Before Enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.
After Enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.
Well, that takes me back a long way, fifty years or more, when Ms. Ché and I sat in meditation in our tiny studio on Hunter St. in Stockton, CA.
At the time, the practice of Zen meditation (Zazen = Sitting Meditation) wasn't commonplace, but it was no longer wildly exotic nor confined to strictly Japanese Buddhist communities. It was available to other seekers, and even if one didn't have a Master, one could practice on one's own or in lay communities, no Master required. Not unless one was a novice monk or nun. In which case, one had a hierarchy and a rule to understand and follow along with one's practice of meditation: the garments, the positions, the bows, greetings, chants, and on and on and on.
Enlightenment (Satori = Sudden Enlightenment) was possible whether you were a monk or nun or not. It was always my belief, whether wrong or right, that the monastery and nunnery could delay enlightenment, in fact may have been designed to do so, in an emulation of Sakyamuni's -- the Buddha's -- long quest for his own enlightenment. He had to experience everything and go through the literal and figurative fires of hell before he was granted nirvana. Many Buddhist devotees, in his time and now, seek their own enlightenment by following his path as closely as possible. The monks and nuns are most adept at it. In his own time, many of the Buddha's followers were "granted monkhood" by the Buddha himself. It was considered the highest favor and the highest calling of a mortal being.
But not everyone could be or should be a monk or a nun, for society would not be able to function if they were. Buddha -- generally pronounced "Buhddh" (no "uh" ending) in Hindi and other Northern India languages -- acknowledged as much in his own time, and encouraged leaders and kings to adopt the core Buddhist principles and practices while continuing to serve their communities and people in their roles as kings and princes and headmen. Women could be ordained as nuns, but their social role, though important, was subsidiary to that of men, and would be for many years to come.
Nowadays, many of the most honored and venerated Buddhist scholars, thinkers, and practitioners are women, most of whom are nuns but some are lay women who have achieved enlightenment.
The final episode of the Indian TV series "Buddha" was a presentation by its producer, B. K. Modi, who saw that his calling was to help restore Buddhist thought and practice to India and to help spread it throughout the world. His biographical series about the Buddha was a step on that path.
Comparatively, India has few Buddhists today, while other countries, near and far, have proportionately more Buddhists, approaching 90% in some places. We may ask why that is so.
According to what little history I've read about it, Buddhism was suppressed in India from before the time of the Mughal conquests in the 12th century until the establishment of the British Raj in the 19th century (when the Crown took over rule from the British East India Company). There was a slight revival under the British, but after Independence, Buddhism became more widespread especially among the Dalits (formerly Untouchables.)
The suppression of Buddhism in India contrasts strongly with its flourishing in Nepal, Tibet, Sri Lanka, China, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan. Everywhere Buddhism flourished, a somewhat different form of the practice was developed.
Our introduction to and practice of Buddhism was an Americanized version of Japanese Zen. I wouldn't say we necessarily achieved Enlightenment, but the practice had a profound effect on our lives which continues to this day, even though we haven't practiced for many years. Correction: Ms. Ché sat in daily meditation at Naropa last summer, and she intended to set up a meditation space at home when she got back, but for whatever reason, she hasn't done it yet.
What has happened, though, is a gradual transformation of our house to accommodate the possibility of a meditation space in due time, and a restoration of Mindfulness in our daily activities. Ie: Meditation without (necessarily) Sitting.
Still we chop wood and carry water. That is fundamental.
One origin of the precept is as follows: