Shambhala Sun | November 2013
How It Helps Me
Six non-Buddhists — KIM STANLEY ROBINSON, DONNA M. JOHNSON, PICO IYER, CHRISTIAN MCEWEN, SETH GREENLAND, and JESSICA LITTLE — on how Buddhism has benefited their lives.
Chop Wood, Carry Water
By KIM STANLEY ROBINSON
I don’t think of myself as a Buddhist or as a particularly religious person, but I like Buddhism because it helps me think about my day-to-day life. I like it also that I feel the Buddha and most practicing Buddhists would be fine with this use I make of Buddhism. Sometimes I call my attitude a Californian or hippie or New Age Buddhism, but what I mean is Buddhism feels like mine.
I use it most in structuring my feelings as I go about daily life. I think this may be expressed best by the Zen saying “Chop wood, carry water,” which suggests to me that the repetitive activities of ordinary existence can be performed as devotional acts that express the sense that the universe is miraculous and sacred, that life is precious and we are lucky to be here. We move in a flow of time, and nothing endures. Everything is always changing, but while we are here, if we are not in too much pain, there is beauty\ everywhere to be appreciated and lived. This is a feeling to be shared and spread to others, if possible, but first we have to feel it in ourselves.
This feeling comes to me most when I am gardening, walking, running, washing dishes, writing, hiking in the mountains, cleaning the house, and talking with family or friends. Since we can’t hold on to anything past its moment, including our own lives, this sense of performing a devotional as we go through time is the best way to feel a love of life. I call this realization a Zen perception and am thankful that my readings in Buddhism suggested it to me in my youth. It’s been a comfort and a joy ever since, and I trust it will continue so.
A science fiction writer, Kim Stanley Robinson is a winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. His new novel, Shaman, was released in September.
Illustration(s) by Eric Hansen.