Shoveling Snow With Buddha Analysis
The True Religion
Since the beginning of time, humans have relied on the teachings of different religions in order to explain their existence and to give them a purpose for living. People today, however, have an understanding of religion that is superficial because they rarely find complete satisfaction or definite purpose in the teachings of their faiths. Followers of these faiths think that religion can fix the problems in their lives without them having to try to fix the issues themselves. Humans seem to be lost without a solid spiritual understanding, and they resort to accumulating material items in order to find importance in their lives. Nonetheless, instead of focusing on material items, humans should interact in and with the “Natural World”. They need to enjoy their experiences but also not get too comfortable with nature and their lives because both are unpredictable. As Ralph Waldo Emerson asserts in his essay “Self-Reliance,” the “Natural World” is accommodating, but it also teaches mankind discipline by testing him against the forces of nature. Humans need to live in the moment and enjoy the spontaneous instances surrounding them both in nature and in relationships, because these are the components of a person’s life that truly makes them feel fulfilled and happy. In “Shoveling Snow with Buddha,” Billy Collins uses a seemingly ordinary, simple, yet risky task in order to demonstrate how one can find spirituality, purpose, and enjoyment in everyday moments.
Although this poem involves the speaker connecting with a spiritual being, it does not take place in a church or a temple, but rather in a snowy driveway. Buddha is usually depicted as a peaceful figure with a “serene expression” (Collins 11), sitting cross-legged because “sitting is more his style” (Collins 7). However, in the poem “Shoveling Snow with Buddha”, Buddha is standing, bent, and is “tossing the dry snow over a mountain/ of his bare, round shoulder” (Collins 3-4). The speaker remarks, “even the season is wrong for him” (Collins 9). The snow-filled winter setting of the poem contrasts greatly with the usual image of Buddha in a place where it is “warm or slightly humid” (Collins 10) surrounded by flowers and sunlight in a beautiful, blooming garden. Yet the speaker is still connecting with Buddha, interacting with him as they both “[work their] way down the driveway” (Collins 13). As the speaker is describing their shoveling, he keeps repeating “we, we, we” and shows the reader how he and Buddha are united in their abnormal setting.
The abnormal setting where Buddha is found in the poem contributes to the speaker’s discovery of spirituality. The speaker believes that clearing the driveway is “so much better than a sermon in a church” (Collins 21). During a sermon, the preacher is speaking at the congregation, telling it about God or some other religious concept. The congregation only listens; it does not interact or connect directly with God itself. Although a house of worship is where many go when they are looking to connect with God or another spiritual being, it is most often a formal and structured setting. People dress with proper attire, sit quietly in rows, and listen. They participate in controlled religious ceremonies and rituals; they fold their hands and pray together, saying the same words, and they stand together and sing notes printed unwaveringly on paper. Spirituality is incredibly personal and is ironically non-conducive to the typical “worship” setting. People are much more likely to find God and/or spiritual enlightenment while they are in a non-structured environment. Without the controlled rituals and recitations, people are free to worship as they please, and therefore they can find and connect with God or another spiritual being on their own terms. People may worship Him, but meaningful spiritual connection is different than worship. In the poem, Collins portrays Buddha and the speaker as friends who work together and see each other as equals, which is as it should be. The speaker in the poem observes, “this is the true religion” (Collins 23), referring to the connection individuals should create with both nature and other people. This positive, spiritual interaction the speaker is having with Buddha could never have occurred in a temple. It is in unexpected places that people find holiness, and it is these surprising encounters that are the most meaningful.
In his piece “Shoveling Snow with Buddha,” Collins emphasizes how faith can be found by spending time in the “Natural World”. The speaker of the poem claims that nature is the only real religion, particularly when he says, “this is the true religion, the religion of snow/ and sunlight and winter geese barking in the/sky” (Collins 27-29). Rather than being told what to do or how to act in a sermon or other religious situation, the speaker finds that his real pleasure, hope, and faith come from being absorbed in nature. In the natural, snowy setting, the speaker is invigorated and finds certainty in a simplistic task that allows him to be a part of what nature has given to mankind. Collins says that the only genuine religion is experiencing life for what it is and being a part of the “Natural World,” appreciating everything the world and even fellow humans have to offer. Similar to Emerson’s stance in his essay “Self Reliance,” Collins believes that religion should be about the individual finding his own faith simply by connecting with an individual’s natural surroundings.
Collins portrays nature as beautiful, soft and gentle in his piece. While Buddha and the speaker are shoveling snow they “toss the light powder into the clear air” (Collins 19) and “feel the cold mist on [their] faces” (Collins 20). These descriptions allow the reader to feel a sense of tranquility, and give him/her an incentive to want to be a part of the moment being described in the poem. Although snow can be damaging by constraining people and forcing them to stay inside their houses, to the speaker it is a beautiful part of the world that humans cannot change. People must live the moment and enjoy what life brings their way, no matter what. Collins believes that instead of hiding from nature and not experiencing it the way the speaker and Buddha do, humans should immerse themselves in it by spending time appreciating their environment.
Even though the speaker and Buddha are spending time outside, they are shoveling snow, a task most people would not choose to do in their free time because it is generally considered a bothersome chore. However, Buddha and the speaker put meaning into their mundane activity and they take the opportunity to connect with each other as they work together. Buddha is “thrown into shoveling snow / as if it were the purpose of existence” (Collins 26-27) and truly invests himself in this seemingly meaningless task. By working hard and putting effort into his actions, Buddha is finishing a job that he can take pride in, “as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway” (Collins 28). Buddha is trying to show both the speaker and the reader that even though a clear driveway is not the true meaning of life, hard work and believing a chore to be important can help people enjoy and take pride in even the smallest of their achievements. The speaker and Buddha “[work] side by side” to clear the driveway (Collins 32), and after they clear the driveway, both feel a sense of fulfillment because they completed what they originally set out to do, while at the same time they got to further connect with one another by sharing a notion of success.
Buddha and the speaker do not need material items to enjoy life and instead they can find contentment and satisfaction in small, seemingly insignificant moments as well as in the company of others. While shoveling they think of the ease with which the car will be able to back out of the driveway and into the “vanities of the world” after they are done shoveling the driveway (Collins 32). They don’t even think about the “broken heater fan” in the car, and they continue with their work enthusiastically (Collins 31). When finished, Buddha asks the speaker if he wants to play cards and the speaker responds that he “will heat some milk and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table while [Buddha] shuffle[s] the deck” (Collins 40-42). Instead of wanting a monetary reward for the shoveling he did, Buddha desires to spend time with the speaker by relaxing with him after a hard days work. Buddha then sighs out loud, saying “Aaah,” showing the deep satisfaction and happiness he feels after his accomplishment. Buddha’s sigh also shows his feeling of fulfillment because he can connect with the speaker on a higher level in an environment not surrounded by the desire to complete a particular task. When Buddha leans on his shovel before he goes inside, he “drives the thin blade again/ deep into the glittering snow,” showing his triumph over the task he had to carry out (Collins 48-49).
Buddha is known for having a strong connection with his environment, particularly when he achieves the stage of Nirvana, or enlightenment. The only way an individual can achieve enlightenment, the strongest spiritual connection between an individual and God, is by spending time being exposed to nature. This exposure allows them to connect not only with themselves, but also with the “Natural World” around them. Through enlightenment, Buddha discovered the truths of the world and himself, which happened to be the main components of the religion he would later found. His teachings encourage followers of Buddhism to awaken from the “sleep of ignorance” by understanding the true nature of reality, and essentially seizing life by the horns by means of living each moment to the fullest. Collins expresses the need to appreciate every seemingly insignificant moment of life throughout his poem, which justifies his choosing of Buddha as the speakers’ companion throughout the piece. By including Buddha, Collins can express the importance of peoples’ relationships with nature, and also with each other, as it is only through other people and nature that individuals can find true faith and happiness.