Carry on…

Do all that you would in your routine life on your way to enlightenment. When you awaken, you will realise that the world is the same—it is you who has changed

“Before enlightenment
Chopping wood, Carrying Water
After enlightenment
Chopping wood, Carrying Water”

— Zen proverb

This is one ancient adage I absolutely love. It is profound, precise and relevant even today.

It is a great source of personal comfort because it tells me that enlightenment, or spiritual awakening, is a realisation, not an achievement.

We are surrounded by all kinds of concepts portraying enlightenment as if it was some scarce and precious item that can only be “purchased” by spending time and effort—not to mention other resources.

‘Jet age’ gurus fashionably proclaim that they have achieved enlightenment after a period of great search and struggle. What is amusing is many of these gurus would like us to believe that enlightenment is reserved for a select few.

They also significantly alter their appearance and lifestyle, thereby giving the impression that enlightenment transforms an individual completely. And then, they promise to show you the path but add conditions and prescribe many impracticable rules.

Naturally then, most unsuspecting folk come to believe that enlightenment is some extraordinary phenomenon that is out of reach for ‘ordinary’ people—it requires giving up daily life and everything associated with it. This idea of enlightenment makes them feel inferior.

If you, like many, have fallen for the idea that spiritual awakening is reserved for a chosen few and requires one to go to the Himalayas and spend years meditating, it’s time to open your eyes.

Allow me to share what I have come to understand about enlightenment:

  1. Enlightenment is not reserved for a select few. It is available to everyone, no matter who you are and what you do for a living.
  2. Enlightenment is free of rules and encumbrances and requires nothing of you on the outside, least of all giving up your present lifestyle.
  3. Ancient Zen and Buddhist teachings indicate that enlightenment is a silent and inconspicuous phenomenon. Enlightenment cannot be defined or described—it is an inner phenomenon that can only be experienced, not expressed.
  4. Enlightenment transforms an individual—but the change happens within, not without. On the outside, your life goes on as before, such that no one else may even sense the change. Like Thich Nhat Hanh says, “There is no enlightenment outside of daily life.”
  5. Enlightenment refers to ‘awakening’ or absolute awareness. And absolute awareness isn’t knowledge or wisdom that can be transferred from one to another. If anyone promises to make you enlightened, run from there. For, a real guru will direct you to look within for guidance and inspiration and will leave you alone when you are ready.

So, continue to chop, carry, sell, buy, repair, cook, manage, relate—do all that you would in your routine life—on your way to enlightenment. When you awaken, you will realise that the world is the same—it is you who has changed.

Magnifying lens over an exclamation markSpot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!

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Manoj Khatri
Manoj Khatri likes to call himself an eternal soul disguised, among many things, as a writer. He is the author of more than 1000 published articles — on business management, philosophy and everything in between. He is a certified counsellor and has addressed thousands of students and parents on exam-stress in public seminars. He is the author of What a thought!, a critically acclaimed book based on powerful ideas of some of the greatest thought leaders. Manoj is Editor and Publisher of Complete Wellbeing.

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