlightened". And it's a very remote chance. Besides the Buddha himself, it is not certain who else has attained "enlightenment", although potentially we all have the where-with-all to get there.

"Get there". "get there". And that's exactly where the problem lies. Enlightenment is not a place. Not a destination. Perhaps that's why I found this proverb so mundane. Because when I started out on my Quest I secretly fantasized that if I were ever to get enlightened I would as sure as all hell make some changes in my life. Like get out of this non-spiritual business world. Like go and live on a tranquil mountain top somewhere gazing into the night skies, only coming down every few months to give sermons to the hungry masses.

Not a fuck. Enlightenment doesn't bring you financial freedom. It doesn't take you to a new place or new career. It doesn't elevate you to some lofty spiritual tradition. You're still stuck serving Big Macs down the road. Nothing changes.

Or does it? There's only one thing that can change. If you're doing the identical things that you were doing before, then the only thing that can change is the HOW you do them. And that, my friends, is enlightenment. Right here, right where you are. Not some other place or other time, over the mountain, round the corner when you're not so busy and stressed.

And HOW when you think about it amounts to one thing: ATTITUDE. Right attitude. Don't matter where you are, you ALWAYS have the ability to change your own attitude. Whether you're a refugee or a prisoner or a shanty town dweller...

...or a BiPolar sufferer.


  1. ATTITUDE seems such a simple word on face value, however on closer inspection (ie. Wikipedia) it became apparent that Jung had given it some thought, "readiness of the psyche to act or react in a certain way." Also attitudes very often come in pairs, one conscious and the other unconscious. Now I feel far from enlightened.

    For a list of attitudes see

    PS if you don't have much content with your comments put in some HTML tags ;)

  2. At the tender age of sixteen I began a job that started at 5:30 am and discovered zen in the art of baking muffins. Enlightenment has come and gone since then but it usually arrives in the midst of some creative task such as last week when I performed in my first ballet at the ripe old age of thirty-eight.

    For me, enlightenment is not a destination or a goal but an all-encompassing sensation of being right with the world. There's no reason why it should have to pass, but there's also no need for it to linger. When it arrives, I savour it. If I pursue it, it disappears. It's a difficult balance, but it keeps me on my toes.

  3. suffering ceases when you get enlightened, thus you can no longer be a bipolar "sufferer" - yes, you will continue serving big macs, but that won't phase you in the bit, making you WANT TO DO SOMETHING ELSE.

    whatever you do, you do it.

    nike and homer simpson are both enlightened. just do IT, DOH!

  4. I also like the step in the 8 fold path of intention. Right Intention. We focus on our intention. It's not so much the act but our intention behind said act.

  5. 'Enlightenment is not a place. Not a destination.'



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