The Parable of the Full Cup

patch parables video Aug 12, 2020

 A university profession went to see a zen master… While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about zen! The master poured his visitors' cup to the brim, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he could no longer restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!” The professor blurted. The Zen master replied, “Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

The man got the message, took a deep breath, and nodded. The master continued.

See not one thing as a thing, but all possibilities of what it may be. A cup is a cup in your mind, and To someone else, it could be a weapon; it could even be a hat. At this moment, it is a river, and now let us drink from the river of wisdom. He stopped pouring, and both of them picked up their tea. 

“Uhh, what about the mess?” the professor asked.

The Zen master looked at him and said: “Let go of it, and let it be.” 

The parable of the full cup is a great reminder that to learn and receive wisdom, we have to be humble, empty our minds, and make room for the new. Like all Zen Koans, this one explains a straightforward concept: that learning a new skill requires an open account.  Far too often, we think we know everything, especially as we begin to get better at power. Still, in reality, every time we approach something new, we come at it with preconceived notions that we learned from our childhood or society.

Spirituality is an excellent example of this, when people first approach it, a lot of us do so from a skeptical point of view after all, until you’ve personally experienced the value of meditation or the chakras within you, the whole idea of energy centers in our body that can’t be shown physically can seem crazy, and maybe there is something to the notion that our perception influences how much we can see or at least, allow ourselves to see. After all, people say seeing is believing, but believing is what will enable you to view and expose you to new ways of thinking.

In the words of Henry Thoreau, “When any real progress is made, we unlearn and learn anew what we thought we knew before.”  Sometimes, it can feel as if we know everything there is to know about a topic..but we should remember that knowledge is usually done from within one’s perspective. And while someone may know everything about something, it is only from their point of view.

It is only by exposing oneself to new ideas, new people, theories, and ways of thinking that we can grow as individuals. 

Zen Buddhist Missionary Shunryu Suzuki-roshi once said that “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities….. In the expert’s there are few” there a lesson here that when we come at a problem with a full mind, we can’t hope to solve it? If our account is full of preconditions about how to explain something, maybe sometimes there isn’t enough room for the actual answer.

 Perhaps then, the ultimate lesson of this parable can be expressed by another zen proverb...that Knowledge is the act of learning something every day. But Wisdom is the act of letting something go every day.


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