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A recent post about translation reminded me of the following saying:

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

It is said to be coming from zen buddhism, which is commonly referred to as a Japanese school of buddhism. I was wondering if this saying is actually commonly used in Zen (in Japan), and especially what the writing would be.

Although it seems interesting, I am by no means a practitioner of buddhism. I came across this saying a lot when searching the internet, but never with a source of translation. Zen originated in China and buddhism uses a lot of sanskrit texts, so perhaps the saying is not of Japanese origin in the first place, but it never hurts to ask, right?

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I'm not sure that it's off-topic here, but I think it'd be a better fit on Skeptics Stack Exchange. – Andrew Grimm Dec 4 '12 at 11:42
up vote 3 down vote accepted

This page attributes the saying to the Chinese proverb


after Wu Li (吴力). In Japanese I could only find blog posts that said the saying comes from English. Searching Chinese pages, however, there are almost no exact hits and Wu Li was a painter and poet, but a convert to Catholicism. Smells like a saying that fits well with the Western concept of Zen Buddhism, but has little to do with it. Maybe someone fluent in Chinese can help find out more.

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Clear enough for me. Seems to be a case of 'when we say it originates from traditional Zen, people will believe it is.' That's not to say that the saying couldn't be of worth, though. – Stijn Frishert Dec 4 '12 at 5:51

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