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Shoveling Snow With Buddha (by Billy Collins)

In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok
you would never see him doing such a thing,
tossing the dry snow over a mountain
of his bare, round shoulder,
his hair tied in a knot,
a model of concentration.

Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word
for what he does, or does not do.

Even the season is wrong for him.
In all his manifestations, is it not warm or slightly humid?
Is this not implied by his serene expression,
that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe?

But here we are, working our way down the driveway,
one shovelful at a time.
We toss the light powder into the clear air.
We feel the cold mist on our faces.
And with every heave we disappear
and become lost to each other
in these sudden clouds of our own making,
these fountain-bursts of snow.

This is so much better than a sermon in church,
I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling.
This is the true religion, the religion of snow,
and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky,
I say, but he is too busy to hear me.

He has thrown himself into shoveling snow
as if it were the purpose of existence,
as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway
you could back the car down easily
and drive off into the vanities of the world
with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio.

All morning long we work side by side,
me with my commentary
and he inside his generous pocket of silence,
until the hour is nearly noon
and the snow is piled high all around us;
then, I hear him speak.

After this, he asks,
can we go inside and play cards?

Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk
and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table
while you shuffle the deck.
and our boots stand dripping by the door.

Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes
and leaning for a moment on his shovel
before he drives the thin blade again
deep into the glittering white snow.


I just like this poem.  It reminds of the simple pleasures of life.  Like snow, blue sky and even the simple tasks at hand like shoveling and the satisfaction of a cleanly cleared driveway.  I can’t say I’ve always loved shoveling snow.  I can remember back breaking snow shoveling jobs I had when I was young and as a teenager.   Sometimes it seemed like I’d never get it all shoveled and my back still feels it to this day.

But I also remember enjoying it.  Sometimes I’d finish up my shoveling jobs at night.  There I would be making a simple clear path down the sidewalks of the East Side of St. Paul.  Perhaps it was the the simple sacred silence of the winter night with just the sound of my shovel, or the way the snow would seem to glow blue in the moonlight, or maybe it was just the pride of a job well done as I touched up the edges and the thought of making a few bucks.  But there was something more to it as well.  As there sometimes is now when I shovel my long driveway.  When I remember that it’s really not a chore – the task of shoveling – because it’s not a chore or task to be alive, though I sometimes make it so.  It’s a gift.  And one of the secrets is to remember and to wake up to the truth that all of life is a gift. And that’s what Buddha seems to be doing in this poem, doesn’t it?  Enjoying the present moment and throwing himself into the task at hand and enjoying even the simplest pleasures like shoveling, hot cocoa, playing cards and even boots drying by the door.  All of it can be worship or become an act of worship, can’t it?.  Doesn’t it say, “Do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ…”

Jesus said to “Wake up.”  And Buddha’s name in Sankirit means “I’m awake”.  Hmm?  Perhaps there both trying to tell us something important about one of the secrets of life even when we’re just doing just plain, ordinary, simple things like shoveling snow.

Perhaps this quote I stumbled on today says it well too:

“Almost the whole world is asleep.  Everybody you know, everyone you see, everyone you talk to. Only a few people are awake and they live in constant total amazement.”
(From the Movie Joe Versus the Volcano)