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?

  • I'm not sure that it's off-topic here, but I think it'd be a better fit on Skeptics Stack Exchange.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Dec 4, 2012 at 11:42

1 Answer 1


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.

  • 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. Commented Dec 4, 2012 at 5:51

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